22 Nov 2010

Messianic Israeli cult leader accused of enslavement, rape and incest speaks in court, asserts innocence

YNet News - Israel - February 10, 2010

Ratzon speaks out for first time, claims being threatened

Man living with 32 women opens his mouth in court for first time about month after being arrested, asserts he is innocent. 'I am being threatened. I did not admit to anything. Girls have never been enslaved. They had it good,' he says

by Avi Cohen

After nearly a month in detainment, Goel Ratzon speaks out for the first time. The man living with 32 women in south Tel Aviv claimed during a hearing in Tel Aviv Magistrates' Court that he is innocent.

"They can say things about me, (but) they're not true. They are putting the squeeze on me during investigation." Ratzon is suspected of committing sexual offenses and of enslavement.

During the hearing in which the police issued the prosecution's affidavit ahead of the issuing of an indictment, Ratzon said, "I am innocent. They are slandering me. They are making it hard for me in the investigation. I am being threatened. I did not admit to anything. The girls were never enslaved. They had it good. They wanted to be there. I am certain they didn't talk. It's all nonsense."

Regarding the book of rules he allegedly wrote for the women and their children living with him, Ratzon said, "There was no book. That is an invention of the media."

Ratzon also addressed concerns that his wives would try to hurt themselves when he was arrested: "I didn't expect anything. Nothing was supposed to happen when they arrested me."

He also denied committing sexual offenses. "This is what the police claims, not me," he said.

Though this is the fifth time Goel Ratzon has been brought before the court to discuss extending his remand, it is the first time he has spoken.

Ratzon was arrested last month in a wide-scale joint operation of the Tel Aviv District Police, the Welfare Ministry, and the Tel Aviv District Prosecutor's Office. Ratzon, who runs a cult of dozens of women who worship him, obey him, and have thus far had dozens of children with him, is suspected of keeping people in slavery conditions and of sexual offenses, including rape.

Ratzon, 60, leads the group of women, all of whom are considered his wives even though he never actually married any of them. These women have continued to have children with him for years and joined his "tribe" that spans across a number of building complexes in Tel Aviv's Tikva quarter and another one in Gedera. Many of the childrens' names are derivatives of their father's name.

According to articles published on Ratzon in the past, his wives adore him and tattoo his name and face on their bodies.

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ABC News - The Associated Press - February 8, 2010

Tel Aviv "Savior" Accused of Enslaving Women

Tel Aviv "savior" accused of enslaving women in cult-like harem in cramped apartments

By AMY TEIBEL | Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM -- The women tattooed his name and portrait on their bodies and gave their children his name — Savior.

They spoon-fed the bearded, one-time healer as if he were royalty, brushed his shoulder-length white locks, sent him text messages when they were ovulating and slept with him at his bidding.

They turned over wages and welfare payments to him and lived in cramped, rundown Tel Aviv apartments with the children they bore him. According to police, he fathered some of his own daughters' children.

Israeli Goel Ratzon is seen during a hearing at a courtroom in Tel Aviv, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010. (AP)

The man, 60-year-old Goel Ratzon — whose first name is Hebrew for "Savior" — is now sitting in a Tel Aviv jail, suspected by police of enslaving a cult-like harem of at least 17 women and 37 children. Ratzon, who's lived this way for two decades, denies any wrongdoing, his lawyer says.

Ratzon's alleged crimes and unconventional lifestyle have gripped Israel and become newspaper and talk show fodder.

How he managed to lure so many young women and live this way so long in full view of authorities remains a mystery. While cult leaders like Jim Jones, who led hundreds of followers in a 1978 mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, claimed messianic status, Ratzon did not.

"I'm not their Messiah, I'm not their savior. I'm just good to them," he said in a rare interview to Israel television last year.

Police, however, said they swooped down on Ratzon when the children were at school because they were afraid their mothers might hurt them if they were at home at the time.

According to police, his lawyer and testimony from the women, Ratzon kept tabs on his "extended family" through closed-circuit TV, and fined them for violating rules that included modest dress and a ban on unauthorized telephone calls.

"He doesn't live like you or me. He lives differently. And the fact that the women accepted it and were part of it gave him the legitimacy that it was OK, that it was good for them," said his court-appointed lawyer, Shlomzion Gabai.

Police broke up the harem on Jan. 12, taking the children and women to various shelters. Police investigating him on suspicion of enslavement, rape and incest have until Friday to charge him or else his detention runs out, Gabai said.

In an Israeli television documentary aired last year, Ratzon said the women were drawn to him because he was "perfect" and had "all the qualities that a woman wants."

But Asher Wizman, a private investigator who said his company was hired by two sets of parents to extricate their daughters from the clan, told The Associated Press that Ratzon preyed on troubled young women.

Some of his women invited sisters, cousins and friends to join the harem. Ratzon would go trawling for others in two busy Tel Aviv malls, Wizman said.

He said a private investigator he sent to infiltrate the harem was badly shaken after her first encounter with Ratzon.

"He looked her in the eye" for about 90 seconds, "and she felt like she was losing control, it was a kind of hypnosis," he said.

The investigator, who spend a month inside the clan, reported to Wizman that the women "talked about Ratzon as if he were a god and the biggest honor is to spend the night with him," he said.

Now pried from his grasp, the women seem divided over whether they were enslaved or living an extraordinary way of life with a unique kind of man.

Dvora Reichstein was taken into the fold four and a half years ago when she was 22, unmarried and pregnant with another man's child. From day one, she said, life with him was "like living in a prison" — but she had nowhere else to go.

"Today, I'm free to wear jeans, talk to my parents, meet friends, buy myself a cup of coffee without getting Goel's permission," said Reichstein, who had a "Goel" tattoo peeking out over her black turtleneck in a photo published in the Yediot Ahronot daily.

"I'm not the same woman who just a month ago sent him an ovulation SMS saying, 'I want to remind you that I'm ovulating, and if it works out, I'd very much like to be with you and carry your seed in my womb. Love you forever, your wife-slave,'" she wrote in an account of her life with Razton published by Yediot Ahronot.

In interviews with Israeli media, other women spoke warmly about Ratzon. But they also acknowledged there might have been something awry about the arrangement.

Shari Horowitz, a 30-year-old who studied mechanical engineering, lived with Ratzon for 11 years. Like others among his women, she cleaned houses for a living, donned the neck-to-toe garb that met his definition of modesty and wore a wedding band — though neither she nor the others were legally married to Ratzon.

Horowitz told Channel 2 TV that Ratzon was an "amazing" and fascinating man. But when pressed, she allowed that the life she lived could indeed be characterized as "enslavement."

A 36-year-old woman who identified herself only as "T" told Channel 2 that Ratzon was "very loving, supportive, concerned." But she didn't deny the incest allegations, saying she wasn't aware of the goings-on in all the apartments.

The women gave their accounts to Israeli media reportedly in exchange for compensation. Attempts to reach the women independently were unsuccessful, except for a woman listed in directory assistance as Dvora Reichstein, who asked for money when contacted by phone. The Associated Press does not pay for interviews.

Police had been aware of Ratzon for years, but said they couldn't make any allegations stick until three of his women brought new complaints to welfare authorities over the summer. That sparked a seven-month investigation that led to his arrest.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld described the conditions in the women's apartments as "really terrible," with mattresses on the floor and as many as 10 women and 16 children crammed into a three-bedroom flat.

Police suspect Ratzon's clan is even bigger than they know. Gabai, the defense attorney, says Ratzon claims to have more than 30 women and nearly 100 children kept in various apartments in the Tel Aviv area — along with one legal wife who is not part of the group.

The attorney says he doesn't work, and Reichstein said he lives off the money the women give him. Women said their children's names are variations on his own, like "Tikvat Hagoel," — the savior's hope — or "Tiferet Hagoel," the savior's glory.

Evidence against Ratzon includes hundreds of computer disks he kept in the Tel Aviv flat where he lived alone and took his women for sexual encounters, police say. A surveillance system allowed him to monitor the goings-on in a Tel Aviv building where he kept multiple apartments, they added.

Police allege Ratzon kept a rule book with penalties for violations like not reporting whereabouts. Gabai denied the rules were applied. But Reichstein said she was once fined the equivalent of $135 for discussing her sex life with Ratzon with another of his women.

Reichstein said she was lonely, unwed and waiting to give birth in the hospital when she first saw Ratzon. He had come to visit a woman in the next bed who was expecting his child.

"From that moment on, I didn't stop wanting him. I wanted warmth and love," she wrote in her Yediot Ahronot article. "He was everything I never had."

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jweekly.com - February 11, 2010

Alleged Tel Aviv cult leader described as charismatic, yet domineering

by Yaakov Lappin | Jerusalem post

Neighbors who lived near Goel Ratzon in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood said he was revered as a gurulike saint by his women and children.

Ratzon banned all of the women who lived with him from communicating with men — including their own brothers — and demanded absolute obedience, the neighbors added. “They were his slaves,” one neighbor said.

The 59-year-old Ratzon was arrested in mid-January on suspicion of enslaving members of his group and raping a number of the women. He was romantically involved with at least 17 women and fathered 37 children with them.

Prior to a remand hearing Feb. 10 at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, Ratzon claimed that he was being “threatened” by police interrogators. He was remanded into custody until Sunday, Feb. 14, when he is expected to be indicted.

The arrest of the self-styled “spiritual guru” occurred following a 7-month-long undercover investigation by the police. Ratzon’s partners were detained for questioning and later taken with their children into temporary protective care by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services.

Ratzon has long been the target of suspicion by authorities, and welfare services are facing intense criticism for not acting sooner to disband the group.

But the women who lived with Ratzon did so on a voluntary basis, and both police and welfare services believed they were powerless to act until new anti-enslavement legislation was introduced in 2006.

Previous checks on children from Ratzon’s group, carried out by social services at kindergartens, found that they were well dressed, well fed and equipped for school.

An amendment to the anti-enslavement law, which prohibits anyone to “hold a person in conditions of slavery, including sexual slavery,” finally enabled the authorities to act. The offense carries a maximum prison sentence of 16 years.

The authorities are interpreting “slavery” in this case to mean psychological slavery, resulting in total control by Ratzon of the women and children who lived with him in several different apartment complexes.

Police say financial penalties of hundreds of shekels would be meted out by Ratzon to the women for the smallest of transgressions, like “sitting on the stairs.”

“It’s like a state — I have to uphold my principles, order and laws,” Goel said during an Israeli TV documentary made about him last year.

Neighbors said he preyed on the insecurities of vulnerable young women who came from unstable backgrounds.

“The minute you look at him, he broadcasts tranquility into your eyes,” Efrat, one of the women who lived with him, said during the documentary.

In the film, the women can be seen showing the camera large tattoos bearing Ratzon’s face and name on their arms and neck. All of the children conceived by the women and Ratzon are named after him, like Tehilat Ratzon (Ratzon’s Glory), one of his daughters, and Goel Goeli, one of his sons.

Yet unlike cult leaders such as Jim Jones of the People’s Temple, Ratzon claims he never told the women he was the messiah or other God-like figure.

“I’m not their messiah, I’m simply good for them,” Ratzon said in the documentary.

Other actions by the “guru,” however, were reminiscent of cults that have advocated vengeance against a government that tries to shut them down.

“When I die … you are to lead peaceful and constrained lives … but if the State [of Israel] harms me, go out and strike them as much as you can. Even at the cost of shedding your own blood,” Ratzon told one of the women in the film.

Parents of the women would periodically stop by the house to plead for their daughters to come back. “It would happen routinely,” one neighbor said. “The parents filed many complaints with police and social services.”

The Channel 10 documentary showed how groups of three to four women and their children lived on every floor of Raton’s multistoried buildings and formed self-sustaining “economic units,” working and contributing to the commune. Ratzon also received large state funds in the form of child benefit payouts.

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