Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Facebook scandal erupts after Israeli photographer uploads photo of naked Ethiopian woman

Photojournalist Ziv Koren claims to receive threats over photo of a Falashmura woman bathing at a mikveh upon immigration to Israel, before removing the image from the Internet.

By Revital Blumenfeld

A picture of a nude Ethiopian woman caused a storm after it was posted to Facebook by an Israeli photojournalist and documentarian.

Disgusted viewers posted remarks slamming the photographer, Ziv Koren, accusing him of taking advantage of the woman - a new immigrant - who pictured bathing in a mikve at a Jewish agency camp. Internet surfers questioned whether the photographer asked the woman for permission to take and publish the photo, and said the authenticity of any consent would be questionable, given her vulnerable status at the time it was taken.
"That woman probably doesn't know Hebrew, and whoever translated surely didn't explain that it was artistic photography and that she should feel free to refuse," wrote one Internet surfer, adding that "it must be understood what's going on with the Falashmura [immigrants], they are passed on the message in simplistic words or hints, that if they refuse to participate in the religious ceremonies they won't be accepted to make aliyah to Israel."

The photo was taken in 2006 as part of a documentary project on Falashmura immigrants. Some of the photos from Koren's collection appeared in an exhibition put on by the Jewish Agency.

In response to the uproar on Facebook, Koren – who claimed to receive threats and demands to remove the photo – took the picture off the Internet on Tuesday morning. He said he took the photo down not as a result of pressure, but out of concern for the safety of the photographed woman.

"All the furious reactions and threats don't frighten me," Koren told Haaretz. "I took the photo down after I understood that it could harm the woman. Let's put everything into proportion, we live in a democratic country, where you can morally assess these things more than once. This whole thing kind of went out of control. I'm a documentarian whose whole life revolves around things that are on the edge."

Koren added that he is willing to do everything for his journalistic integrity, and that since his subject matter is risqué and can appear provocative to some but not to others, he is not willing to apologize for it.

The Jewish Agency harshly condemned the "invasion of privacy" that resulted from the photo being taken and posted online. "Respect for human beings is more important than any piece of art or documentation," said the agency, explaining that Koren went to Ethiopia in 2006 to document the immigration of a family to Israel. While he holds the exclusive rights to his pictures, some were donated to the Jewish Agency for an exhibition of some 40 photos that assisted in fundraising for the absorption of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, the organization added.

"Needless to say, none of the pictures from the mikveh were developed nor displayed at the exhibition," said the Jewish Agency, adding that it is important to note the organization only became responsible for the management of the camp, including the mikveh, in 2011. "At the time the photos were taken, the Jewish Agency was not responsible for the operations of the complex," it said.

Rabbi Waldman, who is responsible for the field of Judaism at the complex, said he would not have allowed a photographer into the mikveh whilst there is a man or woman inside.