Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Racist patriarchy in Israel, updated

In July, I discussed the story of an Arab man from East Jerusalem who was initially charged with the rape and indecent assault of a Jewish woman but who, in the end, was actually convicted of 'rape by deception', meaning that he had had consensual sex with the woman in question but that the consent was obtained by the Arab man falsely claiming to be Jewish. The judge in the prosecution made the racist basis of this verdict about as explicit as he lawfully could. I am now told that there has been an update to this story in "the left-wing newspaper" Ha'aretz. In fact, it is an update that, I am assured, completely changes the complexion of the whole story. I have been asked by the editor of the F-word, which also covers the new claims, to publicise this information - so I'll oblige. The story is not published in the English-language version of Ha'aretz, so we have to rely on Google Translate, or this translation which is fairly close to Google's version.

The story contains edited highlights from the 100 page declassified testimony of the woman, 'B', who alleged that she was raped by Sabbar Kashur. The testimony was apparently declassified at the request of a local Ha'aretz affiliated newspaper. This forms the bulk of the article's actual content, which details the experiences of 'B' from childhood until shortly after the alleged rape. But the 'expose', as it has been called, depends on another source - the prosecution. The defence, though depicted in a rather unsympathetic light, (sadistically tormenting a rape victim, smiling through it all), is not directly quoted once in the article. The spin on the negotiations leading to a plea bargain is exclusively supplied by the prosecution, who alleged that they opted for a plea bargain - that is, an agreement on a lesser charge of 'rape by deception' - to protect their witness from the traumatic experience of being cross-examined by the defence on her past, with specific regard to previous allegations of rape against her father, and her career in prosecution. Thus, so the article has it, the defence sought to subject a vulnerable victim of rape to an emotionally lacerating attack on her credibility as a witness. It was not out of racism, the prosecution maintains, but out of humanitarian concern for their witness that the state decided to cut a deal with Sabbar Kashur, to allow him to serve a much lesser sentence for a much lesser crime.

The article comes amid a legal process, in which Kashur's defence is appealling to the Supreme Court, to the effect that the facts agreed in the original trial ought not to be the basis of a sentence. They say that his behaviour was at most 'immoral' in the sense that, per the court's verdict, he had sex with a woman while he himself was married with children, and allowed her to believe that he was a single Jewish man. The Prosecutor's Office has responded with fury to the appeal, according to the Israeli daily's account. If it is true that the criminal justice establishment is so deeply unhappy about an appeal which may further undermine their credibility and further shame them before the whole world, then this may be one reason why the court chose to release the testimony of 'B' - and, if I judge right, only that testimony. I have difficulty believing that they simply release the details of closed trials to any newspaper for the asking. I'll leave it to you to consider why Ha'aretz's local affiliate asked only for that testimony. I have also mentioned that the prosecution is quoted in the Ha'aretz article, though the defence is not. The prosecutors have good reason to cooperate with the media. Their argument is, after all, that the media's coverage of this case has been positively beneficial to the defence team. This article, which concurs with the prosecution's charge that its account of the nitty gritty of the trial was not taken seriously by the Israeli media, would therefore be a part of the prosecution's counterblast in anticipation of the Supreme Court's decision.

And this is the trouble with the over-hasty responses, such as that published on the F-Word, which treat this as a case of a victim unfairly maligned, abused in the media, which is "only too keen to pick up on stories of women supposedly ‘crying rape’". The prosecution - the Israeli state in other words - is engaged in a public relations offensive in advance of a court case, in which its single greatest asset is sympathy for a woman who, whether or not she was raped, is clearly vulnerable and in great distress. Is it not basically irresponsible to uncritically regurgitate the claims of an article that is for all intents and purposes, a puff piece for the prosecution before a major appeal? Is it not doubly irresponsible to instantaneously discount the claims of racism in this case, and trivialise the horrified responses as mere "chin scratching"? After all, it is true that the media is generally all too "keen to pick up on stories of women supposedly 'crying rape'" - but it is not true that the media is at all keen to discount stories of black or Arab men raping 'white' women. The facts of epistemic injustice, wherein someone's account is automatically devalued on account of their being black or female, do not neatly favour one interpretation or other here.

It may yet turn out that Sabbar Kashur is a rapist, though it has not been proven that he is. The Ha'aretz article, surprisingly enough for an 'expose', does not add to or subtract from the evidence one way or the other. The only evidence it deals with at all is the testimony of 'B', which might not be accurate, and which at any rate did not stand up in court. Still if it does turn out that Kashur raped 'B', then the original outrage at the state should be multiplied rather than muted, because in that case it would have taken an instance of patriarchal aggression and used it to further bolster racist patriarchy (the kind that 'protects' Jewish women from Arab men), which is unmistakeably and unavoidably what the verdict did. The interpretation of the judges ruling on the matter still says that it is a crime for an Arab man to 'pass' as a Jewish man in order to have sexual relations with a an Israeli Jewish woman, and that legal outcome is still inserted into a national context in which relations between Jews and Arabs are strictly taboo.

For these, among other reasons, I am far from convinced that the Ha'aretz article should place a whole new complexion on this story and our response to it, and am extremely dismayed by some of the incautious and uncritical responses to this story.