Till murder do us part: The ongoing tragedy of domestic violence - opinion

No wonder all the women who sought her advice, and envied her ability to have left an injurious relationship to opt for a healthy one, are currently in a state of disbelief.

A rally in memory of Diana Raz, who was murdered by her husband, a police officer on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
A rally in memory of Diana Raz, who was murdered by her husband, a police officer on Saturday, February 6, 2021.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
 The murder last Friday of 35-year-old relationship coach Diana Raz by her policeman husband is the latest in a series of highly publicized cases of domestic violence in Israel. Though Amir Raz, for legal purposes, is still reported as a “suspect” who “allegedly” killed his wife, he immediately confessed to and subsequently reenacted the crime.
Not that he had much choice, mind you. After all, he committed the murder while his four children, aged seven and younger, were present in the home, located in the community of Naale in the Binyamin Regional Council. According to his eldest daughter, while her parents were arguing on the ground floor of their duplex, he sent the kids upstairs.
Hearing loud noises, she and her siblings, other than the youngest – a baby in a crib – ran down and found their mother unresponsive, lying in a pool of blood. At this point, Amir made two phone calls: one to his mother, telling her to come and get the children, and another to his commanding officer, recounting what he had just done.
Family members, friends and neighbors have been expressing shock. All claim that Amir and Diana were a lovely couple, whom the whole country has been referring to as “normative.” This is the euphemism always used in such cases to describe people who are not known to welfare authorities; have no criminal record; are gainfully employed; live in a nice area; and tend to be native-born Israelis, rather than immigrants with absorption problems.
THE WOMEN whom Diana counseled have been particularly horrified, as she devoted much of her teachings to female empowerment and avoiding or exiting from abusive relationships. One way she did this was to point to herself as an example.
In sessions and on social media, she revealed that she had been in a previous relationship that involved emotional abuse, and repeatedly highlighted how happy she was to have found someone who treats her properly. In retrospect, the degree to which she professed her spousal love so publicly, and warned others about the perils of abuse, may have been a clue that something wasn’t quite right.
In a now-chilling video clip that she shared with a private Facebook group in the wake of the October 2019 slaughter of Michal Sela, 32, by her husband, Eliran Malul, Diana is seen urging followers to note warning signs of toxic relationships. If, for example, it involves “verbal and economic violence,” she says, “you shouldn’t be in it.”
She goes on to admit that it’s a tough topic to discuss, even for herself. “On the one hand, it’s enraging and you ask yourself how such a thing can happen; on the other hand, it happens.”
However, she adds, “Most of the situations that end up physically violent are cases in which the red lights were there from the beginning of the relationship. And why is it so hard to see? Because love, alongside concern and worry, is accompanied by the sense that ‘maybe it’s supposed to be this way.’ And then it’s really, really difficult to spot the warning lights until some kind of crash occurs. And often, by that time, it’s too late.”
The key, she stresses, is “awareness, awareness, awareness.”
It was as though Diana, unwittingly, had been predicting her own tragic fate. No wonder all the women who sought her advice, and envied her ability to have left an injurious relationship to opt for a healthy one, are currently in a state of disbelief.
On the one hand, they’re mourning the loss of a mentor whom they tried to emulate. On the other, they feel lost, wondering how she, of all people, was unable to recognize and extricate herself from her plight.
This is likely the reason, or at least a partial explanation, for everyone’s insistence that there were no alarm bells to be heard surrounding that marriage. The reaction is understandable. Raz never complained to anyone about problems with her husband – though it turns out that at one point they separated for a while.
THE SAME was true of Sela. A social worker who dealt daily with children from dysfunctional and violent homes, she shared many glowing posts on social media about her “happy marriage,” accompanied by smiling photos of her husband and infant. This was the man who would ultimately stab her multiple times with a butcher knife in the presence of their eight-month-old baby girl, not yet weaned from breast milk.
Then, too, reports of the vile deed were rife with the word “normative” to describe the couple. In multiple media interviews after the murder, Sela’s sister, Lili Ben-Ami, said that neither she nor anyone else in the family had a clue that Malul was capable of such a brutal act. On the contrary, he’d always seemed to be a stand-up guy.
Well, it turned out that Malul had a history of violence with former girlfriends. He also displayed what investigators called “obsessive jealousy” in text messages with Sela, indicating that he was trying to minimize her contact with friends and family, not just with men.
Using her personal grief for the greater good, Ben-Ami established the Michal Sela Forum, a nonprofit organization aimed at combating domestic violence. It’s been an uphill battle, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s nothing like the pressure cooker of a lockdown to bring out the beast in an already violent husband. Indeed, as a Women’s International Zionist Organization study released at the end of November 2020 revealed, the number of complaints about domestic violence in the country had increased by 300% since March, and 20 women had been killed by their husbands since the beginning of that year.
CORONAVIRUS HAS nothing to do with the case of Shira Isakov, however. The Mitzpe Ramon resident was beaten on the head with a rolling pin, and stabbed all over her face and torso with a kitchen knife, by her husband, Aviad Moshe, on September 18.
It was the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Isakov was on the phone with her parents, far away in their home in northern Israel, when Moshe began the assault in the presence of their shrieking toddler. Her terrified mother and father heard her screaming that Moshe was killing her, but they were unable to give the police her exact address.
If it hadn’t been for the son of a neighbor, who heard the couple’s young son wailing, Moshe would have succeeded in his mission to annihilate his wife. Thankfully, the boy alerted his family, who came to the rescue and called an ambulance in the nick of time.
Still, given the extent of her injuries, it’s miraculous that she survived, albeit with months of arduous recovery. It also took a while for her child to recognize and warm up to his beautiful mommy, now with a shaved, scarred head, bashed-up face and knocked-out teeth.
What distinguishes Isakov from Raz and Sela – all intelligent, attractive and successful women – is that she lived to tell the tale; not merely the details of the attack, but the course of the “normative” relationship as it started and unfolded prior to and up until that fateful day.
She did this candidly on Israeli Channel 13’s investigative program “Uvda” last month. Throughout two consecutive episodes, aired on January 7 and January 14, Isakov calmly recounted the web in which she allowed herself to be weaved by Moshe.
Once inadvertently trapped, she initially told herself that she was pleased with the isolation that he had built around their nuclear family, at the exclusion of everybody else, and then began to feel suffocated. This, by the way, was after she had once separated from him when he struck her during an argument.
She recalled having been an independent thinker and doer before her entanglement with the man who fairly early on began to dictate what clothes she could wear, and would eventually attempt to obliterate her. In fact, it was her announcement that she’d had enough that caused him to smash and slice her, without a care in the world about their traumatized two-year-old.
Isakov’s horror story sheds light on what many women in abusive relationships are going through. Like frogs slowly boiling in a pot of water, if they reach “awareness” or are ready to seek help — as Raz told her followers — “often, by that time, it’s too late.”
BUT IT also illustrates what American women’s-rights advocate Leslie Morgan Steiner, herself a survivor of domestic abuse, has written and lectured about for two decades. Steiner says that what battered women have in common is a tendency to bask in their man’s devotion; empathize with his past or present woes; believe in his remorse and ability to change; and keep the abuse a secret.
The strong, educated women in this category, she argues, feel particular shame at knowing better and doing nothing. Ironically, it is precisely such women whose marriages are called “normative” when they end in murder. Yes, the adjective itself is always reserved for what becomes apparent as the exact opposite.
Whatever Amir Raz claims or is said about him, he was never “normative.” Whether Diana knew this in her heart will remain a mystery. Sadly, her awful death may be the most powerful lesson she will have imparted to the women who sought her advice. Self-awareness and social services are worth nothing to women who cloak their peril in pretty pictures.