Israel’s Paul Sheehan Moment


Israeli MPs, as well as conservative backers in Australia, jumped on the allegation that a Jewish woman had been raped and assaulted by Palestinian men in the most despicable manner. It wasn’t true, writes Michael Brull.

Remember the Paul Sheehan scandal? The front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, where Sheehan claimed that Middle Eastern men were brutally raping women and setting homeless people on fire – and the cops didn’t even care? Many feminists were outraged, as it cynically undermined the credibility of rape accusations, in service of a racist smear. The police were outraged at the accusation, and Sheehan’s first response was to apologise to them. Sheehan was then suspended and eventually left Fairfax.

A comparable thing happened in Israel. And the reaction is illuminating. I’ll explore it in part through the prism of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), which calls itself the “elected national body representing the Jewish Community in Australia”. It devotes most of its energies to lobbying for the Israeli government.

Brull Image 1In a news review last week, it featured this item. It was sourced from the Jewish Press, a far right American Jewish paper that proudly identifies as “politically incorrect long before the phrase was coined”. It has been home to “colourful and thought-provoking writers”, like the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane was convicted of terrorism in America, and the groups he founded in Israel and America were both declared as terrorist organisations. In a “typical speech”, Kahane referred to Arabs as “cancer”, and promised to clean out every single “cockroach” from Eretz Yisrael.

It was also boosted on the twitter account of ECAJ Public Affairs Director Alex Ryvchin. Apparently eager to believe the claims, he commented: “Sickening and despicable”.

You can get some of the lurid details from the Jewish Press account.

“A horrific gang rape of a mentally-handicapped Jewish woman earlier this month, allegedly committed by three Palestinian Authority Arabs who shouted anti-Semitic comments during the attack, has shaken Israeli society and stirred outrage – including towards the police, who apparently kept the case under wraps for weeks for fear of stoking tensions between Jews and Arabs.

The police announced on Wednesday it had arrested two Palestinian Authority Arabs for the rape of a 20-year-old disabled Israeli woman in southern Tel Aviv on Israeli Independence Day several weeks ago. Imad Al-Din Daraghmeh, 42, is accused of filming as he and two other attackers raped, urinated, and spit on the young woman – all while berating her with anti-Semitic slurs. He also allegedly threatened to murder her aunt and brother if she complained to the police.

The second Palestinian Authority Arab suspect arrested is underage and a third suspect escaped and remains at large.

Meanwhile, right-wing politicians and feminist activists are trading accusations of hypocrisy and selective attention to sexual violence, while the police is under fire for silencing the incident for almost two weeks in an apparent effort to avoid ethnic violence over the emotionally charged crimes.”

A Likud MK – the party of the Prime Minister – expressed his horror at the alleged rape, the police, and feminists, who didn’t care because they’re supposedly unwilling to ever criticise Palestinians. Meretz, from the supposedly but not really dovish Zionist party Meretz, also denounced police inaction. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu got in on the action, saying this was a “shocking crime” but “for some reason such a condemnation hasn’t been heard”.

“One can only imagine what would happen in the reverse case,” Netanyahu declared.

The police hinted that this was a “nationalistically motivated attack”. That is, the woman with a mental disability was raped, urinated on and racially abused by Palestinian terrorists for terrorism reasons. It is hard to imagine more inflammatory allegations in Israel, where the levels of racism are already more or less through the roof.

As it happens, it appears that the allegations were false. The alleged victim told police that she lied about the allegations. As Haaretz reported: “The 22-year-old woman, who is mentally challenged, said that she was in a consensual relationship with one of the Palestinians, a minor, and that her family fabricated the rape allegations to put an end to their affair. In an official statement, the police said that after 15 days of investigating the case no evidence has been found to support the rape allegations.”

A day after wondering why there wasn’t more condemnation of a rape that seemingly didn’t actually happen, Netanyahu appears to have reconsidered his position. He explained: “The incident as reported caused me deep shock and pain – however, it wasn’t right for me to address the topic until the investigation was complete.”

Unlike Netanyahu, ECAJ and Ryvchin have not made any effort to notify their followers of any second thoughts on their part. Readers can draw their own conclusions about what is “sickening and despicable” in this story.

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).