MKs bid to tackle ‘harmful cults’ that ensnare 20,000 Israelis. But it’s not so simple.
From polygamous sexual predators to the ‘Jewish Taliban,’ sects draw in large numbers of susceptible adherents. Will new legislation break the spell? Or does it go too far, threatening religious freedom?
By Marissa Newman February 22, 2016
....a new bill proposed by Knesset member Orly Levy-Abekasis of the Yisrael Beytenu party, which has the coalition’s support and passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday.
The bill would for the first time in Israel’s history enshrine in law a definition of a “harmful cult,” and allow the courts to jail cult leaders for up to 10 years and seize their assets. But, in its current formulation, which will still likely be revised before it is brought to the three votes needed to pass it into law, there is one caveat: it would only apply to cult leaders who committed other crimes, thus compounding their sentences. This stipulation ensures that religious leaders won’t face prosecution merely upon allegations of “cult-like” features. It also won’t help people like L., who needed therapy after leaving her community....
The bill defines a cult as a group that “rallies around a person or an idea, in a way that there is exploitation, dependency, authority, or emotional distress experienced by one or more members, uses methods of controlling mental processes or patterns of behavior, and operates in an organized, systematic, and sustained fashion, while committing crimes under Israeli law that are felonies or sexual offenses or serious violence.”
According to the director of the Israeli Center for Cult Victims, there are some 100 cults active in Israel, with 15,000-20,000 adults and 3,000 children in their ranks.
Rachel Lichtenstein, the director of the Israeli Center for Cult Victims, says what makes a group a cult is never ideology, but rather the techniques of control exercised by its leader. The criteria she lists include having a leader at the center, emotional, psychological, and occasionally economic exploitation, social sanctions and humiliation, isolation of members from their families, surveillance, and more. The group gathers testimony and, once it receives a number of reliable accounts (she stresses the organization will never rely on a single account), it will classify some groups as cults. (The organization identifies the Harish group as a cult, based on the testimonies of 15 families who left)....
The bill marks the first time the anti-cult efforts have reached Israel’s legislature (countries such as France and Belgium have anti-cult laws)....
Can you lose your free will?
While entrenched in the cult, you are “not operating out of free will,” maintains L. After receiving complaints, the ISKCON umbrella group for Hare Krishna at one point intervened and representatives conceded to her that there was a problem. The organization sent in other teachers, gave the leader a warning, and kept tabs on the group, but L. maintains their response – which she says strengthened her resolve to leave — was insufficient. “I think they needed to tell everyone there, listen there’s a problem here. They didn’t do that.”
While she was in the group, L. says, there was a certain amount of control over her mental faculties. “There are people who will say it doesn’t exist, but of course it does.”....
'Satanic' sergeant suspended for posting degrading slurs before Greens MP Jenny Leong harassed
April 17, 2016 Eamonn Duff
Police officers were posting homophobic and sexually degrading posts on social media before a NSW Police Integrity Commission investigation homed in on the racial and sexist harassment of an MP.
A Sun-Herald investigation can also reveal that one of the ringleaders behind the online trolling of the Greens MP Jenny Leong is an inner-city based sergeant who for years has spouted a string of anti-gay slurs and online comments that objectified and sexually degraded women.
After viewing material linked to his Facebook account on Saturday, the NSW Police released a statement advising it had "acted to immediately suspend" the Central Metropolitan Region officer.
It is now apparent that far from being an isolated, politically motivated online attack, the recent hate campaign against Ms Leong was part of a culture of abuse within certain elements of the force.
Until the sergeant's Facebook page was shut down last week, it was a public window into the private world of a trusted protector of the community.
Harbouring a morbid fascination with the devil, the officer had uploaded numerous satanic images onto his social media feed and was one of nine followers of a Facebook page that shares images of mutilated corpses.
"I love evil and being evil. It's who I am," he said after posting an image of Satan in 2013, adding: "I just love the picture and what it stands for. EVIL".
In 2013 he was engaging in public posts, with another police officer, that depicted women as sexual objects. The comments are too vulgar to publish....