Oct 28, 2014

Head of polygamist cult Ratzon sentenced to 30 years in prison

Jerusalem Post
October 28, 2014

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.

Cult-leader Goel Ratzon was sentenced on Tuesday to 30 years in prison on his convictions for sex crimes and financial fraud.

He will serve 25 years from Tuesday's sentencing after already having been in prison for more than four years already while his trial proceeded.

In September, Ratzon was convicted of most of the sex crimes he was accused of and financial fraud, but acquitted of enslaving people by the Tel Aviv District Court regarding several wives and children.

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 about 30 years.

Ratzon 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.

The decision was handed down by a three judge panel, including Nurit Ahituv, Miriam Diskin and Ra'anan Ben-Yosef - though it was issued several hours late when the Israel Prisons Service bizarrely forgot to bring him to court from his Beersheba prison cell.

The fraud charges against Ratzon described him as defrauding his wives out of their money and manipulating them into serving as his slaves.

While Ratzon's conviction had been likely to lead to significant jail time from which he, at 64, may not emerge while still alive, some of his ex-wives were disturbed that he was acquitted on the spiritual enslavement charge.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog praised the conviction for sex crimes, adding, "this is an important step toward uprooting the phenomenon of exploiting women at its roots" and that the state had sent a message that "the bodies and souls of women are not a free for all."

MK Michal Rozen (Meretz) said too many cults still exist in Israel which abuse women and children and that the Knesset must pass new legislation to fully tackle the phenomenon.

The indictment said Razon’s 21 wives were made to feel they were “required to serve [him] and fulfill all of his demands,” allegedly including sexual acts. It accuses Ratzon of using his standing and the women’s adulation to demand that some of them perform sexual acts on him.

The indictment describes a chilling account of Ratzon’s alleged deeds, including one instance where he allegedly forcibly inserted his fingers into a 17-year-old girl, and when she protested, told her “don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”

The indictment also details Ratzon’s abuse of a girl he allegedly molested almost daily for two years, starting when she was 15.

Soon after his arrest in 2010, Ratzon had said he did not understand why he was under arrest 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 repeated threats Ratzon allegedly made to his wives in which he threatened to harm their health or that of 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 quotes one witness as saying Ratzon told her.

Ratzon was also accused in the indictment 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.

The women were then reportedly required to break off all ties with their families and friends, and were not allowed to have any social life or connections whatsoever outside of the communal house.

They were also allegedly subject to repeated verbal abuse and humiliation by Ratzon, in order to strip them of their self-respect and independence.

Ratzon also allegedly 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 workplace. 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 allegedly forced to dress modestly, were not allowed to use television or Internet without his approval, and were forced to attend to Ratzon at all hours of the night whenever he desired.

The indictment also states that Ratzon required the children to line up and kiss his feet every time he entered the house, allegedly to reaffirm his superiority.

Ratzon is accused of demanding the women hand over their money to him, which the indictment alleges brought a number of the women to bankruptcy, including one who ran up a debt of NIS 400,000 funneling money to Ratzon.

The women were allegedly required to hand over their paychecks and their national insurance child allotments into a communal account that Ratzon exercised “absolute” control over.

Ben Hartman contributed to this report.