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August 12, 2014

Israeli Scholar Says Outcry Over His Rape Remarks Has Not Hurt Planned U.S. Tour

(Courtesy of Mordechai Kedar)

Mordechai Kedar says he was not advocating sexual assault but was describing “the culture in which we live.”

By Peter Schmidt

An Israeli scholar who has come under fire for discussing rape as a hypothetical deterrent to Hamas terrorism says the controversy over his remarks has done little to dampen interest in his planned speaking tour next year at college campuses and other sites in the United States.

Mordechai Kedar, a senior lecturer in Arabic literature at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said in an interview on Israeli radio last month that terrorists can be deterred only by the threat of their mothers and sisters being raped. Both he and the university said he was not advocating rape, just describing reality, but his comments have been widely denounced as having the potential to incite war crimes.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Kedar said his comments had been oversimplified and taken out of context. The denunciations, he said, have only raised his profile and increased interest in having him speak during his planned 45-day tour of North America in January and February. No organization has canceled any of his planned appearances, he said. In fact, he added, “at least two or three places invited me only because of this witch hunt.”

Although many colleges and campus organizations have not yet booked speakers for the coming academic year, Mr. Kedar said so far he has been asked to appear at academic events in Ann Arbor, Mich., and in Sarasota, Fla., and to give a talk sponsored by Ohio State University.

Mr. Kedar did not provide details about his Ann Arbor or Sarasota engagements. Matt Goldish, a professor of history and director of the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at Ohio State University, said his center is sponsoring a talk by Mr. Kedar at a local community center. The center initially had booked Mr. Kedar to speak last January on the subject of Arab media but canceled the event because of poor weather.

Moving Ahead

Asked about Mr. Kedar’s recent remarks about rape, Mr. Goldish said his center is “a little bit concerned” about the comments but “not concerned enough that we would cancel him.”

“We invited him long before any of this,” Mr. Goldish said, because “he has a lot of expertise” on Arab media, a topic the center regards as important. In the wake of Mr. Kedar’s controversial remarks, Mr. Goldish said, “there are only two ways to go, which is to move forward or cancel the talk. Either way is making a big statement, I suppose, but we do not want to cancel the talk.”

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, a pro-Israel organization, lists Mr. Kedar as available next winter to give lectures or serve as a scholar-in-residence on North American college campuses. Alex Safian, its research director, said his organization, which has promoted Mr. Kedar as a speaker in the past, does not construe his remarks last month as advocating rape. The Council on American-Islamic Relations had denounced Mr. Kedar as an anti-Muslim extremist and objected to his appearances on American campuses well before the latest controversy. It cited such remarks as his urging of Europeans to have more babies to keep their countries from being dominated by growing Muslim populations. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for that organization, said the controversy over Mr. Kedar’s remarks on rape “only adds” to his group’s belief that colleges should not invite him to speak, because “when you have him on a college campus there is an implication of endorsement.”

“Historically, those who have advocated rape as a weapon of war end up at a Hague tribunal, not speaking on a college campus,” Mr. Hooper said.

Bat-Ami Bar On, a professor of philosophy and women’s studies at Binghamton University who is herself from Israel, denounced Mr. Kedar’s comments about rape as wrong and inflammatory. She expressed doubt about Mr. Kedar’s defense of the comments as speculation rather than subtle advocacy of an act that is a war crime.

As an academic and a feminist, she said she considers Mr. Kedar’s remarks unacceptable. Nevertheless, she said, “the right response is not to try to prevent his speaking but to organize in response.”

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, said, “I have difficulty understanding how there can be any question that these remarks were grotesque and offensive, racist and demeaning, and an affront to women.”

Feminists Angered

Mr. Kedar made the comments that caused him to come under fire last month in an interview in Hebrew on an Israeli radio program “Hakol Diburim” (“It’s All Talk”) soon after the bodies of three kidnapped and murdered West Bank youths were found. As reported in the newspaper Haaretz, when asked what would deter terrorism by the Palestinian organization Hamas, Mr. Kedar said, “Terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them–the only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught.” He added, “that’s the culture in which we live.”

Asked by the radio interviewer if he was actually advocating such steps, Mr. Kedar said: “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts. The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped. That’s all. That’s the only thing that will bring him back home, in order to preserve his sister’s honor.”

As reported by Haaretz, a coalition of feminist activists sent a letter last month to Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, president of Bar-Ilan University, in which they accused Mr. Kedar of “words of incitement that grant legitimacy to Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Israeli civilians to commit rape, and endanger both Israeli and Palestinian women.” The letter said his words “echo expressions that treat rape as a remedial practice, although it is a war crime.”

Mr. Kedar and a Bar-Ilan University spokesman jointly issued a statement that said Mr. Kedar had been describing “the culture of death of the terror organizations” and using hyperbole to describe how suicide bombers cannot be deterred. The statement said Mr. Kedar “did not call and is not calling to fight terror except by legal and moral means.”

In an op-ed published late last month, Mr. Kedar described himself as “an avowed feminist” who is “absolutely opposed to any type of violence towards women.” He characterized his controversial remarks as an observation about how threats of the rape and shaming of family members are used to pressure men in Middle Eastern tribal cultures.

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