Sunday, December 26, 2010

A rapist who dodged jail, or a Palestinian man unjustly accused?: A Discussion

Sabbar Kashur, on the cover of Ha’Ir (The City) magazine

On Christmas Eve in among the silly holiday tweets on my feed was an RT from Slate's @amandamarcotte that pointed to a blogpost from Israeli blogger Lisa Goldman about Sabbar Kashur, a Palestinian Muslim Israeli man accused of raping a Jewish Israeli woman. Marcotte urged those of us who were "hand-wringing" over the treatment of the Palestinian Kashur by the Israeli court to "go read this", implying that there was new evidence of Kashur's guilt. On December 3rd Ha’Ir (The City), a weekly magazine distributed only in Tel Aviv, published a cover story by Lital Grossman that openly questioned the allegations of anti-Arab racism in light of the details of Kashur's sentence, which was revealed to have been a plea bargain. Grossman's article inspired Goldman's blogpost (and Marcotte's tweet) and all three summarily dismiss the effects of anti-Arab racism on Kashur's case on feminist grounds.

After two years under house arrest Kashur was finally charged earlier this year with "rape by deception", based on the accusation that he had mis-represented himself to his accuser--called "B" by the court to protect her identity--as a single Jewish Israeli rather than the married Palestinian Israeli Muslim he is. The court's decision was openly questioned and sparked debate about the secondary role of Palestinians with Israeli society and their subsequent vulnerability to the law. In response to these criticisms the judge revealed that Kashur's sentence of rape by deception was a plea bargain. The lesser charge, which led to an 18 month sentence for Kashur, was proposed by the prosecution because the more serious rape charge could not be proved. In her unsealed testimony B affirmed,

“He took off my pants and underwear [...] and all of this was done with force, I didn’t agree to anything… I was left in just my shirt. Then he took off his clothes… then he put saliva on his penis and then, it was like full penetration, like, it wasn’t with consent as he claims. He laid me on the floor… and asked to kiss my chest too and then like when I asked him to stop and tried to push him away, he started pressuring me with his arms forcefully on me… when I tried to push him with my hand in his stomach, this happened in a more advanced stage, when he was already inside of me, then he said that if I stay silent and I don’t resist, then it would like end faster and it wouldn’t be, like, he wouldn’t use force. I still resisted him and it was forced.”

The blogger Goldman concludes that B’s story "sounds believable"... although she does not explain why she thinks so. She writes, "Based on her testimony it appears that she was not a racist but rather a terribly vulnerable, emotionally damaged woman who was desperate for affection." So for Goldman B's emotional vulnerability precludes the possibility of her racism, a false binary that disregards the fact that, however desperate her circumstances, B is a member of a privileged ethnic group within Israel and Kashur isn't.

According to Goldman,

“B,” was an emotionally traumatized woman in her 20s who had been raped by her father from the age of six. On the day she met Kashur, she was living in a women’s shelter. Before that, she had worked briefly as a prostitute and spent some time living on the streets. Kashur lured her into the building on Hillel Street with the claim that he worked there and wanted to show her his office; he then assaulted her and raped her, leaving her naked and bleeding – which is how the police discovered her. B. was later hospitalized in a psychiatric institution, where the police questioned her about the rape, which led them to Kashur. During the trial, after it became apparent that B’s past, combined with her emotional state, made her a vulnerable witness, the prosecution came up with a plea bargain of rape by deception.

Goldman sums up her evaluation of Kashur's case, writing, "Kashur was not unjustly punished because he was an Arab, but the opposite: [...] he managed to avoid the punishment he deserved because his ethnicity made it possible to plead guilty to the lesser charge of rape by deception, thus avoiding jail time." This gymnastic logic employs lack of evidence for the greater charge, which would normally be construed as lack of guilt (if not proof of innocence) as the opposite. In other words, for Goldman the fact that the prosecution could not make a case against Kashur for rape is "proof" of his guilt.

Goldman writes,

The judges’ wording of the verdict seemed to be inspired by E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, or an Oriental version of To Kill a Mockingbird, with Kashur as Tom Robinson, the black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman in 1930s Alabama. “If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,” wrote the judges. Judge Tsvi Segal added, “The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls .”

The angle of Goldman's post (and Grossman’s story), that being Palestinian is in any way advantageous in Israel is utterly fantastic… But the notion that minority populations derive benefit from their abject status is a pretty standard charge. She makes light of the obvious comparisons to Forster and Lee’s stories even as she recounts the Israeli court’s description of Kashur as a “sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminal” who preys on “innocent (Jewish, female) victims”, which is pretty much the basic narrative of all the “Darkie Wants Our Women” stories ever written. Further, his accuser's lack of mental coherence, which substantiates her accusations for Grossman, Goldman and Marcotte could also easily disqualify them... And no, it is not "victim blaming" to point that out, especially since all parties involved agree that B is mentally unblanced. Neither is it "rape apology", given the long history of male racial and ethnic "others" getting tortured, killed and/or imprisoned based on the say-so of white women in racist societies. Or white men acting of their behalf, regardless of their wishes. The story of Emmet Till, a black fourteen year old boy who was literally beaten to a pulp because he was alleged to have flirted with a white girl in 1955 Mississippi is emblematic of the special vulnerability of men of color to charges of sexual violence.

Emmett Till, before and after reportedly flirting with a white woman

I would never suggest something as stupid and vile as the idea that men of color are never guilty of sexual violence or that racism (Orientalism, Islamophobia, etc.) is ever an excuse for rape. But racism inevitably shapes the dynamic when the alleged victims are members of a privileged majority, the accused attackers are minorities, and the society in which the charge is made is based on a fundamentally racist distinction between them. A blanket dismissal of such entrenched hierarchies grants free access to a wealth of racist repertoires about "dark"men under the cover of liberal discourses like feminism. If we can agree that allegations of rape should be taken seriously, can we not also agree that institutionalized racism should not be waved away because it complicates the frame in which they are made? This dynamic is especially stark in a country like Israel, whose ethno-nationalist illusions are formalized as law, but it is no less a factor in the United States, with its melting-pot pretensions. It seems clear though, based on Gloria Steinem's remarks during the last election that there is a line of feminist thinking--often espoused by white, middle class, westerners-- which argues the reverse: that gender trumps all other considerations, a proscription that has potentially deadly consequences for men of color.

Goldman writes,

There are few unassailable facts or bottom lines here. A woman who may or may not have been raped is in a psychiatric hospital, traumatized and unable to communicate coherently. Perhaps a rapist who should have have been jailed is now a free man, wandering around Jerusalem shopping malls with his kids while the woman he raped is institutionalized, physically and emotionally traumatized. Or perhaps an innocent man was forced to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit, in order to avoid being sentenced to jail by judges who were biased against Arabs. None of these issues were raised in the original reporting of the affair. None of the reporters covering the story when it first broke, in July, mentioned having applied to the courts to obtain the unsealed testimony. The polarized, angry atmosphere in contemporary Israel seems to make rational, detached analysis nearly impossible. This is a very troubling state of affairs. It is also quite dangerous.

There is no way for anyone to know for certain what went on between B and Kashur, which is why in democracies we depend on the law to guide us to resolution. If proved guilty of B’s rape there is no question that Kashur should be punished, but he wasn’t and he was punished anyway. Goldman's post (and Grossman’s story), which suggest that Kashur’s Palestinian identity earned him a legal advantage purposefully obscures two key points: 1) The court made his ethnicity an issue and the justification for his charge and 2) His ethnicity is only important in the first place because Palestinian Israelis are not equal citizens with their Jewish neighbors. No matter how “macho” Israeli society is--another argument made by Goldman to explain Kashur's reduced sentence-- the notion that Jewish Israeli men feel solidarity or even empathy (!) with a Palestinian man accused of raping a Jewish Israeli woman is too ridiculous to contemplate. Israeli Apartheid precludes the possibility of such collusion.

Goldman is correct when she writes that the particular arrangement of Israeli society make "rational, detached analysis nearly impossible" but she seems to exempt herself from this dynamic. However in raising concerns about Kashur's case without acknowledging the role of institutionalized racism in Israel she perpetuates its most pernicious memes about Arab criminality (which occurs only in a vacuum and never as a response to living within a racist system). Only someone who benefits from it could conclude that a Palestinian accused of a crime that could not be proved has somehow beaten the system by serving eighteen months in an Israeli jail. Goldman is also correct when she describes the situation around Kashur's case as "dangerous."

What is less clear in her analysis is, dangerous for whom?


Lisa Goldman responded to my critique of her post about Kashur on her blog +972. Because this post is already long I have reproduced the key section of our exchange in Part Two.

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