Seder Prep Tips from the Kipnes/November Seder Table. Plus readings and inserts for your Haggadah.
Alternative Title: Sex, Harassment, Jail and a President: You Gotta Love Israel
Score one for Women’s Rights! Score another for Israel doing Justice and for Ethical Standards!
It is bittersweet but ethics-affirming to read that Israel distinguishes itself again. Very soon, Israel’s eighth President Moshe Katsav will enter jail to serve a seven year sentence for the unanimous conviction of him in the Tel Aviv District Court a year ago of two counts of rape, two counts of sexual harassment, an indecent act using force, and obstruction of justice.
In its judgement, the court said the testimony of the main complainant in the case, a woman known only as “Alef” from the Tourism Ministry, was credible. Alef testified Katsav had raped her twice, first in his office and then two months later in the Sheraton Hotel in Jerusalem.
There are those who will be embarrassed by the whole situation, that Israel’s then president was convicted and is being jailed. What will “they” think?
Celebrate a Victory for Women’s Rights and Justice
I, for one, observe this as a moment to celebrate. We don’t celebrate the downfall of a once important political leader; rather we celebrate the victory of women’s rights and justice over machismo and sexism.
Israel exists in a macho neighborhood, awash with a culture of patriarchy and paternalism. Just this week, Israeli journalists caught on tape another shameful example, in the form of sexist comments – about female soldiers defending Israel no less – between the Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
But Katsav’s conviction and the impending incarceration are watershed moments. The message is clear: no more must women be subjected to, and silently endure, the sexist comments, groping or worse by men in power. If the President of the country can be tried, convicted, jailed (and forced to resign) over these heinous actions, then it can happen to YOU too. So clean up your language, your attitude and your behavior!
A Much Needed Win in the Struggle over the Role of Women in the Public Sphere
Israel is in the midst of a battle with fundamentalists Jews (yep, OUR fundamentalists) over the role of women in the public sphere. Groups are protesting recent decisions forbidding women for singing at public gatherings in Jerusalem, forbidding women’s pictures from appearing in ads on buses and billboards, and forbidding women’s active participation at relative’s funerals. This fight is part of an all-religion, global struggle between fundamentalism and liberalism. And we Jews must struggle to retain and expand hard-won women’s right.
Israel is a country that has made so many strides for the equality of women (think Golda Meir and the early inclusion women in the military). Given the issues with ultra-orthodox fundamentalists, Israel still has a long way to go. But let’s pause in the fight for a moment to praise this little county for doing what so many other places couldn’t, wouldn’t or didn’t. Israel held responsible a man in the highest echelons of power who sexually harassed his female employees.
Israel Religious Action Center at the Center of the Struggle
A side note: yasher koach (May your strength be firm!) to our Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and its Executive Director Anat Hoffman, who have been – and are -at the forefront of many a fight for women’s equality in Israel. Read more here.
On December 30, 2010, a three-judge panel unanimously found former Israeli President Moshe Katsav guilty of “rape, sexual harassment, committing an indecent act while using force, harassing a witness and obstruction of justice.”
Indeed, Mr. Katsav’s many offenses directly hurt not only the citizens he assaulted and demeaned, but, as a leading representative of the state, his actions harmed the government and people of Israel, whose principles, trust, and international image he egregiously violated. Against this shocking and depressing reality, however, the Israeli courts and the media restored a measure of dignity and hope by doggedly pursuing justice and fearlessly speaking truth to power.
Instead of being appalled by Mr. Katsav’s actions and expressing sympathy for his victims, a group of his political supporters comprised of dozens of community rabbis, heads of yeshivot, and other religious educators rushed to his defense following his conviction.
Today, I signed onto this letter by an international group of Rabbis and Jewish religious leaders which opposes the ridiculous and religiously indefensible letter by a small group of Israeli rabbis to support Mr. Katsav. I – and we – affirm our Jewish commitment and support for women’s rights in Israel and around the world. I thank Rabbis for Human Rights – North America for organizing this response.
Raping Our Faith, Assaulting Our Society: A Jewish Response to the Rabbis Defending Katsav
As rabbis and other Jewish leaders, we agree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said that the conviction of former President Moshe Katsav for rape and other crimes was a “sad day for Israel,” but one which showed that in Israel “all are equal before the law, and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body.”
As rabbis and religious leaders ourselves, we are horrified that dozens of Israeli community rabbis, heads of yeshivot, and other Jewish educators came to the defense of Mr. Katsav following his conviction. In a public letter to the former president, these leading Israeli rabbis slammed the “poisonous media,” urged Mr. Katsav to “be strong and continue to insist on the truth uncompromisingly” and closed their letter by saying “Respectfully yours and with deep appreciation as before.”
We find this rabbinical defense of a violent criminal to be shocking. It is shameful that these religious leaders staked their position in the name of Zionism and Judaism. To speak in this manner, as rabbis, is a hillul haShem, leading to a public denigration of Torah and Jewish tradition. Underlying their letter is a total disregard for the Israeli system of justice, a dismissal of a serious investigation, a willful rejection of a fair and careful trial process.
It may be that the rabbis who rallied to Mr. Katsav’s support have high regard for some of his positive accomplishments. But he has no claim to honor, certainly not to rabbinic praise. “Who is honored?” our tradition teaches, “The one who honors other human beings.” (Pirke Avot 4:1)
We stand united in our support for women’s rights in Israel and around the world. As we learn from the Torah, both male and female were created in the divine image, b’tzelem elohim (Genesis 1:27). It is this shared human expression of the divine image that is both the foundation of equality of all gender expressions and of the Jewish understanding of human rights.