Bursting Your Bubble: Israel is no haven for Ukrainian women

(Gavin Sullivan | Daily Trojan)

Content warning: This article contains discussions of sexual assault, violence and suicide.

On Jan. 4, the Times of Israel published a lengthy investigative piece alleging that Ukrainian women were being systematically raped, abused and exploited under the “willful ignorance” of Israeli authorities: Women were raped by the very men who had gotten them out of Ukraine, the exposé alleged. Even with substantiated evidence of the violations, women have reportedly been met with dismissal and disbelief from Israeli authorities. Financial distress gripped them, the Times reported, as the Israeli government prohibited them from finding work. Desperation drove them to suicide or to exploitative jobs which they now couldn’t leave under threat of violence.

In the grand scheme of Twitter — the “digital town square,” according to a certain billionaire who now owns it — there has been a single viral tweet about this article that received a decent amount of attention. “If this was done in an Official Enemy country it would be non-stop headline news in the West,” the tweet read. And to some degree I found this true. 

While it is unfortunately reasonable to infer that women are vulnerable to sexual violence in times of war, their stories are still newsworthy whenever they are brought to light. And yet, as it did for many others, it took me 11 days to become aware of such a large-scale investigation, no less by a publication with a reputation for its sympathy to Zionism.

When Israel announced back in March it would grant temporary status to 25,000 Ukrainians, it proudly proclaimed that “Israel is expected to be one of the world’s leading countries of destination and refuge for Ukrainian citizens fleeing the war.” Just under a year later, the Times piece reported that 32,000 of the 47,000 Ukrainians, most of them women, who have fled to Israel since the start of the invasion have chosen to leave. The irony is palpable.

Furthermore, where is the anger from the major outlets, either here in the U.S. or otherwise? Sky News, ABC News, the New York Times, NPR and countless others have eagerly covered the extensive reports of sexual violence committed by Russian soldiers against women in Ukraine — equally horrid and bloodcurdling. But I ask again, where is the anger when Israeli men commit these same atrocities; and where is the anger for the state that allows the violence to continue without sanction? Or do we only cover women’s suffering when it benefits a political narrative?

But I’d like to stop myself, and potentially you, the reader, here for a moment. The slope of asking, “Why aren’t the media talking about this?” is incredibly slippery. We need only look at the discourse surrounding Saturday’s mass shooting at a dance hall in Monterey Park that killed 11 people. Canadian actor Simu Liu tweeted Sunday that the incident “should be getting way more coverage in media” — all while the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post and even the Wall Street Journal ran live updates feeds on their respective websites and mobile apps, as well as breaking news notifications to subscribers’ mobile devices. The Los Angeles Times ran a constantly updated news article with an 11-writer byline, an op-ed and an editorial on the subject — all in the last 48 hours.

More rare, however, are discussions about how such violence would affect Asian communities — more difficult and nuanced, perhaps, because the suspect himself was Asian. And maybe that’s what Liu meant when he said the shooting “should be getting way more coverage.” When we ask ourselves a similar question, we should re-evaluate exactly what we mean by that. Even in a well-covered event, what isn’t being discussed? What’s being left out, and why? Without that crucial step of critical thinking, the path to conspiracy and bigotry is clear-cut. And we have more than enough of that already.

Jonathan Park is a sophomore writing about current events beyond the American sphere. His column, “Bursting Your Bubble,” typically runs biweekly on Tuesdays. He is also the news assignments editor for the Daily Trojan.