Politicising the victims of sexual assault means they suffer twice

A piece in the Times has been criticised for questioning evidence of systematic Hamas rapes


The site of the Nova festival massacre, where sexual assaults took place on October 7 (Getty images)

June 11, 2024 18:00

Hannah Arendt once wrote: “the result of consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end-is being destroyed.”

There are a number of reasons why people decide to subvert, ignore, or twist the truth: fear, pride, cowardice, the list of such human frailties goes on. I have noted a particularly cynical reason for this phenomenon in recent years amongst many in mainstream media: a sacrificing of truth at the altar of specific ideological narratives and agendas.

This weekend I was disturbed to my core to read a Times piece that obfuscated the truth of what happened to women on October 7th for an agenda.

As we know - amongst many other reports - a UN report found strong credible evidence of rape at Nova festival, Route 232, and Kibbutz Re’im as well as, circumstantial evidence at other sites, including naked and bound bodies.

The purpose of this is not to convince the unconvinced as to what happened to Israeli women. There are many other superior pieces and reports in this respect that one can read for analysis.

However, questions must be asked about the subjectivity of The Times piece, which is now being used to those who seek to deny and downplay the events of October 7.

The article, labelled as investigative, reads like an opinion piece. The weight of evidence that has come out since October was not mentioned.

Any person qualified to report on rape as a weapon of war should first and foremost note that there is evidence of multiple rapes at multiple locations, with similar injuries, all within the space of a few hours. This information was not given in the piece as a preface.

More disturbingly in my view, was the tone and framing of the piece which was constructed in such a manner that has been used to deny and diminish Jewish suffering.

The historical contextualisation provided was revisionist by omission: making repeated references to solely European pogroms. This erases Mizrahi history and the pogroms that Jews in the Middle East also endured, of which sexual assault of Mizrahi women was a tragic feature.

For example, the most traumatic event in the collective memory of Iraqi Jews: The Farhud. In this Baghdad pogrom of 1941, 180 people were brutally murdered and thousands were wounded and raped. The reason for cherry-picking history in such a way reads as a cynical attempt to smear the testimonies of rape as a racist Ashkenazi projection. The framing of the piece strongly suggests that the real history of the sexual violence perpetrated by European Christians against Jewish women, has resulted in bias amongst Jews that has led to falsification - or at least an exaggeration - of prejudicial claims of violence perpetrated by Arabs against Jews.

A line in the piece reads: “the idea of the Arab male as an explicit sexual threat to Jewish women developed in tandem with the movement of Israeli politics to the right.” While there can be no doubt of the bigoted motives of some in the current Israeli government, this framing erases the fact that there is a demonstrated history of sexual violence perpetrated against Jewish women in the Middle East.

Also included in the piece was an implicit criticism of the integrity and competence of the Zaka volunteers charged with body of those slain on the basis that they are religious Jews

The writers’ framing of the incompetency of Zaka volunteers due to a “lack of familiarity with women’s bodies” is hard to perceive as anything but highly degrading towards the Strictly Orthodox and their adherence to religious practices. Further, it denies the bravery of their work: they go into situations that few could stomach to give the dead dignity.

According to an expert quoted in the piece, Zaka volunteers had a “tendency to focus on injuries they believed pointed to sexual violence, such as smashed pelvises and gunshot wounds to sex organs, ignoring other injuries that muddied the picture.”

There is no attempt to investigate as to what other injuries could muddy a picture of smashed pelvises that would make claims of sexual violence unfounded.

Aspersions are also cast as to Zaka volunteer’s competency on the basis that their main education was religious, not secular. It posits that the reason the atrocities inflicted on the 7th of October against women and girls have echoes of the atrocities inflicted on Jewish women historically is because religious Jews are regurgitating what they read in Jewish text. Ignoring that there are plenty of more modern examples without reaching for the Talmud.

Some of the sources for the article have disowned the publication. A statement from the interviewees was released on Sunday that accused the authors of politicising sexual violence and aiming to discredit victims. It included the following:

“Much of what we said was omitted, and only selective excerpts were used, taken out of context to serve the article’s agenda.”

The victims of ideological agendas are threefold:

Most significantly, the victims of violence themselves. Those whose tragic experiences betray a reality that goes against a narrative that too many in legacy media and social justice organisations are desperate to maintain. These victims then suffer twice. Their stories become hidden footnotes in this narrative: ignored, denied, minimised.

But those who hold such ideological agendas are, themselves, victims too.

When one finds oneself writing an article about victims of sexual assault that reads like a defence attorney’s strategy - invoking selective history and poking random holes until the truth is indiscernible - this is a debasement of oneself as a person.

The adherence to a narrative has taken precedence over one’s capacity for empathy towards human suffering, which includes not cynically obfuscating the extent of what these victims endured. This empathy - a most precious part of our humanity - is something that should be strongly protected. Yet it has been abdicated by too many for causes they follow with blind zeal.

The final victim here is the truth itself. As Hannah Arendt wrote, with this our sense of bearings in the real world is eroded as truth becomes cannon fodder in the pursuit of ideological agendas.

Out of human dignity for those whose reality contradicts our own biases, for the pluralism of our societies, and for ourselves, we must resist the pull of substituting our ideologies for truth.

June 11, 2024 18:00

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