Soldiers file police complaint against priest for sexual misconduct
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Soldiers file police complaint against priest for sexual misconduct

Father Gabriel Naddaf, who says his support for Christians serving in the Israeli army has made him a target, denies allegations of harassment

Father Gabriel Naddaf, right, seen at the Knesset on May 9, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Father Gabriel Naddaf, right, seen at the Knesset on May 9, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A number of IDF soldiers from Father Gabriel Naddaf’s Christian Arab community have filed formal complaints against the Greek Orthodox priest, saying he sexually harassed them, according to Channel 2 news.

Eyal Paltek, the soldiers’ attorney who filed the complaint with the Haifa Police, said, “There is no doubt that after this initial complaint, more will follow.”

The complaint followed just hours after the Haifa Police announced it was launching a preliminary investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by the priest, who is an outspoken advocate of the integration of Christian Arabs into the Israel Defense Forces.

“Some of the claims have reached the police and they will be checked by professionals in the police investigations and intelligence unit as needed,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement on Monday, before the complaints were filed.

On Sunday, Channel 2 aired recordings and transcripts of conversations in which the priest appeared to promise to help unidentified young men in exchange for sexual favors. The report included claims from unidentified Palestinians that Naddaf had offered to help them obtain entry permits into Israel in exchange for the favors.

Naddaf, who has been named as one of the ceremonial torch-lighters at the state’s Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem this week, was in the Knesset at the time of the police statement. He firmly denied the allegations against him and questioned the timing of the report’s publication.

Naddaf says he and his family have been the targets of vilification and occasional violence for his support for military service for Christians. He has been banned from entering Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation, his car has been vandalized and he has received death threats. In 2013, his son was hospitalized after being attacked by activists opposed to his work.

“There are elements who are plotting against me, against my wife, against my two sons who serve in the army,” he said.

“The truth is that I have never done any of the things described in the report — I have never sexually harmed anyone, I have never intentionally hurt anyone, nor have I worked to arrange travel permits for Palestinians to come to Israel,” Naddaf said.

He added: “I want to thank the public committee [that chose the torch-lighters] for choosing me. This choice, especially of a member of clergy in Israel and the representative of the Arabic-speaking Christian minority, bears witness to the fact that the State of Israel is a democratic state, and we all have the duty to defend it. I will light the torch on Independence Day.”

A Christian Arab soldier receiving a certificate of appreciation from Greek Orthodox priest Gabriel Naddaf during a 2013 event in Nazareth (photo credit: courtesy IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
A Christian Arab soldier receiving a certificate of appreciation from Greek Orthodox priest Gabriel Naddaf during a 2013 event in Nazareth (Courtesy IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Naddaf agreed to take a lie detector test at Channel 2’s request, and failed it. He said in his statement Monday that he has recently passed two other polygraph tests administered by external auditors.

“Because I know that I’m right, I have submitted to this questioning without any fears of repercussions from police and I’m sure the truth — that this is a conspiracy against me — will be revealed,” Naddaf said.

Later Monday, Naddaf went to Mount Herzl to rehearse for Wednesday night’s Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony.

On Sunday evening, Culture Minister Miri Regev told Army Radio that she supports the public committee’s decision to choose Naddaf as a torch-lighter, an honor given to exemplary citizens in various fields, and said he would participate in Wednesday’s state ceremony unless the allegations against him were proven to be true.

Committee member Dr. Hani Zubida told Channel 2 on Tuesday that the allegations against Naddaf were not known to those who chose the torch-lighters. Zubida noted that the question of rescinding Naddaf’s invitation to light the torch was “complicated” because of the virulent campaign against him over his activism.

The committee consulted with relevant state legal advisers who said it did not have the authority to rescind its award once it had been made, he added.

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