Court (illustrative)
Court (illustrative) Israel news photo: Flash 90

A disturbing sex crime case in northern Israel has created controversy due to the unusually light sentence handed down to perpetrator Nawaf Athamneh.

According to the Haifa-region newspaper Magazin Hamoshvot, Athamneh, 52, was convicted of carrying out a campaign of sexual blackmail targeting a 15-year-old Jewish girl. The indictment included extorting via threats, non-vaginal rape, harassment, and other threats. 

His sentence: six months of community service, to be performed with a burial society (Hevra Kadisha) in the city of Hadera.

Athamneh is known in far-left Israeli circles as the former editor of the now-defunct Machsom website. He published a widely-circulated article in 2006 in which he accused Israel and the IDF of murdering Arab civilians in Gaza.

He met his victim on a mainstream news website in early 2012. Athamneh posed as a 25-year-old named Amir – a common name among Jewish Israelis – and began chatting with the girl he later attacked, a 15-year-old from a religious Jewish family in Haifa.

After developing a relationship with the girl, “Amir” managed to convince her to expose her upper body in front of a web camera. At that point, his “friendship” turned ugly: he told the girl that he had taken a picture of her, and that if she did not give in to his demands, he would publicize the pictures and show it to her parents.

Under blackmail, the girl agreed to expose herself again, and even to meet with Athamneh in a hotel, where he forced her to perform sex acts. He then claimed to have filmed their encounter, and used the threat of exposure to coerce her into further meetings.

He threatened the frightened teen on a number of occasions, telling her, “You’ll be very sorry, I promise you’ll pay for everything,” and “I don’t want you anymore, you dog, but I’ll make sure you’re sorry for the rest of your life. I have ways of doing it.”

Athamneh told the girl that he had decided to rape her. “I want to **** you…. I’ve decided it will be more fun if I force you,” he informed her. The teen agreed to meet him, but before the scheduled meeting she poured her heart out to her older sister, who convinced her to go to their mother.

The girls’ mother immediately filed a complaint with the police. The girl arranged a meeting with Athamneh with the police’s knowledge, and Athamneh was arrested when he showed up.

The girl wrote an emotional letter to the Haifa District Court prior to Athamneh’s sentencing, urging the court to give him a tough sentence that would deter others from committing similar crimes. She described her terror and feelings of powerlessness during the months in which he abused her, and concluded, “Don’t let him win.”

Despite her appeal, Judge Ron Shapiro decided to sentence Athamneh to just six months of community service, with another 18 months in prison if he commits additional sex crimes in the upcoming month. Athamneh was also required to give his victim NIS 60,000.

Shapiro noted that the standard punishment would be 3-6 years in prison, but said that in Athamneh’s case, he had decided to emphasize rehabilitation over punishment.

State prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court over the unusually light sentence, but their case was rejected.

Among those who expressed outrage over the verdict was former Member of Knesset Michael Ben-Ari.

“The Supreme Court is giving the criminal world a stamp of legitimacy,” he accused. “Where is the deterrence? What about the girl’s dignity? What about our children’s safety?”