A prominent Christian leader in Israel, soon to be honored by Israel for his work to encourage Christian Arab youths enlist into the army, is suspected of sexually harassment, a television report claimed Sunday evening.
- Israeli army sees increase in Christian Arab recruits
- Israeli Christian community, neither Arab nor Palestinian, are fighting to save identity
- The Israeli minister who made a revolution in the Arab Christian community
Father Gabriel Naddaf, who is slated to light a beacon at the Independence Day opening ceremony Wednesday night, allegedly sexually harassed teenage boys and solicited favors to use his influence with senior members of the defense establishment, a report broadcast Sunday night on Channel 2 said.
In response, the police said they have begun a preliminary investigation into the claims.
Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox leader, is known for his public campaign to get Christian Arab youths to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces, and is considered very close to senior defense officials.
Naddaf denied the allegations, telling reporters: "They are trying to put together an evil plot against me, my wife and two children. I haven't hurt a soul, nor did I take advantage of my position to gain privileges from anyone. I shall light the torch on Independence Day."
The investigative report brought as evidence exchanges that several young Israeli Arabs had with Naddaf on Facebook. In one of them the clergyman wrote to a youth who had asked for his help regarding his placement in the IDF: “You always please me. I don’t know what comes over me every time I see you in uniform. It feels strange. Masculine.”
Another young man, a discharged soldier who asked for Naddaf’s help when he was applying to the Israel Police, said, “He [Naddaf] started to talk about sex. He started to ask me, ‘How is it with you? Strong? Small? Large?’ Then I started to catch on.”
Another young man said, “He [Naddaf] said to me, ‘Come, take me on some sort of hike we’ll meet when you want, whenever you can.’ So I said, ‘Fine, which church or in which office.’ [He answered], ‘No, no. What church, what office? No, let’s go on a hike together, we’ll sit together.’”
In another correspondence presented in the report, Naddaf writes to his Palestinian associate, Khalil Ganem, that he is prepared to help a trader in ritual objects get an entry visa into Israel in exchange for money. “I’m prepared to write a personal request for him as the leader of Christians Forum in Israel. I will ask that he come visit us, he just has to take the request. He must give us a contribution – 2,500 shekels [$660].” Ganem then asks, “What’s my cut?” and Naddaf answers, “Help yourself – 500.”
Other correspondence with Ganem about Palestinians seeking entry visas hints at sexual favors required in exchange for Naddaf’s help.
The Nazareth-born priest is one of the most prominent spiritual leaders among Israel’s Christian Arabs, and has become a well-known figure for his efforts to get Christian youths to join the army. There have been a number of Knesset debates about harassment he has allegedly suffered in the Arab community because of his pro-IDF stance.
According to the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law, a clergyman is forbidden to make sexual advances while giving guidance or advice. The law states that a clergyman who makes persistent sexual suggestions or repeated references to the sexuality of someone who consults him is guilty of sexual harassment, even if the victim does not object.
After the broadcast, former activists of the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum headed by Naddaf said that they had warned about his improper behavior long ago. One activist told Haaretz that he and some of his friends had tried to warn people that the priest was acting improperly but no one listened to them. “Government ministers and political figures, primarily in the Likud, were thrilled by the fact that he was a priest with a cross and a robe and they gave him bear hugs, without checking and without asking.” When it was announced that he was to light a beacon on Independence Day, some of the former activists protested.
In response to the report, Naddaf wrote, “Criminal elements in the community, along with those whose envy of my life’s work has clouded their judgment, united to block me from getting recognition for my contribution toward drafting Arab Christians into the IDF. These elements have committed a clever crime against me and the forum and have succeeded in manufacturing deceptive evidence against me that looks real.
“The truth is I have never done anything described in the report – I have never sexually harmed anyone, never tried to hurt anyone, never tried to arrange permits for Palestinians to come to Israel. These hostile elements, whom I unfortunately trusted and worked closely with, exploited my trust and took control of my Facebook pages and even the messages on my phone in order to write lies in my name.”
He added that he had taken two polygraph tests that both showed he was telling the truth. In fact, a polygraph test he took at the behest of Channel 2 showed that he was lying.
Culture Minister Miri Regev said in a statement she relies on the legal authorities to complete its investigation ... everyone is innocent unless proven otherwise. Therefore the minister shall not intervene in the public body's decision before law enforcement authorities notify otherwise."
Police said that in addition to investigating the allegations against Naddaf, he has aso complained of receiving threats and has said he was told last week that if he lights a torch his name will be slandered on Facebook.