Word is just beginning to break inside Israel about a possible sex scandal involving a “senior Israeli political figure.” Several days ago, the political affairs correspondent for a major Israeli newspaper was interviewed on Channel 10 (just prior to 6:00 mark) about stories that were too hot to handle. After the interviewer asked him for specifics, he hesitated a long while and then mentioned the above information.
I began to put out word and an Israeli feminist blogger queried a friend who knew another reporter who told her the figure being spoken of was education minister, Gideon Sa’ar, age 45. An excellent Hebrew bio is here. This identification has subsequently been confirmed by a second reporter which makes me confident that the story has legs. More on the specific claims in a bit.
Sa’ar is a Likud Party stalwart, and was voted number two on the parliamentary list in the party primary, behind Bibi Netanyahu. He is a former deputy speaker of the Knesset and has served on the ethics committee (!). In the new government, he’s serving as education minister, where he has been Im Tirzu’s water-carrier attempting to insinuate the group’s Zionist nationalist agenda into the school curriculum.
Further, Sa’ar seems to be ‘down with the kids’ and is known for DJing in the Tel Aviv club scene. Sa’ar may be the only senior government minister in the world who DJs. His favorite club appears to be the local hot spot, Gilda, where the entertainment pages repeatedly highlight his appearances. In 2008, Maariv wrote that Sa’ar DJ’ed deep into the night at the club. The name of the bar means “guild” and one of Israel’s major entertainment sites described Gilda as “a guild of alcoholics,” whose owners are apparently grand figures in the night-life of Tel Aviv:
“The girls here are not shy about climbing onto the tables, while the bartenders fill the space with alcohol and adrenalin.”
The alcohol and adrenalin (along with sex hormones) may explain what follows here.
He got his start in politics in the youth movement called Noar Ha’Techiyah (affiliated with Geula Cohen and her former far-right party, Techiya), out of which also sprang Tzachi Ha’Negbi, yet another Likud former minister who resigned his post amidst scandal.
Sa’ar’s wife, Shelly, started an outsourcing company called Manpower Professional, which appears to quite successful. They have two children. He served in the infantry, where he was a sergeant and also served in intelligence in the Golani Brigade.
Saar also had the distinction of appointing a chief science advisor to the ministry, Gabi Avital, who doesn’t believe in evolution or global warming. Avital also believes that women’s mental capacity is inferior to men, meaning they should not be allowed to serve critical functions in the IDF or in professional jobs. When the public (and real scientists) got wind of the guy’s views, he resigned pronto.
It may be no accident that Sa’ar in Knesset voted against a bill (Hebrew) that would empower the government to investigate corruption. When you read further you may not be surprised to find out why. During his political career, he has championed women’s issues as head of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, the first male to serve this role. It does seem odd that a man was appointed to help improve the status of women in Israel, and blogger Hannah Beit Halachmi noted this in a blog post (Hebrew) when he assumed the job. It wasn’t at all unusual as far is Sa’ar is concerned, as he seems to have the welfare of women at the ‘core’ of his very being:
People don’t understand why I freely chose this role. It arises from my world view and my activism in this field, which characterizes part of my personal identity. I’m very proud of this. Generally, women say they have to excel in comparison to men in order to succeed. When I was chosen to lead this committee I understood for the first time since I entered public life that it was up to me to prove myself precisely because I was a man [advocating on behalf of women].
Even odder, was a report last year in News1 that Saar “had intimacies” (by which News1 was alluding to an affair) with Dr. Orly Innes, whose own career is dedicated to the empowerment of women. She is best known to the public for her charge that she was raped by a former candidate for national police chief, Uri Bar Lev. In fact, News1 implies that Sa’ar began the relationship with Innes while comforting her over the stress of the Bar Lev case. How kind and generous of him to offer the poor woman a shoulder to lean on.
While the alleged affair/intimacy with Sa’ar appears to have been consensual, you’d think a married man, heading the Knesset committee on the status of women, and who holds a law degree and worked for the attorney general (indeed as an assistant prosecutor), would conduct himself differently. At the least.
Now on to the subject of tonight’s post. According to my source, every serious journalist and politician in Israel knows but can’t publicly report that Sa’ar, on one of those nights partying in a Tel Aviv club (presumably Gilda), grabbed a teen-age girl and pushed her into a restroom. While my source clearly wasn’t inside the bathroom and doesn’t know precisely what went on behind closed doors, he told me: “You can imagine what happened.” I hear some pretty wild things go on in Tel Aviv club bathrooms.
The fact that the individual with whom he’s alleged to have dallied may’ve been underage also exacerbates the charge. If she was under 16 (and I do not know her precise age), the act would be considered a crime. Even if she was above 16 and he used any form of physical or emotional duress, it would potentially be a crime. Which means the Tel Aviv police should be investigating the particulars to determine this.
For a closer look at the carryings on of the Tel Aviv night scene, you can watch a Puma shoe video produced by another Tel Aviv club promoter, who was also implicated in the fake Gaza flotilla video.
Whether what happened between Sa’ar and this women was consensual (if she was above the age of consent) or not no one knows presently, as she hasn’t filed a complaint. But it appears only a matter of time before more facts are exposed. In fact, if you’re an Israeli reporter reading this, you might want to start by asking around Gilda and its customers what happened that night and what they saw. There are also rumors that Sa’ar has engaged in similar indiscretions with his female staff and that he may’ve had an affair with another Knesset member from a party with quite a different political orientation. Bi-partisanship is a wonderful thing in politics, but when it comes to sex it makes for strange bedfellows.
What we may have here is a repeat of the Moshe Katsav incident, in which the disgraced former President was convicted of sexual assault against multiple women victims, including members of his own staff. And this may explain the motives of the sources who’ve come forward to me, who do not wish to see a repeat of that sordid affair. In Katsav’s case, his flagrant womanizing and affairs were widely known in the media and for years, but not reported, thus confirming a perverse sense of entitlement among Israeli politicians (like Sa’ar).
It’s important to note that while I strongly believe the above events occurred largely as I described them, they are rumors (albeit conveyed by trustworthy sources) without any concrete substantiating evidence. Since the victim of the Tel Aviv club incident hasn’t made a complaint (yet) there can’t be. But the Israeli media cannot yet report this story and because I believe it is an important one, I’ve decided to publish it myself.
I should also make clear that I have the names of more than one Knesset member with whom he is alleged to have had affairs, but aside from it being a bizarre menage/melange, it doesn’t rise to the gravity of possibly having sex with a teenage girl in a public restroom. That is why I haven’t made the names public. A friend has reminded me as well that Saar has children and that this news will cause them pain. And there is the teen-age victim of this story who may not wish her own identity known. As a result of this, that may happen though I hope it does not, if she does not wish it too. But I have to weigh the pain Sa’ar may’ve caused and the fact that such a public figure, if he has behaved atrociously, should be held accountable for his actions. Public good, in this case, trumps private pain.
The closest any of this has come to actual publication is a story in News1 reporting that Yediot Achronot had prepared for publication an expose about Sa’ar and his “personal conduct.” The story was killed by the publisher, who is a close personal friend of Sa’ar. It is said to have contained information that would embarrass the minister, including “among other things,” his affair with Orly Innes. UPDATE: News1 has just published a story about this blog post as well.
If my story is true, it only proves how truly delusional some people are. They pride themselves on empathy for women, all the while exploiting them, in fact loving them to death. How, truly is Gideon Sa’ar advancing the status of Israeli women by sleeping with them serially (all the while being married)? Is this the type of behavior a former prosecutor engages in? Where is his judgment? Is this guy thinking with his brain (if he has one) or some other part of his anatomy (no, don’t answer that). The only thing I can think of that would make an otherwise sober individual do such things might be drugs or liquor (both plentiful in Tel Aviv clubs including Gilda). But lots of men don’t even need such an excuse, so who knows?
And what does it say about the State of Israel, the government of Israel, and the Likud Party, that its education minister may have serial sexual liaisons with women? What type of “educational” message is that sending Israel’s youth? One wonders why the rest of the Knesset is spending its time destroying Israeli democracy by invoking an anti-boycott law which will criminalize speech, instead of ferreting out potential wrongdoing by people like Sa’ar. On the other hand, if Knesset members spent more time partying in clubs with Sa’ar and Avigdor Lieberman (a former club bouncer), perhaps they wouldn’t get into as much mischief on the floor of the Knesset.
Scandals like this, while they happen in parliaments throughout the world, don’t usually happen amid a backdrop of political dysfunction such as characterize contemporary Israel. As such, this story is emblematic of corruption endemic within Israeli society. It is reflective of the general decline in democratic values too, that no reporter or editor inside Israel feels capable to tackling this story. All that being said, I must add that there are a few brave Israelis who’ve been willing to share what they know with me in the hope that I may be able to penetrate the veil concealing Gideon Sa’ar’s alleged deeds, along with his impunity. Those good people deserve all of our thanks. They, though in the minority, represent the best that Israel has to offer. Thanks for research assistance from a number of people who wish to retain their anonymity.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.