What’s the difference between the Eyal Golan affair and the Jeffrey Epstein affair? According to Revital Hovel’s chilling, thorough investigation, the statements given to the police show that in the Golan affair, as in that of Epstein, a well-oiled machine procured vulnerable teenage girls, some of them minors, and trafficked them for the sexual enjoyment of wealthy, well-connected men.
The men in the Golan affair, members of the pop superstar’s inner circle, tracked down the girls during his concerts, identifying their vulnerability and promising them crumbs from the singer’s “glamorous lifestyle.” These men persuaded the girls to repeatedly provide sexual services — sometimes in public, in parked cars or in hotel rooms in Eilat, and sometimes under the influence of drugs they were plied with – all in the hopes of getting close to their idol. Occasionally the men went even further, extorting sex acts with the use of threats.
Sometimes they threw the girls a few hundred shekels. Obviously, there was no “intimacy,” no reciprocity or sexual pleasure for the girls; they were supposed to “pamper” the men in exchange for the privilege of proximity to the star. Eyal Golan was a regular participant in these ugly incidents. He knew his young fans wanted to “pamper” him, but they “pampered” his hangers-on against their will. Thus he could be suspected of conspiring to corrupt the morals of minors, sexual extortion, rape and other sexual offenses.
As in the Epstein affair, in Israel, too, law enforcement agencies did everything possible to protect the abusive, exploitative men, particularly the celebrity among them: Investigations were dropped, prosecutorial directives were not followed and the recommendations did not match the gravity of the findings. The media also dropped the ball, minimized the reports and continued its adoration of Golan. Here, as in the United States, there were a few righteous men in Sodom (Orly Vilnai and Guy Meroz of Channel 13, Revital Hovel in Haaretz) who persisted and didn’t let the sickening witness’ statements sink into oblivion.
But in Israel, in contrast to the United States, public opinion has not risen up to decry a man exposed as a misogynist who abuses and disrespects disadvantaged girls as if they were sex toys. In the U.S., too, it took years before courageous and committed journalists managed to put the topic on the public agenda; but when they did, the public’s rage had no bounds. Not so in Israel. Here, the shocking report of Vilnai and Meroz barely caused a stir, and Hovel’s horrifying investigation failed to draw an appropriate response. How is that possible?
Perhaps the difference lies in Epstein’s having belonged to the “strong” side, according to identity politics: It’s easy to label him as a privileged Ashkenazi Jew, and as a result to see clearly his disgraceful abuse of his wealth and connections to hurt weaker individuals with impunity. Golan, however, is a Mizrahi Jew, and thus by definition protected from accusations of using privilege to exploit vulnerable women. Who wants to take the risk of accusing an adored “Mizrahi singer” of ugly deeds? Who would dare to risk being denounced as a member of the privileged elite who persecutes Mizrahim? We’re lucky that 13 years ago, when former President Moshe Katsav was tried for rape, identity politics was not fully developed; otherwise he, like Golan today, would have received a protective, silencing embrace.
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Identity politics, as in this case, compromises the rule of law. A person whose disgraceful actions should have occasioned careful legal scrutiny benefits from additional privilege, as a member of an ostensibly oppressed group. There are circumstances when discrimination must be taken into account — a hungry person should not be jailed for stealing bread — but that principle should apply equally to every hungry person, and only to hungry people, not to everyone in the hungry persons’ identity group.
Eyal Golan is not hungry; he is a strong, wealthy, well-connected man who systematically misused his great power to harm disadvantaged women. If Israeli feminists, who raise a hue and cry when someone touches a lawmaker on her butt, understood solidarity, we’d see them leading the protest against giving Golan a public stage on every TV show and at every event, until he is brought to justice.
Anyone who insists on claiming that the girls and young women provided “consensual” sexual services, that they were “sluts” who “wanted it,” would do well to reread one of the most painful witness statements in Hovel’s report: “As soon as I’m alone with the man and he demands something sexual, after I tell him twice that I don’t want to and he keeps insisting, I’m afraid he’ll do it forcibly or something else unpleasant, so I prefer to just do it, so he’ll leave me alone.”
When a girl “agrees” to sexual contact out of fear that she will be raped if she refuses, there is nothing consensual about it. And when sexual contact is not fully consensual, it is rape, according to Israeli law. It’s that simple.