I haven’t seen much press about it here, but upon returning from Israel a few of my colleagues told me about a court case that shows the salience of race and racism in Israel. The story is this: a man and a woman had sex. Both willingly. But the man had lied. He introduced himself with a traditionally Jewish name. But he was an Arab. She later found out, filed a complaint, and he has since been convicted of “rape by deception.”
“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.”
I think central to this case is to see just how salient race is as a category. Most initial sexual encounters are marked by degrees of deception. We might lie about our occupations, our present relationship status, our overall amiability, our prowess, our intentions, etc. Now there is clearly a difference between omission (withholding the truth) and commission (telling a lie). Both are intentional acts of deception. But in the former case, we can’t always know what the other in an interaction will think of as “dealbreaker” information.
Regardless, it seems to me that such deception is commonplace. Indeed, sometimes we even appreciate deception, as it might increase our erotic excitement, or, if you’re meeting someone for the first time you don’t want to hear about ALL the bad things they’ve done in their life (or are doing now). You might want to build a relationship. And doing so means putting your best foot forward. In short, you deceive. You lie by omission.
But what omissions count? Informed consent is a pretty tough bar. “I never would have had sex with him if I knew he was married.” Rape? I’m not so sure. “I never would have had sex with her if I’d known she repeatedly cheated on her ex.” Rape? You can imagine lots of scenarios… “if he weren’t a lawyer… if she wasn’t really from a wealthy family… if I’d known he had a Black father…”
And that’s where race comes in. Race is so salient a category in Israel that to lie about it is to commit rape. This conviction is serious: the three judge panel refused to allow community service and instead is demanding some pretty serious jail time.
I hesitate to reveal the fuller story of their encounter, as it could be read as a way to slander this woman — to suggest, as is not uncommon in this case, that her sexual character is such as to have “asked for” this incident. But I think the details are relevant, not to the case, but to the thinking in about race. The two met on the street. He introduced himself with false name. They talked. They then wet to the top floor of a nearby office building and had sex. He immediately left. What’s interesting here is that the court, in working within the idea of “moral purity” polluted by grotesque actions maintains a different reading of the encounter.
“If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have co-operated…”
Now I don’t wish to make any kind of argument about moral bankruptcy by contrast. Instead I would simply note that this is a very generous reading of the encounter, and one necessitated by an insistence of the sacredness of Jewish womanhood and the pollution of Arabs.