Rape Conviction: a Preposterous Verdict and a Dangerous Precedent

07/22/2010 11:42 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

One of the funniest movies I've seen in recent years, starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, is Wedding Crashers. As the title alludes, the movie is about a couple of bachelors who crash weddings by pretending to be people they're actually not in order to charm their way into one night stands with beautiful women. While their behavior is appropriately portrayed as contemptible, I'm sure that no one watching this Hollywood box office-hit comedy would describe it as a film about serial rapists. Well, I was sure no one would describe it as such until yesterday, when Merav Mor, a representative of an Israeli association of rape crisis centers, said the following:

She received false information, therefore consent is nullified. There is absolutely no importance to what the information was; whether it was financial status, whether it was race, whether it was religion... If a woman or a man feels that they were given wrong information [in order to go to bed with someone], they were raped!

This is the absurdity some in Israel are willing to reduce themselves to in order to defend the rape conviction of an Arab man in Jerusalem who allegedly pretended to be Jewish in order to have consensual sex with a Jewish woman. I say "allegedly" because the man says he never lied or pretended to be Jewish, but merely introduced himself with his nickname, Dudu, by which the woman assumed he must be Jewish. This is worth repeating: it appears that a man was convicted of rape after having consensual sex with a woman because his nickname gave her the false impression that he was Jewish. Take a moment to reflect on the horror of that thought.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the man had indeed deliberately pretended to be Jewish. Can one imagine a headline in the US reading something like: "Hispanic man convicted of rape for pretending to be white?" Can anything be more transparently racist? And it doesn't get any more defensible if one played along with the naked lie that this isn't about racism. Lying for sex is abhorrent, but it's not rape (the latter should not be trivialized). Think of all the people you know who once pretended they were wealthier, smarter, or braver than they really are by exaggerating stories in order to impress members of the opposite sex (or same). Are they guilty of attempted "rape?" Should the law intervene? Consider what the judge in this case stated:

It is incumbent on the court to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth, sweet-talking offenders who can mislead naive victims into paying an unbearable price: the sanctity of their bodies

An interesting aspect of this strictly contractual view of sexual relations is that it treats all consensual sex as prostitution. After all, there is no consistency in a legal/moral code where an explicit agreement on sex for money (prostitution) is illegal and/or immoral, but lying about how rich one is in order to get sex can be considered a serious violation (tantamount to rape) of an implicit contract which is never legally allowed to explicitly exist. It's even more interesting to think if this can expand to other areas of life. If courts have an obligation to defend naive people from deception, will all psychics and fortune tellers be thrown in jail on robbery charges? After all, consent is nullified since these smooth-talking criminals only took the money of the gullible by pretending to know something about their destiny!

But, as I noted earlier, this incoherent attempt at legal and moral gymnastics is but a thin veil for the serious racism problem that exists in Israel. Today, some 50% of Israeli high schoolers oppose giving equal rights to Arabs, 68% say they would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab, and chants of "death to Arabs" are, according to the Israeli Supreme Court, "all too common," leading to concerns about public safety. That's the sort of environment in which discovering that the person one had sex with was an Arab can lead to rape charges and a conviction. This verdict clearly sets a dangerous slippery-slope precedent, trivializes the horror of actual rape, and marks another shameful point in Israel's relation with the indigenous Arab population.