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Hebrew University
Help! Rape!


It is my duty to report several cases of rape, a very serious crime. As it is only truth and science that are being raped, and not Paris Hilton, it is perhaps not as interesting as the title may have suggested to some of you. You have possibly heard of this notorious case, which concerns the rape of facts and science by several people including a Masters degree student, two journalists, and several anthropologists and sociologists. This gang bang was given sensational billing in "Makor Rishon" and Israel National News. I apologize for this lengthy review. Much of the length is due to inclusion of translations and paraphrases of large portions of the Masters thesis in question, so that people who cannot read Hebrew have a more complete and correct impression of its contents. Moreover, in spite of itself, this unprovoked attack on the IDF includes a sterling testament to the ethical standards of our soldiers, an exposition of the IDF Ethical Code and the way it is instilled in our troops. It is such a marvelous bit of Zionist advocacy that I could not resist bringing it to the attention of the general public, that doesn't read Hebrew.

The first journalistic rape was committed, it seems, by Amnon Lord in Makor Rishon. Lord reported that a study by Tal Nizan had claimed that IDF soldiers are like war criminals because they do not rape Palestinians. The headline (translated from Hebrew) was "Rape Refuseniks compared to war criminals.". He forced the virgin facts.

Hillel Fendel of Israel National news was a partner in crime. Under the headline Heb. U. Paper Finds: IDF Has Political Motives for Not Raping Fendel wrote:

The abstract of the paper, authored by doctoral candidate Tal Nitzan, notes that the paper shows that "the lack of organized military rape is an alternate way of realizing [particular] political goals."

The next sentence delineates the particular goals that are realized in this manner: "In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be seen that the lack of military rape merely strengthens the ethnic boundaries and clarifies the inter-ethnic differences - just as organized military rape would have done."

The paper further theorizes that Arab women in Judea and Samaria are not raped by IDF soldiers because the women are de-humanized in the soldiers' eyes....

As I am skeptical of journalistic summaries of scientific works, I availed myself of the Hebrew original of Ms Nizan's paper, here. This is a work of 206 pages including references. It is complex, and cannot and should not be summed up in one or two sentences. In the introductory abstract, Ms Nitzan distinguishes between directed (or organized) military rape and "symptomatic" military rape. The former is the result of racist policy such as apparently occurred in the Serbian and other conflicts. The latter is done for individual motives, due to blurring of social norms and a feeling of lack of supervision.

In her introductory abstract, Nitzan wrote:


An important claim that arises from the study is that because of the obscurity of the spatial border in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ethno-national borders are internalized, in the bodies of the soldiers, and crossing of the borders is rejected physically, as a sort of auto-disciplinary mechanism that accompanies them everywhere they go.

An additional claim is that the absence of directed military rape constitutes an alternative way to achieve the same political goals. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it can be seen that the rarity of military rape only reinforces the ethnic borders and clarifies the inter-ethnic distinctions, in the same way as directed military rape would do.

The central claim is that while absence of directed military rape is an alternative road to achieving the same political goals, absence of symptomatic rape is not an alternative way of implementing the same personal goals, but is evidence of a clear policy that rejects it and works energetically to prevent it. That is, the declared absence of symptomatic military rape achieves the political goals that absence of directed rape achieves. Since military rape is harnessing of the behavior of the individual to the needs of the collective, therefore lack of symptomatic rape is an additional step in subordinating the individual to the needs of the society. This is actually the ability to enter the body of the individual and to inscribe in it abhorrence of actions he is likely to perform for himself, since they are not consistent with the needs of the collective.
This is silly enough, but it is not quite what Fendel and Lord make out. Shorn of the jargon and tendentious rhetoric, she is saying that the IDF does for its soldiers what every society and every government and religious or moral framework does for civilians - it makes them internalize values that prevent them from doing things that might seem advantageous to them as individuals, but would harm society. In her words, it sounds like a sort of pernicious fascism. In reality, it is only the order that makes civilization possible.

Fendel asked department head Zali Gurevitch this question


Arutz-7: "Can't it just be that Israeli soldiers come from a culture that very much condemns rape? And why not mention the much-touted 'purity of arms,' i.e., the high moral conduct, of the Israeli Army?"
The answer to Arutz-7's question about IDF ethics is in the body of the research, which spends several pages discussing the question of purity of arms. It is odd that Zali Gurevitch, was unable to point this out to Arutz-7.

Hillel Fendel attacked a thesis he didn't read. Professor Zali Gurevitch apparently approved a thesis he didn't read either. Then they both argued about what they hadn't read and explained to the rest of us matters of which they are wholly ignorant themselves. It is even odder that Ms Nitzan totally ignores the matter of the IDF ethic in her conclusions, but it is really there in the paper.

For example, on page 160, Tal Nizan quotes Moshe Dayan's 1953 speech, which noted that the world expects a higher moral standard from the IDF. On page 162 we find the following testimony to the role of moral values in the IDF:


Soldiers say that the IDF ethical code [see Ethical Code of the IDF] is instilled in them from the first stages and throughout their entire service. Through it, they learn to understand and interpret the army and the behavior that is expected of them as soldiers. "The IDF Morality" as soldiers call it, is transmitted to them through weekly talks and in the course of briefings, as First Sergeant Dor describes:

There is the morality of the IDF, which is a very strong morality. It is brought up all the time, always, in briefings before [an action] in weekly discussions, all the time that there is, like, free time, and in the field, before [action] all that sort of thing. (...) I am somewhat defending the army here... but this.. because I really... before I answered you I thought, like... if it is something I thing about soldiers and especially in the IDF I see all the time simply... each time morality. The emphasis is always on that (First Sergeant Dor).

He claims that it is a matter of "very strong morality," a matter that can be understood both as inflexible and clear moral values, and as well, moral values transmitted to the soldiers in a routine and repeated manner. In any event, it is a matter of a practice that leaves a deep impression on the soldier.

Lieutenant Shachar, from the point of view of a [commissioned] officer, described how he transmitted and instilled the moral values that are called in the IDF "Respect for human dignity" ["kvod ha'adam" - literallly - respect for man]. The acceptance of these values by his soldiers allows them to earn the title of graduates. That is, understanding of the IDF ethical code constitutes another stage in their transformation into soldiers, into grown men. The initiative for these discussions, he claims, is not at the level of petty officers, but originates from higher levels of command. The product of these discussions, is behavior of "maintaining [proper] respect [for dignity]," that is, following the values of respect for human dignity that were defined for the soldiers.

Usually, and this is in the vast majority of cases, the behavior is very much maintaining respect. I know..my soldiers I know were very mature people and we talked about this a lot in the company, in company discussions of maintaining honor... and that is the intended goal and that is what [we] approach. It is not the company commander alone who decides to do discussions, it is at least like... the battalion commander always makes sure that they do things like that, and I assume that also above him. So they really do try hard (...) I think that in general, in the places that I saw, there was a great deal of maintaining [proper] respect (Lieutenant Shachar)

By any standard, this is truly an amazing testimony to the righteousness of our cause and the purity of Zionist arms. It is almost too good to be true. It sounds like something that the Honor Guards at Arlington cemetery would say, but those are exceptional exemplary soldiers picked for their personal merit, not random reservists. Indeed, it sounds like dialogue from a World War II Soviet Red Army propaganda film. Boris, the heroic defender of the only workers' and peasants' state says, "Never fear Natasha. Our pure hearted soldiers are defending the Soviet Fatherland and will never sully the purity of Socialist arms." But it is not made up dialogue. It is apparently verbatim spontaneous quotes.

From experience, and from other quotes in this work, we know that Israeli soldiers are perfectly capable of saying silly, crude or cynical things as well. This is the real thing, not Zionist propaganda. We can be proud of these soldiers. Too bad that the author did not interview any Hamas terrorists on the same subject. The contrast might have been illuminating. The straightforward and obvious conclusion from the evidence is that the IDF has succeeded in instilling the highest moral and ethical values in its soldiers.

As we shall see, it is not conclusive evidence. It is not representative and systematic. We can't really know that most soldiers have internalized these values, though we would like to believe that it is true. However, it certainly seems to be very strong evidence as Nitzan herself admits, but she ignored it entirely. On page 156, Nitzan also brings quotes to show that our soldiers view themselves as defenders, and not as conquerors, and that therefore, one might conclude that this is not an occupation like all military occupations.

Indeed, there was a "political" decision, but it was a decision to instill humanitarian values in the troops, because Israel cannot afford to do otherwise and because that is what is fitting for our society. That is what the texts that Tal Nitzan quotes say in so many words. Tal Nitzan also ignores the fact that this precise ethic is the ethic of the Zionist defender that was nurtured so very carefully over several generations in the halcyon days of the Haganah. In her book, Land and Power, The Zionist Resort to Force, 1991-1948, Anita Shapira would have us believe that the defensive ethic and the belief in Zionist purity of arms died before the creation of the state. Yet here are these textbook paragons of Zionist military virtue speaking to us as if from a Jewish Agency film that might have been made in 1938. But it is not 1938. These are not Haganah soldiers, but IDF soldiers. How could Nitzan possibly twist this evidence into the conclusions (or "claims") that she presents in the abstract?

How then, could Amnon Lord and Hillel Fendel get such a different impression of the same work? The answer is that this is not exactly a piece of scientific research in the way that we mortals might understand it, and that Amnon Lord and Hillel Fendel are as tendentious in their own direction as Ms Nitzan is in the equal and opposite direction.

Tal Nizan's thesis comes from the never-never land of post-structuralism. She informs us on page 41, "The illusion of the objective observer who can describe the culture of the research subjects in a positivist way and bring to the world the truth as it is is 'in reality' was exploded long ago." Having done the ritual obligatory dissing of empiricism and positivism, and with generous citations of Michel Foucault, likewise obligatory in such studies, Tal Nitzan believes she is now free to do anything she wants to do.

She could have interviewed 25 male Mother Theresas and still have reached the same conclusions, because she had no systematic objective experimental methodology and no predefined way of answering her hypotheses. She didn't even pose a hypothesis or a set of conditions that might confirm or refute it. The only system in her work is to turn anything that the interviewees say into something that suits her conclusions if possible, and to ignore what doesn't fit. Therefore, the above very "correct" descriptions of IDF military doctrine are twisted by degrees into an Israeli racist plot and amalgamated with other evidence to produce the conclusions offered in the abstract.

It is unfortunate that we cannot use the sterling proclamations of ethical purity above as rock solid scientific evidence, any more than we can trust anything else in this paper. It is an impressionistic study based on 25 apparently open-ended interviews. One can say any number of contradictory things about such a study and all of them can be shown to be true or false. Nitzan presents evidence concerning the ethical code as above, and evidence that the soldiers see Arab Palestinian women as mothers and respect them, but also that they seem them as "not attractive, not sexy" and also as "not human." People say many things in long interviews after all. You can select what you like. The same interviews precisely in the hands of a Bar Ilan student or a researcher in the IDC might have produced a work extolling Zionist ethics and the chivalry of the IDF.

The sample is biased. It consists of IDF reservists with many years of service, most of whom are studying in the university, and who were apparently found at random through acquaintances. This is not your typical GI grunt, the 19 year old lower class draftee who might be the type to carry out rapes. The sample did not include religious soldiers. There was no attempt to get a random sample or cross section of IDF soldiers, or to try to differentiate between draftees and reservists or people from different sectors of the population, and there was no methodology offered to do so.

There was apparently no systematic interview protocol, or at least none was recorded, and there is no way to quantify or objectively evaluate the results. One can get from this river of words, whatever suits one's political or theoretical fancy, since there is no way to decide that the above quotes about ethics and defense are more typical or representative than other quotes where soldiers say that Arab Palestinian women are "Ichsa," unattractive, "penguins" (because of their traditional dress) and the like. Tal Nitzan makes much of these quotes, which are the result, according to her, of the soldiers having internalized the IDF ethic and having constructed mechanisms to enforce the discipline within themselves. She also presents quotes that describe some westernized Palestinian Arab women as pretty and attractive. She doesn't explain why those women are not raped. She also confuses between rape, which is generally considered an act of aggression, and sexual attraction and normal flirtation. She claims that the border between the two is somehow obscured.

Not only are the quotes of the interviewees presented as a great tohu va vohu - a primordial chaos with no way to distinguish what is significant and representative from what is not, but the conclusions of the researcher are presented in the same way. In the introductory abstract she is sure that the explanation of the lack of rapes on the part of IDF soldiers lies in an enforced political racism, ignoring all the evidence to the contrary that she presents in the body of the study. In the final summary, she makes the following observation on page 184:



"It is important to note, that no one of the explanations mentioned here, is enough to explain military rape or its rarity. In order to understand the phenomenon, one must look at the entire explanatory complex, and not base conclusions on a single interpretive scheme." But in the introduction she did precisely that: she based all her conclusions on a single interpretive scheme!

Not only is there no scientific method in this study, there is no respect for ordinary logic. Therefore, at the end of the study, we really know no more about the reasons for lack of rapes among IDF soldiers then we did at the beginning. The researcher, and more especially her advisers in the Hebrew University should have understood that if one is going to present such a controversial claim about a subject that is at the center of national political controversy, it must be backed by impeccable evidence. In fact, it was backed by no evidence at all, and the author admits that her study is "qualitative."

In the prevailing atmosphere, it seems that this is sufficient. If you claim that lead floats and helium balloons sink, you had better be prepared to back up your words with evidence. If you absurdly proclaim to the world, despite the evidence, that Israeli soldiers don't rape people because they have internalized some sinister policy of the Israeli government, you will nonetheless find a receptive audience among people who hate the occupation more than they love truth. But the sensationalist impression given by Lord and by Fendel is not really descriptive of the study either.

The difficulties of summarizing the conclusions of such post-structuralist works, which excel in obfuscation and self contradiction, also may help to explain why it is so hard to determine whether the works of Professor Nadia Abu El Haj are objectionable (see Of McCarthyism and academic freedom.) or even to establish that she actually made or did not make this or that point. Did Tal Nitzan conclude that IDF soldiers do not rape Palestinian women because of a policy of ethnic separation encouraged by the government and the IDF? If you want to answer "Yes," then quote the abstract. If you want to answer "No," then use the quote from page 184, which says that there is no single explanation. Regardless of what Tal Nitzan claimed, the only thing that is certain is that from a non-systematic study of 25 unrepresentative soldiers who say many self-contradictory things, which are then sifted in a biased way, it is not possible to conclude anything. It is impossible to achieve objectivity, but there are certainly ways of improving the chances of approaching objectivity through structured research and systematic examination of evidence.

If one just records a bunch of interviews, and then ignores what is inconvenient to one's thesis, then there is no point in doing any research. The conclusions will be the same at the end of the "study" as they were before you started. If Nitzan had examined a thousand soldiers picked at random and asked them a few dozen questions, quantified the results and perhaps compared those results to those of civilians and to American soldiers in Iraq, we might have some real answers to her question. On the other hand, for all we know, the real real answer may lie in the amount of saltpeter that is put in the army food.

This study was given an award by the Israel sociology association. We can imagine what the others are like. In my most humble opinion, because this paper lacks scientific method or any attempt at objectivity, it is not worthy of a Masters thesis or even an undergraduate seminar work in a scientific discipline. It might be entertaining reading. However, the definition of what is science and what is not science is up to the practitioners of a particular discipline and it varies between disciplines and in different eras. Phrenology used to be thought to be science, and Lysenkoism was accepted in the USSR. Barely intelligible functionalist jargon ruled US sociology departments. My opinion is now generally thought to be an example of "positivist empiricist facticity." If the Hebrew University says it is science, and the sociologists insist it is good science, who am I to challenge them?

For all its faults and contradictions and shoddy and tendentious logic, however, this work is not really as blatantly absurd as Fendel and Lord try to make out, and they would have a tough time proving their point from the actual text.

Hat tip: Fresno Zionism: Academic: IDF dehumanizes Palestinians by not raping them

Ami Isseroff


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