British media reports on controversial comments made by the IDF’s new nominee for chief rabbi (Colonel Eyal Karim) which elicited criticism from women’s groups and some politicians have, for the most part, been reasonably fair.
Though, the Guardian, Telegraph and Independent have all lead with the most sensationalist charges, that, in 2002 (before serving in the military), he seemed to suggest that soldiers may commit rape during wartime, all noted that he was speaking theoretically, based on his understanding of verses in the Torah, and was not discussing how soldiers should behave in modern times.
All reports also noted Karim’s subsequent clarification, stressing that rape is always wrong.
The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont (Women’s groups denounce Israeli military over nominee for chief rabbi, July 12) quoted Karim thusly:
“Obviously, in our times, when the world has advanced to a level of morality in which one does not marry captives, one must not perform this act [of rape], which is also entirely against the army’s values and orders.”
The Telegraph’s Raf Sanchez (Israeli army’s new chief rabbi accused of condoning rape by soldiers, July 13) noted the following:
Ten years later, Rabbi Karim clarified his comment, saying he been misinterpreted and that rape was wrong in all circumstances. He was not in uniform when he wrote the original post.
And, the Independent’s Samuel Osborne (Israel army appoints chief rabbi accused of condoning rape by soldiers, July 13) added this:
However, in 2012, following outrage over the post, Rabbi Karim clarified his comments, saying rape is prohibited in every instance.
Whilst the reports largely avoided misrepresentations of Karim’s comments, the decision by editors to publish the stories at all seems quite questionable in light of the fact that – as they’ve all noted – he in fact denied (several years ago) ever claiming that, in the modern era, rape was ever justified in battle.
However, there’s a larger point.
The news-worthiness of a story seems predicated upon a question concerning the larger context: why is this particular story relevant today? In publishing these articles, are readers to believe that the rape of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers during wartime is or has ever been a problem in the IDF? Because, the available research indicates that the opposite is true.
Specifically, research conducted by Elisabeth Wood, an expert on wartime sexual violence from Yale University, demonstrated that the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict represents a rare example where rape during wartime is extremely rare “if not totally absent”.
A final case of ethnic conflict in which sexual violence appears to be extremely limited if not totally absent is the Israeli Palestinian conflict. While the forced movement of Palestinians out of some areas in 1948 was accompanied by a few documented cases of rape (Morris 2004), at present neither Israelis nor Palestinians carry out sexual assaults despite targeting of civilians by Palestinians and the killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli security forces. In December 2003, I asked representatives of three human rights organizations (two Israeli and one Palestinian) whether they believed sexual assault was occurring but not reported or was not in fact taking place. They independently stated that there were nearly no cases of rape, and that they believe they would hear of it they were occurring as they did receive reports of lesser instances of sexual harassment
A 2006 master’s thesis by a Hebrew University student named Tal Nitsan reached the same conclusion. (Though, it should be noted that this conclusion was used to support a bizarre political hypothesis.)
Whilst the problem of sexual violence against women in war zones is a serious problem in many parts of the world, what it seems we’re left with in this case is an IDF chief rabbi nominee who denied ever suggesting that soldiers raping Palestinians was justified, in a country where such sexual assaults almost never happen.