“He approached me and started touching my chest. I tried to remove his hand, but he continued and tried to put his hand under my shirt,” the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported the shocking testimony of a girl from the Orthodox Jewish community, who described being sexually assaulted by a clergyman, taking advantage of his position and authority; For decades of sexually assaulting adolescents and children, both males and females. It is Yehuda Meshe Zahav, founder and president of the famous charity and relief organization “Zaka” in Israel, whose journalistic investigation revealed his sexual scandals, about which testimonies came after one after another on the tongues of the victims, shaking the pillars of the conservative and extremist Haredi community, in the occupying country. Israeli.
Zahav enjoyed a prominent position within the corridors of the closed Haredi community, which almost forbids speaking publicly about the sexual assault of its people, which granted him immunity from the consequences of his actions for a long time, but it seems that the scandals that the recent months have brought to a number of clerics have spoken conservative tongues And previously secretive, one of the most prominent of these scandals was the scandal of a famous children’s story writer and a prominent rabbi who assaulted about twenty people, including children. As a result, it is no longer easy to sweep up scandals in the ultra-Orthodox community – which makes up about 12% of the population of the occupying power – if they touch important figures.
Zaka founder and Israel Prize winner Yehuda Meshi-Zahav accused of assault https://t.co/ppmjJpBeNK
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) March 12, 2021
Walder: The Fall of the Sexual Counsellor
The ultra-Orthodox in the Israeli occupation state knows very well the face of the teacher and religious healer “Haim Walder”, who lives among them in the Haredi-majority city of “Bnei Brak” located on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. He is a man with a full face and green eyes, and he always wears a kippah and a black coat like most neighborhood residents. Wilder is also one of the most prominent authors in Israel, as his books are popular among the Haredi, and they deal with religious figures who speak openly about their problems and emotions in this closed society. Moreover, Walder writes for Orthodox children. He is the author of the popular series Kids Speak, which almost always houses an orthodox home, and is the founder of the Child and Family Center in Bnei Brak. Walder has continued to explain the events of the world around him through the rabbis’ perspective, gaining great popularity and mobilizing dozens of followers in recent years.
However, the most prominent defender of children in the Orthodox community, and the famous broadcaster who drafted for the first time in the history of Orthodox Jews a radio program on protection from sexual abuse in ultra-Orthodox schools, his popularity and prestige were strongly shaken when an investigation prepared by the Hebrew newspaper “Haaretz” revealed that he himself had exploited For two decades, girls and women have turned to him for sexual advice.
Last November, the left-wing newspaper published accusations made by three women against Walder that he sexually assaulted them when they were 12, 15 and 20 years old, respectively. hotels, and then their testimonies opened the door wide for other women to tell similar stories about his relationship with them; What disgusted the Haredi community. One of the girls with whom Walder had a sexual relationship said that his exploitation of her began when she was 13 years old, and then the matter developed to the point of using her in weekly sexual meetings at the Rimonim Hotel in Ramat Gan, one of the central cities in Tel Aviv. The first of those meetings was a celebration of that girl’s puberty, as Walder had convinced her of at that time.
It did not take long for the matter to be referred to the judiciary, as these incidents came out with evidence that cannot be overlooked. The Fifth Orthodox Court – which deals with cases of sexual assault – examined 22 testimonies of a boy and a girl who confirmed that they had been sexually assaulted when they went to receive treatment at Walder”, who in turn refused to attend the investigation session. As Chief Rabbi and Chief Justice Shmuel Eliyahu said: “The court heard witnesses who testified to Walder’s fornication of several married women, and there is unequivocal evidence, including recordings, in which Walder himself testified to the heinous acts he committed.”
Weeks after accusations were made against him by several women, specifically on December 27, Walder committed suicide by shooting himself in the Petah Tikva cemetery in the middle of the occupation state, and the authorities found his body next to the grave of his son, who died several years ago. years with cancer. In any case, Walder’s victims were not the only ones who recently spoke of sexual assaults. Adel Bar Shaul, 43, a hard-line ultra-Orthodox from Bnei Brak also recounted his experience as a child, where He said that he was raped several times when he was ten years old by a close acquaintance…The first rape occurred when Shaul’s family hosted his attacker on a Shabbat, a sacred period of rest and worship for the Haredim.
Religious immigration to Israel… a way to escape for sex offenders
Despite the multiplicity of sexual assault crimes that were revealed among the ranks of rabbis and clergy, the religious authorities in the occupying country follow a consistent approach in dealing with these crimes, which is summarized in first ignoring and then denial, and later defending the perpetrators and denouncing their punishment, and trying to curb the stories of the victims from appearing to light. and pressure them to prevent them from giving their testimony.
At a time when the rabbis’ sexual scandals were clouding public debate throughout the occupation state, the chief Ashkenazi Rabbi in Israel, “David Lau,” headed to the Walder family’s home to offer their condolences and sympathy, offering the defendants support to support the victims, and ignoring the wall. The reactions he may face at a time when unprecedented calls for the punishment of religious sexual assault perpetrators are increasing.
Not only that, as the ultra-orthodox newspaper Yated Ne’eman also praised Walder, who was writing in it, referring to him as “a man of education and a brilliant righteous deed who was suddenly taken to the height of his giving.” The newspaper focused on “the public disgrace that Mr. Walder suffered from it.” Instead of focusing on his victims, other Haredi media followed the example of “Yatid Ne’man”, ignoring the victims and talking about Walder’s killing without mentioning the serious accusations leveled against him in any way.
Apart from the Walder case, it should be noted that the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel lives a closed and isolated life, and that rabbis in it are accustomed to dealing with cases of violence and sexual misconduct internally without alerting the external authorities, who are considered foreign to them. For example, the cover-up of a sexual assault case has gone so far as to complicity in the Techna staff, a body made up of rabbis that handles cases of sexual assault in religious schools in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Justice, in order not to bring a case of rape of a Jewish student to court. That girl who studied at the Beit Fagan Religious College in Jerusalem was raped by one of the teachers in the college. Those authorities insisted on considering the case as a purely sexual relationship between two adults to close the file.
As a result of this systematic pattern of impunity, the occupying power has in recent years become a haven for dozens of Jews who committed sexual assaults and fled justice in their countries of origin. Under the Israeli Law of Return, which grants Jews the right to immigrate to Israel without regard to their criminal records in their countries of origin, many Haredi men have been able to bring friends or relatives to Israel, some of whom have fled similar charges. The case of “Malka Leifer”, principal of an Orthodox girls’ school in Melbourne, Australia, is one of the most prominent cases in this regard, as the Haredi community in Israel was able to give Leifer a chance to escape justice for years, after she arrived in Israel in 2008 She has 74 counts of sexual assault on her former students.
Leifer lived a normal life in Israel, and the ultra-Orthodox made strenuous efforts to obstruct her extradition to Australia, sometimes declaring her mentally unfit to appear in court, and sometimes collecting donations to “liberate” her as a captive, but after a long period of escaping from justice, Because of the efforts of her victims in Australia, Lever was finally extradited after a complex operation in January 2021 to face trial in her home country for sex crimes.
Most surprisingly, perhaps, some of the perpetrators of sexual assaults had the opportunity to find new victims after fleeing their countries to Israel, as happened with the Israeli-American Jimmy Caro, who immigrated to the occupying country and is wanted in a sexual assault case in the United States, where The religious incubator in Israel provided him with a place to live in an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the West Bank, with a job opportunity that enabled him to again assault Israeli girls in occupied Jerusalem.
The soft fist of justice
“No one has the right to touch your body,” this cautionary comment was written under illustration in a book first published in 2012 to address issues of child sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel. Publishing this book as a Family Guide to Preventing Sexual Abuse was an unprecedented attempt to break the silence in the isolated ultra-Orthodox community, so the book’s authors needed to work closely with religious leaders who understood the importance of combating this growing assault, as well as to convince religious teachers in Orthodox schools of the importance of encouraging students And their families to read the book.
At that time, the difficulty was not only in the rabbis’ resistance to confronting the reality of sexual abuse within their community, but also in how to address those issues within a society with a very closed cultural mentality that made Orthodox children not even know the vocabulary needed to describe the incident of sexual abuse against them if they realized that it happened in the first place, Where these children are not taught the Hebrew names of the genitals, for example, within a strict context that distances them as much as possible from dealing with these topics, and defers them to the largest possible age.
Moreover, victims of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community are afraid to report abuse to the authorities; Because they feel that handing over any of them to secular authorities (insiders in their view) is religiously unacceptable, even if those authorities are Israeli. However, with the increase in sexual scandals that began to shake the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, and with accusations continuing to be leveled against prominent religious figures, the latest of which was the Walder case, which caused a huge shock in the Orthodox community, it has become difficult to continue concealing these issues, especially with the change Conditions among the Haredi youth of the new generations who are increasingly open to other Jews inside and outside the occupying state, especially through social media.
To indicate this, the people in charge of the Crisis Rehabilitation Center in occupied Jerusalem – a center dedicated to supporting children and women in extremist Jewish communities – say that when the center opened a communication line three decades ago to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, calls were relatively rare, but today the center receives About 500 calls per month.
In a similar context, but more organized and perhaps more similar to global anti-harassment and rape initiatives, the “You Will Not Be Silent” initiative has emerged, which is today one of the most widespread calls among Orthodox Jews to openly declare crimes and perpetrators without fear of the grip of the clergy within their community, and without being bound by belief. The hard-line religious belief that secular authorities have no right to hold Haredi men accountable. An invitation that seems to shake the pillars of closed religious authorities, as there is talk of establishing a special Orthodox forum to receive complaints and monitor the practices of clerics, in the first recognition that the phenomenon has gone beyond the limit of silence, and must be dealt with before the reputation of the Haredi community collapses and its traditions are irreversibly undermined.