violating sexual bodies?

by tobybee

In Israel a Palestinian man has been convicted of raping a Jewish Israeli woman (you can read about it here and here). The grounds for claiming that the sex they had was rape? That he coerced her into having consensual sex with him when he told her he was Jewish and interested in a long-term relationship. It was only after they had sex that the woman discovered that he was not Jewish (they’re calling it ‘rape by deception’).

So, where to start. Well, we could start with a quote from one of the judges (there were three), who said:

“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. When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims – actual and potential – to protect their wellbeing. Otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price.”

‘The sanctity of their bodies and souls’. It’s an interesting line. And when I say interesting, I actually mean horrific. This idea that the body is some sort of righteous place, or temple: that is pure. And that its purity can be tampered with when sex is had with the wrong person. And it is importantly sex, because sex involves the interconnectedness of bodies and the transfer of bodily fluids. It is an incredibly bodily act. It is also an emotional act, involving desire.

This woman, and the judges who affirmed her story, claims that she desired a ‘Jewish body’. A Palestinian body is, it is claimed, diametrically opposed to what she desired. But it’s not just that it’s opposed; it’s that the presence of a Palestinian body alongside/within her body is deemed an act of violence, and an act of betrayal. Palestinian male bodies here are made into pariah bodies, attacking, malicious and duplicitous; Jewish female bodies are innocent and soft, needing to be protected. The possibilities of cooperation between Palestinian bodies and Jewish bodies is erased and replaced with a permanent narrative of harm.

I think here of John Safran’s sketch in (I think) the opening episode of his series last year, when he went to Israel and he donated his sperm to a Palestinian sperm bank, and got his Palestinian cameraman to donate his sperm to a Jewish sperm bank. What (potentially, I’m not completely sure) worked about the sketch was it pointed to the ways in which semen, bodies, and reproduction can be made so transgressive in the context of Israel/Palestine; Jews/Arabs. It raises questions of where the child fits in, of what they are, of who they are, of where do they live, of who are they demanded to swear allegiance to. It raises the spectre of the ‘demographic problem’ and of ‘repopulating’ after the Holocaust. It is a problem that Jews in the diaspora consider when they argue against intermarriage; but even more so.

So I’m not suggesting that sex by deception is ok, of course not. This guy is an asshole (and I’ll say that about any man, or woman, who tells someone else what they think they want to hear in order to get sex. It’s fucked, and I’ll always condemn it. I’m also well aware that it happens on a regular basis, in so many different ways.), but I don’t think he’s anything more than that. Did this woman feel violated? Probably. I don’t really doubt her sincerity. But I do I do question the discourses that led to her having the experience that she felt that she had, and making the meaning of it that she made. And I question the discourses that proliferate in Israeli society—and in Jewish communities more generally—that make it conceivable that someone lying about their ethnicity/nationality/religion in order to get sex should lead to a conviction and jail sentence for ‘rape by deception.’ (and that’s not even going into why, from my feminist standpoint, we shouldn’t be relying on the penal system to deal with rapists)