Goel Ratzon in Court.
(photo credit: DROR EINAV)
The Tel Aviv District Court convicted cult leader Goel Ratzon on Monday of most of the sex crimes he was accused of, as well as financial fraud, but acquitted him on charges of enslavement.
Prior to his January 2010 arrest, Ratzon had 21 “wives” and over 40 children from those wives, who were part of his cult over a period of around 30 years. He was indicted in the Tel Aviv District Court in February 2010 on a litany of charges, including multiple counts of rape, sodomy, molestation of minors, fraud and the unusual charge of spiritual enslavement.
Monday’s decision was handed down by a three-judge panel that included Nurit Ahituv, Miriam Diskin and Ra’anan Ben-Yosef.
The fraud charges described Ratzon as having defrauded his wives out of their money and manipulating them into serving as his slaves.
While the conviction is likely to lead to significant jail time from which, at 64, he might not emerge, some of the women he victimized were disturbed that he was acquitted on the spiritual enslavement charge.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) praised the conviction for sex crimes, calling it “an important step toward uprooting the phenomenon of exploiting women at its roots.” He added that the state had sent a message that “the bodies and souls of women are not a freefor- all.”
MK Michal Roisin (Meretz) said too many cults that abuse women and children still exist in Israel.
She added that the Knesset must pass new legislation to fully tackle the phenomenon.
The indictment said Ratzon’s 21 wives were made to feel they were “required to serve [him] and fulfill all of his demands,” allegedly including sexual acts. It accused Ratzon of using his standing and the women’s adulation to demand that some of them perform sexual acts on him.
The indictment described a chilling account of his deeds, including his abuse of a girl he molested almost daily for two years, starting when she was 15.
Soon after his arrest, Ratzon said he did not understand why he was in custody, since “stroking” minors did not constitute rape. He also maintained throughout that all actions he undertook were with the consent of his wives and that they were permitted to leave his cult at anytime.
The indictment mentioned threats Ratzon made to his wives in which he said he would harm them, or their children if they did not obey his wishes.
“I have the power to save and the power to destroy. If you do things that I forbid, then I will make sure you and your children are stricken with serious illnesses,” the indictment quoted one witness as saying Ratzon told her. The cult leader was also accused of using different methods to strip the women of their personal identities, including forcing them to tattoo his name and image on their bodies and requiring them to change their given names to ones of his choosing. They then were reportedly required to break off all ties with their family and friends, and were not allowed to have any social life or connections whatsoever outside of the communal house.
They were also subjected to repeated verbal abuse and humiliation by Ratzon in order to strip them of their self-respect and independence.
According to the indictment, Ratzon also wielded absolute control over the women’s movements, allowing them to leave the house only with his approval and requiring them to report to him all excursions, except to their workplaces.
He also reportedly forbade them from wearing sunglasses when outside with him so that he could follow their gaze at all times.
The women were forced to dress modestly, were not allowed to use television or the Internet without his approval, and were forced to attend to Ratzon at all hours of the night, whenever he desired. The indictment also stated that he required the children to line up and kiss his feet every time he entered the house, allegedly in order to reaffirm his superiority.
Ratzon was also accused of demanding that the women hand over their money, which the indictment said brought a number of the women to bankruptcy, including one who ran up a debt of NIS 400,000.
In addition, the women were required to deposit their paychecks and their National Insurance Institute child allotments into a communal account over which Ratzon exercised “absolute” control.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.