Thursday, January 10, 2008

Anti-Israel Bias and Rape

First published in the Hebrew weekly, Makor Rishon

Rape has been in the news in Israel recently; or, more precisely, the absence of rape.

One story involves a Hebrew University doctoral candidate who has looked at the non-occurrence of IDF rapes of Palestinian women in the territories - a phenomenon which the naive observer might well regard as a good thing - and has attributed it to self-serving, nationalistic motives. Another story concerns David Landau, editor of Haaretz, who apparently feels the Americans have not been forceful enough in pushing upon Israel their vision of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. In a meeting with Condoleeza Rice, Landau told the Secretary of State Israel needs to be "raped" by the United States; that indeed it "wants to be raped."

Both episodes, beyond their strange perversity, illustrate the intense anti-Israel bias that animates significant segments of Israeli Jewish society. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the theme of rape figures in both, as attitudes towards rape provide insight into an essential characteristic of bigotry.

Much has been written about the frequency with which women who are raped are blamed for the crime committed against them. This is hardly limited to the Arab or broader Muslim world, where a raped woman may be indicted and punished for her "crime" and even faces murder by family members whom she has allegedly "shamed." In the West as well, rape victims are often regarded as responsible for what befell them.

Various rationales, each with their own psychological motivations, figure in this blaming of the female victim. But one recurrent theme is a predilection to regard the woman as having likely been somehow seductive, teasing, conveying signals of interest, inviting the attention of her assailant, ultimately having invited his assault.

Assumptions in this vein are widely, and rightly, regarded as reflecting intense misogyny, or bias against women. The perspective underlying the assumption is that men are perhaps sexually forward but basically decent human beings not out to hurt anybody while women are deceptive, full of wiles and capable of leading men down paths they would not otherwise go.

Such lines of thought capture a central and defining characteristic of bigotry: taking a biased, jaundiced view of all occurrences involving the target of the bigotry and choosing to explain those occurrences in a manner consistent with the bias.

The same dynamic can be seen in, for example, anti-Jewish bigotry. To the anti-Semite, if Jews are attacked and physically abused in horrific ways, they must have somehow invited the attack, because non-Jews are essentially decent people who would not do such things unless severely provoked while Jews are unsavory, wily, scheming types who try the patience of others in a manner that triggers extreme responses. Similarly, if a Jew is generous towards others, to the anti-Semite it must be because he anticipates some ultimate material gain in his generosity, as it is in the nature of others but not of Jews to be genuinely generous.

And so it is with anti-Israel bigots, whether gentiles or Jews. If Israeli soldiers don’t rape Palestinian women, it cannot be because the culture in which they were reared, and the code of ethical conduct inculcated by the IDF, condemn such abuses in the strongest terms. No; there must be an unsavory, reprehensible explanation for the soldiers’ behavior.

Hebrew University doctoral candidate Tal Nitzan surmises in her paper that the absence of rape is due to Palestinian women being dehumanized in the eyes of Israeli soldiers. (Are we to conclude then that, for example, Sudanese militia raping the women of Darfur are doing so because they are more inclined to see Darfurian women as fellow human beings?) She also speculates that Israeli soldiers refrain from rape out of demographic concerns, as - she theorizes - the offspring of rape would likely be raised as Palestinians and the soldiers are fearful of adding to Palestinian numbers.Arutz Sheva’s Hillel Fendel, in an interview with Dr. Zali Gurevitch, head of the Hebrew University professors’ committee that recommended publication of Nitzan’s paper, asked, "Can’t it just be that Israeli soldiers come from a culture that very much condemns rape? And why not mention the much-touted ‘purity of arms,’ i.e., the high moral conduct [promoted by] the Israeli Army?"

Gurevitch, who apparently shares Nitzan’s biases, gave the nonsensical reply that observers do not have the right to demand a particular explanation to a given phenomenon. Of course, Fendel wasn’t demanding that explanation but simply questioning why it wasn’t even considered in the paper? Why neglect laudatory explanations and entertain only unsavory, reprehensible ones?

But , again, that is the nature of bigotry, including anti-Israel bigotry.Haaretz editor Landau’s urging America to "rape" Israel is a variation on the same theme. Landau fervently believes that Israel’s presence in the territories is the essence of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and that Israeli withdrawal would yield peace. It is not simply that he chooses to ignore all the evidence to the contrary; Landau’s view is that there can be no legitimate basis for any other perspective.

Israelis who have resisted returning to the pre-1967 borders do so largely because they give credence to the declarations of Palestinian leaders - in Palestinian media, mosques and school texts - that Israel has no right to exist and must be expunged and that it is the duty of every Palestinian to pursue this goal. These Israelis also agree with the authors of UN Security Council resolution 242 that the pre-1967 borders were too precarious and invited aggression against Israel. They oppose full withdrawal also in part because they have been exposed to the terror war waged against them by their neighbors and they have seen how previous territorial concessions have made their situation more, rather than less, precarious. But Landau - in his bias against those who disagree with him, which is the majority of Israelis - chooses to regard such resistance to full withdrawal as explicable only by scurrilous, reprehensible motives.

Landau’s bigotry has led him to believe Israelis incapable of measured, humane weighing of evidence and reasonable decision-making. He has openly acknowledged that he slants news coverage in Haaretz to lead the benighted public in the direction he desires and, in a similar vein, he would like to see outside forces push Israelis in the same direction. In particular, he would like to see the United States use its might to this end.

Like the misogynist who can only see the rape victim as a seductress who invited rape, Landau regards Israel as an unsavory, wily entity that similarly invites attack. Not only does it need to be "raped" by the United States, but, he assured Condoleeza Rice, it "wants to be raped."

To explain with any precision why Landau chose to use "rape" to capture his vision of the American pressure he desires to see applied to Israel, and why he told the Secretary of State it was his "wet dream" to address this matter with her, would require some extensive understanding of his personal history and predilections, and how they have shaped his fantasy life.

But Landau’s choice of words convey transparently enough aspects of his pathology: his delusions regarding the threats faced by Israel, his pathological animus against those Israelis who recognize the threats and disagree with him, and his sexualized violent fantasies of having his own political views imposed on his fellow Israelis. That, as editor of Haaretz, he daily translates this pathology into anti-Israel propaganda disseminated around the world, should be of concern to everyone interested in the well-being of the Jewish state.