Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews confront #MeToo claims

Josiane Paris, a volunteer at Jerusalem’s Tahel Crisis Center, which supports children and women in religious Jewish communities. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has been shaken by sexual abuse claims against several of its leading figures

After Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was shaken by sexual abuse allegations against several of its leading figures, a call has begun to reverberate throughout the deeply devout and introverted society.

“Lo Tishtok” — Hebrew for “You will not be silent” — is a phrase gaining momentum among ultra-Orthodox Jews, or haredim, who are being forced to reckon with claims of serious crimes, including sexual abuse of children, against several of their cultural icons.

Haaretz had in March reported that Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, founder of the Zaka emergency response organisation and winner of the Israel Prize — the country’s hightest public honour — had sexually assaulted boys, girls and women.

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An Israeli police spokesperson told AFP that there was an open investigation into the allegations against Meshi-Zahav, but police offered no comment on the status of a criminal probe against Walder at the time of his death.

The allegations against Walder marked an “extraordinary blow”, said the 33-year-old divorced mother of two, who describes herself as modern Orthodox.

– ‘I was a child’ –

Haredim are not a homogeneous group, but each professes to live in strict accordance with Jewish law, often creating tension with mainstream Israeli society.

Adiel Bar Shaul, a 43-year-old ultra-Orthodox from the mainly haredi city of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv, recounted his experience of being abused as a child shortly after that report came out.

The first rape happened when Shaul’s family hosted his attacker on Shabbat, a sacred period of rest and worship for haredim, he told AFP.

“I was a child. I did not understand… I was alone, I was extremely ashamed and I felt guilty,” said Shaul, who now works with sexual assault victims.

Josiane Paris, a volunteer at Jerusalem’s Tahel Crisis Center, which supports children and women in religious Jewish communities, said victims often stay silent.

When the centre opened its crisis line three decades ago to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, calls were relatively infrequent.

Volunteer Myriam Merzbach said some women who call simply “remain silent”.

– ‘In denial’ –

The editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post newspaper, Yaakov Katz, called for Lau to be fired for the case of “moral bankruptcy”.

But for Yair Ettinger, an expert on haredim at the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank and a journalist at public broadcaster Kan, Israel’s rabbinical establishment “remains in denial”.

But there was now “real awareness of the problem” especially after multiple haredi celebrities have been disgraced, he told AFP.


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