A Greek Orthodox priest who has become a key figure in Israel’s effort to divide Palestinian citizens of Israel along sectarian lines and to recruit Christians into its army has become mired in allegations of sexual harassment and bribery.
Father Gabriel Naddaf is due to light a torch at Israel’s “Independence Day” celebrations next week. He was also at Israel’s parliament on Monday for a lunch with lawmakers.
Outside the Knesset, however, Israeli police confirmed they were looking into lurid allegations against Naddaf aired on Israel’s Channel 2 on Sunday evening.
In 2012, Naddaf became leader of the Forum for Drafting the Christian Community, an organization that promotes military conscription for Palestinian Christians in Israel.
The Channel 2 report presented recorded interviews with Palestinians and Israeli soldiers whose identity was not revealed, alleging that Naddaf tried to engage them in sexually explicit conversations.
One man, a former soldier, told Channel 2 that he had asked Naddaf for help getting a job in the Israeli police. According to the man, Naddaf started to talk about sex and to ask him questions about his genitalia.
Naddaf allegedly tried to invite men to meet him in private circumstances away from his office.
The report also included a transcript of a conversation with an associate in which Naddaf allegedly tells the associate he would require a bribe of around $700 to help a Palestinian obtain an entry permit into present-day Israel.
While police are looking into the allegations, they have not started a formal investigation.
But that could follow. “According to the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law, a clergyman is forbidden to make sexual advances while giving guidance or advice,” the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported. “The law states that a clergyman who makes persistent sexual suggestions or repeated references to the sexuality of someone who consults him is guilty of sexual harassment, even if the victim does not object.”
Channel 2 said that none of Naddaf’s accusers had made formal complaints. Naddaf has strongly denied the allegations, claiming in a Facebook post that they were trumped up by “criminal elements” who were jealous of his “success” and who object to his campaign to recruit for the Israeli army and police.
Whatever happens on the legal front, there is no doubt that the allegations severely tarnish Naddaf as a propaganda asset to Israel and its recruitment campaign.
As The Electronic Intifada has reported, Palestinians in Israel have long denounced Naddaf’s role in what they see as a divide-and-rule strategy towards the country’s Palestinian citizens that aims to push Christian and Muslim communities into conflict.
Naddaf’s unpopularity in his own community was cemented even further when he claimed that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Christians are “not persecuted.”
But it is precisely his willingness to make statements that aid Israeli propaganda that may have led Israeli leaders to overlook concerns about his conduct.
According to Haaretz, even former activists in the Forum for Drafting the Christian Community “said that they had warned about his improper behavior long ago.”
One activist told Haaretz that “he and some of his friends had tried to warn people that the priest was acting improperly but no one listened to them.”
“Government ministers and political figures, primarily in the [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s] Likud [Party], were thrilled by the fact that he was a priest with a cross and a robe and they gave him bear hugs, without checking and without asking,” the activist said.