Opinion |

Sara Netanyahu, Let’s Talk About ‘Sexual Violence’

Women protesting against the rape of a 16-year-old Israeli girl in Eilat, in Tel Aviv, August 23, 2020.
Women protesting against the rape of a 16-year-old Israeli girl in Eilat, in Tel Aviv, August 23, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

The Israel Police are currently investigating a case of gang rape in which at least 10 men raped a 16-year-old girl in an Eilat hotel. Some of the facts, as well as the exact circumstances and criminal charges, remain pending, but as in other cases of this kind (which sadly are not lacking in Israel), these predators clearly did not wish to see the girl as a human being. Their assault was against her very humanity.

When I was 6 years old, our downstairs neighbor, an 18-year-old named Yonatan, raped me on a regular basis for close to a year. Nothing happened to him. We ended up moving. My mother told me that on the day of the move, he came up to say goodbye and she confronted him. A year or two later, my stepbrother Daniel also began sexually abusing me, sometimes day after day. He, too, went on with his life. He works as a tattoo artist and has a daughter of his own, to the best of my knowledge.

How Trump demolished dishonest Netanyahu's non-denial denialCredit: Haaretz Weekly

At the end of May, Haaretz reported that the number of domestic violence complaints received by the Welfare Ministry was almost 10 times higher than in March, when coronavirus restrictions were first imposed. Between May 13 and May 20, welfare authorities received 512 complaints related to domestic violence. That’s an average of 73 women, men and children a day, who called to report that they were being beaten and abused inside their home, by their own family.

And amid all this, Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, was interviewed two weeks ago on N12 news. She did not come on the program to talk about these statistics, but to respond to the protests outside the prime minister’s residence and to refer to some ugly tweets that were directed against her in the past. She claimed to be a “battered woman” who’d experienced “sexual violence” by the demonstrators.

I would never seek to define for anyone what sexual violence is. I know what I experienced. I was penetrated and threatened with harm if I told anyone. I wouldn’t wish a drop of it on anyone. It sprawls inside you and rots; it turns your mind into a deceptive house of mirrors and brands you as damaged goods in your own eyes. For many of us, the struggle against these forces is daily.

So I don’t know what criteria Sara Netanyahu used in calling herself a “battered woman.” Perhaps some of us needn’t go around every day feeling that we’re broken things. If only someone would have told me that, ultimately, what was done to me is no worse than having my name written on a giant penis-shaped balloon.

Israel's first lady Sara Netanyahu, January 22, 2020.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

Mrs. Netanyahu may certainly have been deeply hurt by the things that were written about her. They are repulsive and tarnish whoever wrote them. They do nothing to help the protest either. But they are also not sexual assault. They are harassment, certainly. And I might have felt greater solidarity with Sara Netanyahu’s outcry were it not for the way that issues like domestic violence have been so thoroughly neglected by every single government headed by her husband Benjamin Netanyahu.

Still, it is Sara Netanyahu’s full right to be offended and to say what she pleases. That is as it should be. But whether her remarks in the interview truly came from the heart or were the result of some shadowy adviser tugging on a string – they reflect a lack of desire, or a capacity, to understand the dimensions of the pain that terms like “sexual violence” and “battered woman” carry for thousands of us, whose numbers continue to grow.

So even though “every woman, whatever her status and position, deserves protection,” as the prime minister said recently, there is no reason to expect that the Welfare Ministry figures will lead to any budgetary action or clear policy measures. Netanyahu has fashioned himself into the most electable person in the country in order to receive from us a job he can’t be bothered to do. He has instilled an ugly governing culture of people who chew up public resources, who trample on the public and then cry that their foot hurts; who toss words in the air as if they were taxpayer money.

Such a culture only strengthens those bereft of a moral compass, who seek to claim the bodies and souls of girls and women, or place the blame for the terrible crime in Eilat on the rape victim. It is in such a culture that a child psychologist can become a battered woman who was sexually assaulted by a tweet, especially when there’s another election to win. Until we uproot this culture from our midst, those in genuine need of an answer to their pain won’t be able to find it.

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