Netanyahu's Facebook Post Complicated Rape Investigation, Police Sources Say

'An order from on high' was said to have been issued to replace the team of investigators in the case a day after the prime minister wrote a Facebook post on the matter.

Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, May 15, 2016.
Emil Salman

Police sources have claimed that a Facebook post by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the suspected rape of a mentally challenged woman by Palestinians from the Nablus area in the West Bank "presented a problem for the police" and put them under pressure. One senior police officer said the prime minister's Facebook post could distort decision making in the case.

“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, including a report that said police believed the assault was terror-related. Netanyahu called on the suspects to be prosecuted to “the full extent of the law.” 

The next morning, Netanyahu appeared to regret speaking out so strongly and quickly, 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.” 

An Israel Police spokeswoman told Army Radio on Sunday that the suspected rape was apparently not politically motivated. In an interview with Army Radio, Merav Lapidot said that the investigation is still ongoing and that “there is a disparity in versions between the suspects.” She added that “there is still no sufficient evidentiary basis for prosecution.”

Police sources said the prime minister's initial Facebook post turned the case from one involving a suspected rape to a case entirely relating to "maintaining the honor of the prime minister." Netanyahu labeled the acts of the suspects as anti-Jewish without consulting with the police, the sources said.

A day after Netanyahu's comments were posted, the police transferred the case from the Jaffa police station, which had investigated it for about three weeks, to a more senior, regional police team. Officially, it should be noted, the police have insisted that the transfer of the case was made because of its complexity. They deny that it resulted from Netanyahu's Facebook post.
But sources have said the order to transfer the case came "from on high" following the Facebook post and after consultation between Israel Police officials and officials from the Public Security Ministry. The decision is considered surprising, because the previous investigators had the case from the beginning and were responsible for having the suspects' detention extended three times.

From the current evidence, the case involves a Palestinian minor from the Nablus area who lives in Jaffa and who had sexual relations with the alleged victim, who is 22. The case raises the question as to whether the woman had the capacity to exercise judgment under the circumstances and whether the Palestinian exploited her mental disability.

Police also arrested an adult suspect from the West Bank on suspicions that he was present when the two would meet and documented what was occurring. Police say the evidence available at this point casts major doubt that the case involves rape, noting that there were a number of such encounters and not just one, as the purported victim and her family have claimed.

Police are also investigating whether the complaint may have been filed because the woman's family discovered that she had a relationship with a West Bank Palestinian. There have been widespread instances of harm to women with mental disabilities, who are easily sexually exploited, law enforcement officials point out.