September 20, 2016
The Takana Forum was created within the religious-Zionist community to combat this self-destructive pattern. In the national-religious sector, as in any other closed, faith-based community, scandal - particularly sexual scandal - is often dealt with in accordance with a warped and ultimately self-destructive dynamic.
Community leaders expend much energy maintaining secrecy and protecting reputations. Victims of sexual harassment are not only denied justice, they are often placed under extraordinary social pressure to discourage them from filing police charges - particularly when the suspected sexual offender happens to be a high-profile community leader.
Matters are often settled behind closed doors because the victim has been intimidated into remaining quiet or because the wider community wishes to prevent the publication of a scandal that might besmirch the entire national-religious sector.
The Takana Forum was created within the religious-Zionist community to combat this self-destructive pattern.
Similar bodies have been created in haredi, Muslim and Catholic communities. Only by providing a discreet alternative to a standard police complaint could sexual scandals be properly treated, believe the creators of these bodies.
While Takana and similar bodies are an improvement to a situation in which all complaints are suppressed, they tend to prefer settling matters quietly, even if sex offenders go unpunished.
Did this happen in the case of Davidi Perl, the head of the Etzion Regional Council? It is difficult to know. What has emerged are the following details as reported by Channel 10: Perl agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels to a 20-year-old Jerusalem woman who complained that he sexually assaulted her. Perl also agreed not to run for another term. In exchange, the woman agreed not to publicize the case.
Perl has maintained his innocence and insists he paid the woman the money solely to protect his family and to prevent accusations from being made public.
Rabbis connected to Takana say that the settlement reached secretly between Perl and the woman was a fair one because she refused to go to the police and it was impossible to prove the allegations.
Nevertheless, the case raises a lot of questions.
It is worrying that a body such as Takana is allowed to settle criminal cases involving sexual harassment in a manner that bypasses the state legal system. According to media reports, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit actually cooperated with Takana and advised the forum to deal with the matter in the best way it could given that the woman refused to file a police complaint out of fear of making her identity public.
Takana's advocates argue that if not for the forum many cases of sexual assault - particularly those perpetrated by leading rabbis and settlement figures - would go unreported.
We believe, however, that the answer is not to establish secretive, extrajudicial bodies that settle matters quietly.
Such negative dynamics within closed communities one should be combated. Often cases of sexual assault go unreported - particularly when the cases involve a respected rabbi or community leader - because the victim is intimidated. Young men and women who dare to come forward to complain of sexual harassment are accused of transgressing the Torah's prohibition against slander, while the revered rabbi or teacher who shamelessly exploited his student's trust is transformed into the victim of a supposed witch-hunt. Crimes are covered up to prevent the "desecration of God's name"; in the process a much greater desecration is committed.
Instead of setting up alternative, extrajudicial bodies that work behind closed doors and lack the resources and power to stop sexual predators from hurting more victims, the rabbis who established Takana should begin reeducating their faithful.
No rabbi is above the law. The good name of the national- religious community is not protected by attempts to cover up allegations of sexual assault, but rather by a speedy, honest and thorough investigation that gets to the bottom of the matter. No victim of sexual abuse should be made to feel that he or she is hurting the good name of the community or, worse, desecrating God's name, by coming forward with a complaint. The opposite is true: the community's good name is protected when it is deals with allegations against even the most respected rabbis or public officials quickly and thoroughly.