On August 14, 2015 the New York Times reported that ISIS was implementing a theology justifying the rape of non-believers and had a systematic program to separate them out and sell them to its followers. The opening of the Times article shocked me.
In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.
He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.
When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.
“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,”
What revolted some of us was just a golden opportunity for one Steve Maman, a Moroccan Jew in Montreal. The very next day, the Toronto Star reported on his solicitations for months to ransom Yazidi women from ISIS. He claimed he had already ransomed 128 of these poor victimized women and appealed for more donations to sustain his efforts. His fundraising and narrative was months-old but till then he had only gotten attention in peripheral media outlets.
But now with the New York Times reporting on systematic sex slavery and rape, Maman’s “rescue effort spread like wildfire through major media including Fox News, Foreign Policy, France’s L’Express, Time, CBC, major Israeli publications such as Haaretz, Yediot Achronot, and the New York-based Jewish Press. With all this publicity his GoFundMe account was racking in the bucks and he was also getting private donations, especially from his Moroccan Jewish network.
And then the scam was exposed. Vice.com posted a story on August 26; Yazidi Leaders Want Proof ‘Jewish Schindler’ Saved 128 Women and Children from the Islamic State. Interviews with Yazidi leaders outside of the ISIS controlled areas were not able to confirm a single ransom. Early on the Jerusalem Post revealed that Gill Rosenberg, a woman supposedly working on behalf of Steve Maman in the conflict, spent four years in jail in the US for being part of a phone scam that bilked senior citizens out of more than $25 million. GoFundMe has since closed down Maman’s solicitation.
I am bothered because I smelled a rat and did not voice it publicly. I was not bothered so much by the idea of paying ransoms to ISIS, though I recognize the pros and cons of such actions. I just found Steve Maman’s claims improbable, even before Yazidi leadership spoke out. I did not understand how he was able to do it without an established connection in the area, how he was able to do it so quickly and in such large numbers, and with supposedly just a few million dollars. All existing accounts of ransoms paid to ISIS involved very large sums and protracted negotiations involving trusted intermediaries. Even then, many such efforts failed part way through.
A purported do-gooder has a sort of immunity from scrutiny. No one wants to be the party pooper.
I experienced that too with the recent announcement that 107 Haredi rabbis have signed a public proclamation endorsing going straight to the police about sex abuse without prior consultation with a rabbi. This seems to be great news, cause for celebration. But some aspects of the proclamation seem too good to be true. Some of the authors are known to be active in supporting cover ups of abuse. Even so, all in all, this is good news. But I have found myself hesitating to publicly post a detailed analysis of this development. But now I am committed to addressing it, sharing both my most optimistic reading and my doubts.
The lesson of le Juif Schindler is to go on hoping while also scrutinizing, even if others accuse you of raining on their parade. I hope to share my scrutiny of the rabbinic proclamation later this week.