An Israeli news site runs a piece about Palestinian men sexually assaulting Israeli women at the beach, begging the question: why is this particular story newsworthy when stories about Jewish men assaulting Jewish women rarely are?
Israeli news site Walla! ran an article [Hebrew] on Friday with the following headline: “Palestinians who come to Tel Aviv’s beaches cannot resist the women.” The article describes how Palestinian men from the West Bank take advantage of their entry permits—which are granted with greater ease during the month of Ramadan in order to allow worshippers access to Jerusalem—to enjoy the beaches of Tel Aviv.
But if you ask Walla, not all of these men are so innocent. According to the article, one 19-year-old Palestinian from Hebron was detained for sexually harassing two women on the beach this past week.
“We see this phenomenon every year during Ramadan,” said police investigator Yoni Hirshhorn during a hearing over whether to extend the man’s detention. “The Ramadan tourists who obtain permits to pray take trips to Tel Aviv. They come to the beaches of Tel Aviv and some of them cannot help themselves when they see the women, that’s when we receive reports of sexual harassment and assault.”
There is no minimizing acts of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and there is no doubt that every allegation of sexual assault needs to be taken seriously. Men cannot commit violent, gender-based crimes against women and expect to be let off the hook.
But as one scrolls through Walla’s story, which is rife with disturbing, illustrative photos of Palestinian-looking men leering at what are presumed to be white, Jewish women on the beach—one must ask why on earth the editors thought this particular story was worth publishing, when stories about Jewish men assaulting Jewish women rarely are. Does the nationality of the attacker matter for anything other than click bait, not to mention race-baiting? Does it count as news when a Jewish man assaults a Jewish woman?
The other glaring issue is the way the article constructs the Jewish women who are at risk of assault. Walla’s article doesn’t stray too far from the racist, Jim Crow-era construction of the black man as what scholar Christopher J. Metzler calls a “hyper-sexual brute with an insatiable lust for white women.” In fact, Walla’s article only perpetuates the trope according to which white, Jewish women are always in danger of being attacked by the savage brown or black man. This, of course, does no favors to women, and leaves the reader with only two conclusions: Palestinian men must be feared, and Jewish women are the sole property of Jewish men.
While the former is par for the course in the Israeli media, it is the latter conclusion that has gained traction over the last several years, especially with the emergence of the anti-miscegenation group, Lehava, which tries to prevent marriages between Jewish women and Palestinian men, and urges Israeli women to refrain from associating with “non-Jews.” But while the racism of Lehava is out in the open for all to see, Walla tries to pass off its article as “news.” What happens when we can no longer discern between the two?