Over the past year, Rabbi Dov Lipman has burnished his public profile fighting for U.S. immigrants to Israel like himself, lobbying the government to ease COVID-19 rules to expedite family visits.
But behind the scenes, the former Knesset member has been waging equally fierce battles in court against a woman accusing him of sexual misconduct, and another who published a Facebook post describing allegedly improper behavior on his part, which he denies.
Last July, the D.C.-born rabbi, 49, filed a libel suit against two women who belong to his close-knit community of Modern Orthodox, English-speaking immigrants in Beit Shemesh. The women both worked closely with Lipman in 2011 on the issue that launched his political career: advocating for women and girls harmed by violent religious extremists in the city, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of Jerusalem.
According to court documents, Lipman’s lawsuit charges that comments the two women posted on a private Facebook group about alleged sexual misconduct by him damaged his reputation and harmed his career. His lawsuit asks for 100,000 shekels ($30,850) from each woman in compensation. Both women are in their 50s and married mothers.
Last November, the first woman named in Lipman’s libel action filed a sexual harassment countersuit against him for his behavior before and during his time in the Knesset, asking that he pay her 120,000 shekels in compensation.
Lipman’s Facebook page still identifies him as a “politician,” though technically that hasn’t been true for six years. In 2015, Lipman’s three-year Knesset stint ended after his party – Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid – didn’t win enough seats to keep him in the parliament. In 2018, after three years of continued advocacy for the party, serving as its “English speakers’ representative,” he and Yesh Atid suddenly severed ties. At the time, Lipman, a married father of four, announced he had left Yesh Atid for “personal” reasons, and a spokesman for the party announced “it has been decided that Dov Lipman will no longer represent or be active in the party.”
The women’s legal response in the libel suit, part of the court documents, contains text messages exchanged between Lipman and one of the women. In one of them, the rabbi acknowledges that it was the allegations of misconduct that was responsible for his sudden break with Yesh Atid. “I have suffered immensely for my behavior,” Lipman wrote in the text message. “I stepped down from Yesh Atid which I had given 5 years to.”
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Since then, Lipman has held jobs in various Jewish advocacy organizations, in roles that include taking groups on tours of the Knesset. He is now active in a different political arena: Zionist politics, serving as secretary-general of the World Confederation of United Zionists, a post that positions him for a senior role in the World Zionist Organization. He publishes frequent op-ed columns, has appeared on Zoom panels for Jewish organizations and done scholar-in-residence stints on Israeli politics. His Facebook page, with more than 31,000 followers, offers video “Torah drills,” political commentary and updates on his public advocacy activities.
The court documents show that Lipman’s suit is directed at comments the two women made in a post on a private Facebook group called #GamAni on December 16, 2019. The closed group was created in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. #GamAni is the Hebrew equivalent of #MeToo.
‘Actually a predator’
When the women posted their comments, the closed group was composed of 1,200 members from the United States, Israel and other countries. It declared that it was a “safe space” for women to share their experiences of sexism and harassment in the Jewish world, and find support and advice. Women can warn others about men with whom they have had negative encounters.
According to the court documents, the December 2019 post on which the women commented was written by a U.S.-based moderator of the Facebook group; Lipman did not take legal action against the moderator. The post warned communities considering inviting him for speaking engagements or scholar-in-residence stints that Lipman was “actually a predator who has taken advantage of his position” and should not be offered a platform.
In comments on this post, the first woman named in the suit described how, during the time they had worked together in their efforts against religious extremists in Beit Shemesh, Lipman had propositioned her.
Again based on court documents, the second woman sued by Lipman echoed the warning in the original Facebook post and noted that his interactions with women in the past included abuse of his power and bullying behavior.
Before filing his suit, Lipman sent the women a letter threatening legal action unless they apologized and retracted their statements. The women refused.
His ensuing lawsuit asserts that the Facebook comments “do not contain even a grain of truth.”
“The false statements, the twisted facts and the bald-faced and evil lies were meant to accuse the complainant of acts, behavior and negative qualities of a sex criminal who harasses and assaults women, taking cynical advantage of his public stature,” the lawsuit states.
According to the libel suit, the women’s Facebook comments were made with “evil intent,” with “the goal of humiliating, deriding and destroying the chances of the complainant to be chosen for public roles, to damage his ability to support his family, with the goal of destroying his life.”
‘Tip of the iceberg’
The response filed in court on behalf of the women attacks Lipman’s lawsuit as “spurious” and “exaggerated,” as well as an attempt to silence them and “damage their right to express their truth and their positions.” It relates their version of Lipman’s behavior, with additional detail added by the evidence presented in the first woman’s sexual harassment suit against Lipman.
The court documents reveal how the women’s attorney argued in the response to the libel suit that the women’s comments were made on a closed private group and rejected Lipman’s charge that the posts by the women represented a deliberate desire to harm him or a personal vendetta against him.
“What my clients wrote was merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the terrible things they know about the plaintiff,” the women’s attorney wrote in the response document. “My clients behaved with the utmost restraint [in their Facebook comments] and did not detail his actions. Their behavior demonstrates their noble intentions and personal code of values in a situation that not only justified what they wrote, but required it.”
According to the court documents, Lipman and the two women worked together beginning in 2011, waging a public battle against religious extremism and women’s rights in their community. Subsequently, Lipman pursued his political ambitions while the women continued in their advocacy activities for women’s rights.
While they worked together in advocacy, and then when she asked for his support as a Knesset member in her ongoing political struggles in Beit Shemesh, the first woman’s sexual harassment lawsuit stated, Lipman “repeatedly, in a completely inappropriate way, including repeated offers of contact, repeated requests for hugs and kisses, declarations that he needed and missed being hugged, intimate insinuations, evening invitations to one-on-one meetings in empty apartments, linkage of assistance in advocacy to intimacy, and other inappropriate and terrible behavior, particularly in view of his public role as a rabbi and a Knesset member.”
Lipman’s response to the lawsuit strenuously denied her account of events as being “full of lies and deliberate misinterpretation,” saying that her “misleading” story was backed up by selective editing of their text communications and that the women were engaged in a “conspiracy” and “witch hunt” against him.
His attorney argued in the response court document that the former Knesset member’s repeated requests for “hugs” merely reflected a desire for moral support, and that the invitations to evening meetings in empty apartments were not meant as sexual come-ons. The relationship, both virtual and real-life, the response document asserted, was a friendship “with no sexual aspect whatsoever,” insisting that Lipman “never sexually harassed her, not in words and certainly not in actions.”
The response document did, however, contain an admission that Lipman shared intimate details of his relationship with his wife with the first woman.
After learning of what she saw as inappropriate behavior by Lipman, the second woman met with Lipman to discuss his alleged inappropriate behavior and he proceeded to “beg” her not to discuss the accusations publicly, the court documents said.
As they discussed the issue of her discretion, the second woman, considering his plight, requested as a condition that Lipman “promise that he would not engage in any educational, public, or religious activity related to assisting women and girls,” according to the response in the libel suit.
According to a WhatsApp message exchange contained in Lipman’s response in the sexual harassment case, he agreed to her request. “I give you my word that I will not engage in any activity related to helping women in need and if any women come to me I will refer them to someone else for help,” Lipman wrote.
In the same message, Lipman described how he had been in therapy and is “healthier now” and working to “repair and rebuild” his marriage. Accusations being made public, he said, “will simply destroy my marriage, destroy my kids and destroy lives.”
While he said he had “never touched anyone inappropriately,” Lipman wrote in the WhatsApp message that he had been “very lonely” when communicating with the first woman and that “what I wrote was wrong. I take responsibility for it. But I am not some dangerous monster who is out there hurting women and I won’t be engaging in any ‘friendly’ communication with any women other than my wife,” he stated, according to the court documents.
Acquiescing to his pleas for sympathy and given his promise to stay away from vulnerable women, the second woman, according to her court document, chose to keep her knowledge of Lipman’s troubles with women to herself.
But as time passed between that agreement and the comment she posted on Facebook, she observed that Lipman was not doing as he had agreed: he was taking jobs and engaging in activities that put him in direct contact with young and vulnerable women, court documents state. The women’s response in the libel suit includes Facebook posts by Lipman showing him in positions in which he was working with young women, which, their attorney wrote, demonstrated that he had broken his promise.
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