Geopolitics

The Woman Who Accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn

From Day One, the African-born New York hotel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault has either been seen as the most innocent of victims, or the center of a plot to take advantage of an influential leader with a weakness for women.

The New York hotel where Strauss-Kahn's accuser said he attacked her (Rob Young)
The New York hotel where Strauss-Kahn's accuser said he attacked her (Rob Young)
Marion Van Renterghem

It's been one stunning revelation after another. Since that Sunday morning, on May 15th, when news hit that the head of the International Monetary Fund -- the man the French thought might be their next president -- had been charged with attempted rape, the Strauss-Kahn affair has brought a rapid-fire succession of astonishing twists.

The most recent of these were prosecutors uncovering "major holes in the credibility" of Strauss-Kahn's accuser, as first reported by the New York Times. The credibility issue forced investigators to take a new and careful look at the relatively sparse information they have about the presumed victim, a hotel chambermaid.

The district attorney's office said that while the woman maintains she was assaulted, and DNA tests ‘"found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter"" between her and Strauss-Kahn, her repeated lies during the investigation have destabilized the prosecution.

The accuser, who opted to use the Shakespearean name Ophelia at the Manhattan Sofitel where she worked, disappeared from public view immediately after the case broke. She left the apartment in the Bronx where she lived with her 16-year-old daughter and has been under heavy police protection since. The first photograph of her showed her covered with a white sheet as she exited a New York courthouse. Some French papers published a photo said to be her, but that was too blurred for her to be identifiable. What we do know about the presumed victim is that she is a 5'9"" tall, 32-year-old widow, a Guinean of the Peul tribe who won the right to asylum in the United States. Perhaps in attempt to exonerate their client, Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have described her as "not very attractive."

Fragments of a life

Places and people that were a part of her life yielded more information about her. In New York, those places included the Sofitel where she had been working for three years, and the African take-away in the Bronx where she worked late shifts after she got back from her hotel job. There was the six-story red brick building with a broken elevator on Gerald Avenue in the Bronx, where the Harlem Community Aids United Center—a foundation dedicated to providing care for HIV/Aids victims—also rented out moderately-priced apartments such as the one she occupied. DSK's accuser also sometimes went to the Futa mosque, a big red-brick building on the corner of 3rd Avenue. The New York Times dispatched a reporter to Tchakulé, the tiny village on the high plains of Guinea where she was born, but the journalist was unable to find anything that would shed light on the young woman's personality.

She was a regular at Café 2115, an African restaurant on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in central Harlem. After the alleged incident, the manager, Blake Diallo, held several press conferences at which he presented himself as the ‘"brother"" of the presumed victim. Appearing tired and overwhelmed, he told reporters that his sister worked hard, was a good Muslim, and wasn't the type who would attack a man. He added that she felt unwell, was very tired and afraid, and that all she wanted to do was cry.

Blake Diallo also told reporters that his sister had called him in the middle of the afternoon from the hospital the police had taken her to after having heard her account of the alleged event. According to him, still in shock and sobbing, she had blurted out that a man had tried to do something very bad to her. He refuted the idea that his sister could have been part of a set-up, saying that she had no idea who Dominique Strauss-Kahn was and that he had had to explain it to her.

Le Monde learned soon afterward that Blake Diallo was Senegalese, not Guinean, and that he was her boyfriend, not her brother. Contacted about this, Diallo explained somewhat ingenuously that he had said sister "because in Africa people call each other brother and sister."

Further doubts

Blake Diallo's about-face was the first bit of incoherence to make its appearance in the case. The only other information that might have cast doubt about the presumed victim's story was a rumor reported by the New York Post, a tabloid with good police sources but not known for its reliability. The rumor was that the alleged victim had asked her superiors if she could replace an absent colleague on the VIP floor—the floor where Strauss-Kahn occupied suite 2806. The veteran chambermaid was not out of the loop insofar as information went: she was a union member, and photographs of celebrity guests were often put up in the maids' changing rooms in the hotel basement.

A final clue that could have raised questions: the unexplained retreat of lawyers Jeffrey Shapiro and Norman Siegel, originally chosen by the presumed victim, in favor of media-savvy Kenneth Thompson, whose angle on the case was that it pitted the rich and powerful against the poor without a voice. His client, he said, was "standing up for all women and children around the world who have been sexually assaulted or sexually abused."

For their part, the maid's employers and people who knew her all said the same thing: she was a nice respectable girl, and a good Muslim. Neighbors described her as discreet and self-effacing, always modestly dressed, wearing a headscarf and avoiding high heels. Jorge Tito, the Sofitel director, stated in a press release that she had been an entirely satisfactory employee both in terms of the quality of her work and in her behavior. It was Tito who, after listening to the account right after the alleged incident took place, alerted the New York Police Department.

Read the original article in French

photo - Rob Young

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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