Since the story died down, Cipel has attempted to lead a quiet life. “It took me a long time to find work,” he notes.
“At first I wanted to continue my struggle from abroad, but after I saw that my family was being attacked by journalists I decided to conduct my struggle from Israel. The whole story is painful. What hurts the most is that my entire life I’ve kept my integrity, and suddenly I got involved in this case because of someone else. I wanted to get married, to have a family, and because of him I’ve lost a good many years of my life.
“When I returned to Israel my feeling was that this man would try to return to public life, and that’s what’s happening now. That’s why I’m no longer prepared to remain silent. Why is he writing a book? If his only concern was his two daughters, the two families he destroyed, he would have focused on his personal life. But he needs the public’s sympathy, the applause, for them to love him. That was his main motivation for getting into politics.”
A meeting in Rishon Lezion
The case exploded in August 2004 when James McGreevey held a press conference in which he confessed his homosexuality, told of a long affair he’d had with Golan Cipel, and claimed that Cipel had blackmailed him. Cipel vehemently denied the charges, claiming he’d been sexually harassed by the governor and had never had sex with him.
An FBI investigation examined both the blackmail allegations and the sexual harassment charges, but the case was closed and none of the people involved was put on trial.
Cipel and McGreevey met for the first time in Rishon Lezion when a group of politicians from New Jersey was on a visit to Israel. McGreevey, an ambitious and charismatic politician, was then mayor of Woodbridge Township, New Jersey, and Cipel was spokesman for Rishon Lezion.
The two hit it off immediately, and McGreevey, who was considering running for governor, promised Cipel a PR position. For Cipel, who’d previously served as spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York and parliamentary advisor to MK Avi Yehezkel, this was a golden opportunity.
Cipel was 32 when he started working for McGreevey. In his first two years, he says, nothing happened that would give him an indication of what awaited him in the future.
And then, in the narrow corridor…
Cipel will never forget the fateful encounter in the governor’s home.
“He called me to a meeting in his home. His wife was in the hospital on pregnancy bed rest. There was a guard outside. We started to talk, and then he suggested that we go to the bar for a drink. I told him that this wasn’t acceptable. He said that he was a regular guy, that he didn’t intend to change his habits; that he’d grown up in this neighborhood.
"I went with him, after all, I was his aide. The guard came with us. We went to the bar, and there everyone really did know him and shook his hand. I don’t like beer. I didn’t want to drink. He laughed at me in front of everyone and kept drinking.
“At a certain point he suggested that we go home. He told me that he needed to speak with me. When we left the bar he bought Jägermeister at a store and took the bottle home. At home he spoke with me about work. I listened patiently, took notes, and he drank and tried to convince me to drink. He accompanied me to the door, and then he remembered that he had something on the second floor, that was related to work and that he wanted to show me.
“He went up, and I went up after him in the narrow corridor. Suddenly he pushed me into the room and jumped on me. We began to struggle. I shook him off me. He stopped and there was an awkward moment. I was in total shock. This was the man I'd so respected, a nice man, and suddenly I see before me an entirely different person, an insane person with an insane look in his eyes.
"I thought to myself: ‘How did this happen to me? God, how did this happen?’ I asked him why he thought that I’m gay, and he said to me that everyone is a bit gay.”
How did the evening end?
“I went home and I couldn't sleep the whole night. I kept thinking, ‘What do I do, how do I work now?’ I knew that in a case like that, with such a strong and dangerous man against me, there’s nowhere to escape to. I went into a process of denial. My mind was a maelstrom of fear, of confusion.
"I knew that I had nowhere to go. Where could I go, to the cops? They were part of his office. To the attorney general? Part of his office. They’re his people. I knew that the guy had power, and if I endangered him I'd be in trouble. The next day he acted as if nothing had happened.”
And what happened afterwards?
“The second incident occurred after he broke his leg. He called me and asked me to come to him for a work-related matter. His young aide was in the house and his wife and baby as well. The governor lay on a special hospital bed that was in the living room. The baby was on the floor, and his wife and his aide were speaking in the living room.
"Suddenly he took out his penis and started masturbating and moaning next to me. He tapped the bed and motioned for me to come sit with him. I looked at him and I saw that insane look in his eyes. I said to him, ‘Your baby is in the room,’ but he didn’t bat an eyelash and kept moaning. I decided to leave the house.
"The aide decided to leave the house with me. He walked in the governor’s direction to say goodbye and shake his hand. The governor pulled him over by force and tried to kiss him on the lips. The aide pushed him, looked in my direction, saw that I'd taken in what had happened, and then I realized that I wasn’t the only one who knew those things about him.”
But you still didn’t leave after the second time...
“That’s where my mistake was. I said to myself that there are several other people who know about his harassment and they manage with it, so I’ll manage with his problem too. In retrospect it was a mistake. You have to confront people like that in spite of the shame, the fear, and the confusion.
"At that point I should have complained. The intoxication with power led him to do these things, and he was intoxicated with his power. He used to tell me that only God was above him. The problem is that if you don’t complain, in the end you’ll be accused of agreeing to it. And ultimately that’s what happened to me.”
When did you lodge a complaint?
“For several months nothing happened and I thought I could manage with it, but the third time he attacked me during a trip to Washington in his car. During that incident I almost attacked him back. I was close to doing that. I intended to hit him back. After the third time I decided to leave.
"From the moment I left the governor tried to control me from afar. I ran away to New York. I left everything without telling a soul, but then the campaign of persecution began. I was astonished that since the first incident I'd been followed, my mail had been read, my phone lines had been tapped, notes had been left on my car. I felt like I was in the movie ‘The Firm’ with Tom Cruise. The governor himself would tell me that I’m with him until the day I die, until I’m deep in the earth.”
In the end it was McGreevey who decided to come out of the closet and explode the story. Cipel found himself in the middle of a worldwide scandal.
“I went through a very tough time. I was fighting a huge corrupt system with connections in the American media. I was accused of attempting to blackmail the governor.”
How did your family and friends in Israel respond?
“Here I got tremendous support. There’s a difference between Americans and Israelis. Israelis don’t buy stories and don’t buy the politicians’ Hollywood show. In America they believe politicians more. But the governor destroyed my life. Everything that I'd built I lost because of him. I never thought I'd be involved in a case like this.
"On the other hand I encouraged myself: I fought back, this giant of a man was brought down, and his entire corrupt apparatus was brought down. Little me brought down the big governor. That’s the thing that gives me strength. He won the PR battle, but I won the war. It’s a fact. The governor resigned.”
The story is totally different in the governor’s book. He talks of a relationship you two had.
“I know this guy very well. Once we were talking about politicians involved in scandals, and he said to me that the simple thing you have to do is to stand up in front of the American people and apologize. He told me that Americans are a softhearted compassionate people. They always forgive their leaders. He’s trying to turn the whole case into a story that’s just about gays.
“That’s why it’s important to me now to tell my story. I never had anything with him, he didn’t kiss me and there was nothing personal between us. It could be that he’s confusing me with one of his other aides. But I’m Israeli and so I was different from the others: I was pushed into a corner until I decided to wage war. And I’m not gay at all.
"He himself wrote in the book that there’s a chance that Golan isn’t gay, but he thought that if he had a relationship with me perhaps he'd succeed in moving me to the other side. That sentence proves everything.”
Ronen Tal and Etti Abramov assisted with this article