The Haifa district prosecutor's office has informed Father Gabriel Naddaf, an Israeli Greek Orthodox priest, that it has decided to close its investigation into suspicions that he had committed indecent acts involving three separate victims.
In 2016, Father Naddaf was given the major honor of lighting one of the Independence Day torches at the main holiday commemoration at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
The investigation against him was opened two years ago after the Israel Television Company, known then as Channel 2 news, reported that he had sexually harassed young men and that he had also received improper benefits at a time when he headed an organization that encouraged Israeli Arab Christians to volunteer for service in the Israeli army. Naddaf denied any wrongdoing.
The police launched an investigation of Naddaf based mainly on three allegations of indecent acts, one purportedly dating back to 2008 and two others from the period between 2015 and 2016. During the police investigation, law enforcement officials also suspected that Naddaf had attempted to obstruct the case by trying to convince one of the complainants to recant his allegations.
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At the end of the investigation, however, police suggested that the cases be closed. The prosecutor's office reviewed the files and ultimately decided to accept the police recommendation and ordered to close the cases.
One case was closed for lack of sufficient evidence to put Father Naddaf on trial. The files on the two other complaints were closed based on absence of criminal liability. The obstruction of justice cases were closed on the same basis.
Channel 2 reported that several young Arab-Israeli men had interacted with Naddaf on Facebook, raising suspicions that he had engaged in sexual harassment and misuse of his position of authority. In one message Naddaf reportedly wrote to a young man who had sought the priest's assistance in enlisting in the army, but Naddaf said associates of his had taken over his Facebook page, without his permission.
"I have always liked you," one message said. "I don't know what happens to me every time I see you in uniform. I don't know what. I feel strange. Masculinity."
Another young man who had finished his army service and sought Nadaf's help in joining the Israel Police, recounted the following: "[Naddaf] started to talk about sex, started to ask me? 'How is he with you? Strong? Little? Big?' Then I understood." Channel 2 also reported that Naddaf failed a lie detector test relating during investigations.
Father Naddaf is seen as one of the most prominent spiritual leaders of Israel's Arab-Christian community. His efforts to encourage Christian Israeli Arabs, who are exempt from the draft, to volunteer for the army, have earned him a high public profile in the country.
At one point, the Knesset held several hearings on alleged harassment suffered by Father Naddaf for his activities encouraging army service. He was also considered a close associate to a number of senior defense officials. It was on that basis that he was given the high honor of lighting an Independence Day torch.
Following the airing of the Channel 2 report, some of those who had been involved in his organization to encourage Christians to enlist came forward and said they had previously expressed concerns that Naddaf had engaged in inappropriate conduct.
One of the individuals told Haaretz that the warnings were not taken seriously. "Cabinet ministers and political activists, mainly from Likud, were excited to have a priest with a cross and a frock and they embraced him with a bear hug, without investigating or asking [questions]."
When the Channel 2 report aired two years ago, Nadaf responded: "Criminal elements in the community together with individuals who were jealous over the success of my life's work drove them crazy, got together to prevent me from receiving recognition for my contribution to enlisting Christian Arabs into the Israeli army."
Naddaf denied allegations of sexual misconduct reported by Channel 2 and said that associates had exploited his trust in them to take over his Facebook page as well as send messages from his cellphone in his name. Naddaf said he underwent two lie detector tests both of which he passed, contradicting the Channel 2 report that he had failed a polygraph test.