Sexual Assault Punished Differently Among Religious, Secular Jews

By Gideon Levy (Haaretz)
February 21, 2010

Religious Zionism presents: a show of arrogance. For about three years, they kept their dirty laundry at home, but now they have been so kind as to display it for everyone to see. The fact that in the State of Israel there is an alternative law enforcement system such as the Takana forum, which investigates and metes out punishment only to religious Zionists, is intolerable. The fact that this system is run by the heads of a movement that in vain regulates to itself what is morally, ethically and culturally permissible is another sign of its arrogance.

A high school teacher at a secular school who sexually assaults his students would be turned over to the police. A rabbi at a yeshiva suspected of the same thing would be turned over to Takana. Perish any connection between them, but the criminal underworld also has its own judicial system with the means to investigate and punish. In that respect, there is no difference between the underworld and Takana.

Religious Zionists are not the first to conduct themselves this way. They were preceded by the kibbutz movement, which prided itself for years over its moral principles, and it, too, used to settle such matters "in-house." The kibbutz movement has contributed a lot more to society and the state than religious Zionism, but the kibbutz movement's arrogance was also without foundation, and it, too, was not entitled to maintain a separate set of laws. It was not for nothing that the rape incident at Kibbutz Shomrat sparked public indignation at the time. The kibbutzniks and the rabbis are not a higher breed. Their offenders must be dealt with precisely as any other citizen would be. Rabbi Mordechai Elon and John Doe are one and the same.

Takana has every good intention. A good word should also be said about the fact that it disclosed, ultimately, the suspicions against Elon, and better late than never. Its ethical code speaks of "conduct that is not becoming in relations between him and her," as if there is no such thing as "between him and him" and "her and her" in their community. It has also been said in the community that "acts of injustice should not be covered up on the argument that God's name will be desecrated through their disclosure," but that is exactly what they did with Elon. The claim that the students refused to come forward and complain to the police is an attempt at deception and cover-up. When the police are looking for complaints, they know how to encourage alleged victims to come forward. Just ask Haim Ramon.

The fact that now, after the suspicions were reported, additional complaints against Elon have begun to surface, as Takana has also acknowledged, just reinforces the need that there was to disclose them immediately when they became known to Takana. Its official response regarding the failure to go public with the suspicions, as if it was seeking to protect the complainants, is also clearly unconvincing. It could have been disclosed anonymously, as has been done now, and the supreme interest should have been maximum exposure of the complaints to prevent additional individuals from becoming victims.

The fact that Takana also notified the attorney general at the time, who the movement claims prevented the police from entering the picture, does not absolve Takana in this failed case, even if the attorney general conducted himself outrageously. And the failure was serious: A respected rabbi continued, for years, to teach his students and, suspicion has it, also to treat them inappropriately.

The press is now full of reports of the "astonishment" which has swept the religious-Zionist community, and about the terrible "rift" and "split" that has affected it. What's the issue? Has anyone cast doubt on the fact that there are homosexual rabbis, lesbian teachers at religious girls' high schools and even some who sexually harass their students? That is precisely the kind of arrogance that also characterizes the Takana forum. They could have checked, listened, dealt with it, shown sensitivity as much as they wished, but then transfer the matter without delay to the authorized government institutions.

An ironic coincidence has placed two important men of letters in the eye of the storm. The poet Yitzhak Laor is left to his fate. There is no Takana to examine the suspicions against him, which were all disclosed publicly immediately, perhaps even hastily. There is no "split" on the left and no "rift" in the peace camp. Laor's students are not being photographed with him embarrassingly kissing and hugging, and they are not writing angry articles in the newspapers. But highly publicized demonstrations of support for Elon have been held near his Migdal home, following three years of disgraceful silence on the part of Takana. The only good thing that can come out of all of this now is that Takana immediately changes its ways, or shuts down.