Netanyahu's Condemnation of Alleged Rape by Palestinians Sparks Backlash

MK Yacimovich accuses the prime minister of exploiting the incident for incitement.

Shelly Yacimovich
Emil Salman

The alleged gang rape of a mentally handicapped Israeli woman by Palestinians sparked an angry political exchange after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in on the assault and its coverage – or lack thereof – by the Israeli media.  

“This was a horrific crime that requires wall-to-wall condemnation, but such condemnation hasn’t been heard – not from the media and not across the political spectrum. One can only imagine what would have happened if the situation were reversed,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page Thursday night, posting a report that said police believed the assault was terror-related. He called on the alleged rapists to be prosecuted to “the full extent of the law.” 

Netanyahu’s declaration strongly implied that if the accused assailants were Jewish and the victim was  Arab – the reaction would have been one of greater outrage. His criticism comes after widespread outrage and media coverage of the brutal beating of a supermarket worker by plain clothed policemen, a video of which was widely circulated in the media and condemned publicly.  

The next morning, he appeared to regret speaking out so sharply in a hasty fashion, writing another short post Friday morning: “the incident as reported caused me deep shock and pain – however, it wasn’t right for me to address the topic until the investigation was complete.” 

But his admission of misjudgement came too late – the political response to his original Facebook post had already been fierce – notably, an outraged post written in response to the prime minister’s by Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich, who decried Netanyahu’s “hypocrisy.” 

“Shame on you, Prime Minister,” wrote Yacimovich. “Zero empathy for rape victims (has been shown by you) until you saw a window of opportunity for incitement. “

“(Rape) requires wall-to-wall condemnation”? Really? So why haven’t you condemned rapists until now? We have never heard a word from you about the rapist (former President Moshe) Katsav. Not a sound when it comes to the disturbing investigation regarding (late Minister Rehavam Ze’evi).”

Yachimovich said the prime minister had “not once” spoken out for victims of rape, victims of rape and sexual harassment in the Israel Defense Forces, or raised the topic in cabinet meetings and had “neglected, abandoned, and ignored” rape victims showing “zero interest in one of the most horrific and brutal phenomena that haunt the lives of so many women.” Echoing Netanyahu’s words, she said legislators “across the political spectrum” who had worked tirelessly to protect women through support, programs and legislation had “never been supported” by the prime minister, she charged. Rape was “horrific, cruel and heart wrenching” she said, both with or without a “detestable nationalistic motive.” 

She said she hoped now that Netanyahu has appeared to have woken up on the topic, “your sudden decision to break your silence (on rape) will become a habit, we will hear your voice and see you take action (against it.)” 

The shocking details of the alleged crime  were first reported  on Wednesday when the suspects were arrested. The woman, who is 20 and has an intellectual disability, told police that two Palestinians gang-raped her while calling out racial slurs and that they also urinated on her, while a third man filmed the attack that took place two weeks ago. The victim told detectives the alleged assault took place near the apartment building where the suspects live near her relatives, and that the perpetrators threatened to rape the woman’s aunt and kill her brothers if she told anyone about the rape.

Pursuing the charges has been challenging for the police as a result of the woman’s difficulty in expressing herself as a result of her disability, officers have not yet determined the facts of the case. The suspects are being held remain in custody until at least Monday, after a judge determined the standard of reasonable suspicion was met and that the allegation of a “serious and protracted incident involving multiple assailants and verbal abuse of a racist nature.”