There is a scene in the Netflix series Unbelievable, where a young woman who has been found guilty of making a false accusation of rape is sent to see a court-appointed counsellor who tells her that, whatever happened, “I do believe that you were violated”.
For the viewer — who has watched with horror and rage as the women is first raped, then disbelieved — it is an emotional turning point. At last, someone respects her. At last, she has a sympathetic listener. Justice is some way off, but healing can begin.
Unbelievable — written by Jewish husband and wife Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman — is essential viewing for anyone who still harbours doubts about the deplorable court case in Cyprus that concluded this week with the sentencing of the British woman accused of inventing rape charges against a group of Israeli teenagers.
Based on a true story, the series shows how a vulnerable, traumatised American girl was bullied by two police officers into retracting her claim, and then prosecuted for making it. Only the detective work of two women detectives in a different state could track down her rapist and prove her story to be true. Eventually, she is vindicated, her rapist jailed, and she is compensated by the city authorities.
One person who should watch Unbelievable is Jonathan Hoffman. The campaigner against antisemitism seems to think that he knows all the facts about the Cyprus case. “It was consensual” he declared on Facebook. He bases this armchair judgment apparently on one thing only —“I have watched the videos.”
He went on to say: “A woman has alleged she was raped by ten Israeli boys. Obviously, if true, this is meat for the antisemites. People who fight antisemitism are therefore entitled to see the evidence.”
Hogwash. If this case has sparked antisemitism it is due to the actions of the deeply unpleasant Israeli boys. The furore over their victim’s treatment is in no way fuelled by anti-Jewish prejudice, but has everything to do with the way women are treated by men, how criminal justice systems behave towards alleged rape victims, about the assumptions that some young men make about how to behave towards women.
The real work of opposing antisemitism was done by the Israelis who travelled to Cyprus to support the woman as she turned up to court to find out if she was being sent to prison, although the fear of antisemitism wasn’t their main concern.
Fifty of them were affiliated with Israel’s Association of Rape Crisis Centres. Orit Sulitzeanu, the organisation’s director, said that the court’s guilty verdict “testified to the deep lack of understanding of what sexual injury is.”
Her group met the British woman’s mother, who told them that their support was especially important. “I can’t believe the amount of support we have seen from around the world. In particular, this group of people really changed perceptions back in the UK. I’ve got friends and family who are all messaging about it and it is fantastic.” In other words, the Israeli activists had done much to restore their nation’s reputation, which was harmed so badly by the airport scenes of celebrations when the accused boys returned to Israel.
Sulitzeanu added: “I hope the young Israeli men will realise that they hurt the young woman badly, even if they were not put on trial.” Her hope seems unlikely, as only last week one of the boys questioned in Cyprus was boohooing about helping police with their enquiries and threatening to sue the British woman. If anything was “meat to antisemites”, that’s it.
How about the scenes this week outside the courthouse in New York where Harvey Weinstein shuffled in to face his rape accusers? Will antisemitism activists trawl the internet for videos which to use to pronounce guilt or innocence, and labelling Weinstein’s accusers as antisemites? Please, no. Like it or not (very much not), Jewish men can be as guilty as anyone else of sexual offences. A respectful way of responding to that fact would be to support and champion the women who speak out, and think about what we can do to make things better. That doesn’t include watching videos filmed by boys with no morals.
The lessons from this horrible case aren’t just for the teenagers at its centre — although it’s certainly something that young adults should be thinking and talking about. Policemen, lawyers, politicians and parents must all take a good look at what they can do to prevent this from happening again.
But it will. And I don’t know what would be worse, to have a daughter violated, traumatised and branded a liar, or a son self-exposed to the world as a monster before they reach their 20th birthdays.