It seems that after months of a thunderingly inept defense that he didn’t kiss her, then that he did but that she was the one who wanted it, and then that he did and maybe his tongue touched hers but it still wasn’t what you think it was…after all this, a three judge panel has ruled Haim Ramon guilty of sexual harassment.
On his way to a cabinet meeting in the prime minister’s office, Ramon met a young IDF soldier who asked to pose for a picture with him. After pleasantries which he characterizes as “flirtation” he must’ve thought to himself (as many abusers do): “She really wants it.” So he gave it to her. A kiss smack on the lips which she characterized as a French kiss (eeewww!). If you’ve ever seen Ramon’s scowling punim (“face”) you’d wonder how any woman could find him attractive (not that this woman did).
This is really garden variety sexual harassment. Here in the States it would be adjudicated relatively easily and promptly and guilt would be ascertained. You wouldn’t be breaking any legal ground here as this type of offense is settled law. Not so in Israel. There, relations between the sexes are about 10-20 years behind where they are here. As Daphne Baram writes so convincingly in the Guardian:
Israel is a state without sex scandals. The public demonstrates scornful disinterest in politicians’ personal lives, and the journalistic code states that such affairs are not within the public domain. That is probably why we do not have tabloids in the British tradition.
As media consumers we sway towards the political grim existence. Gossip is seen as the domain of celebrities, and politicians are hardly celebrities. Any attempt to break these rules has failed. Magazines or newspapers that tried to replace the politics on their front pages with soft, or hard, gossip were doomed to sudden death. Here and there journalists would hear a really juicy story, about a minister who is insistent on hiring only very attractive female parliamentary assistants and having his way with them in the Knesset’s toilets, or of an ambassador who was found dead in the compromising presence of prostitutes – but such stories never make it into print.
Why is it that the media close ranks behind politicians in this fashion? It reminds me of those journalists who covered JFK during his presidency, almost all of whom either knew directly or tacitly about his sexual forays. But you just didn’t write such things in those days. You gave men, but especially powerful men a wide sway.
Thankfully, no longer. At least no longer in many places. And perhaps no longer in Israel. But Israel has that lingering notion that boys will be boys and girls were made for it. The Israeli justice system, as Baram notes, is notoriously lenient with sex offenders and domestic abusers. Men who kill their wives or injure their children don’t exactly get off scot free. But they receive laughably light sentences compared to jurisprudence here.
When I first read about this story I didn’t intend to write about it. But then I read in Baram’s piece that Haaretz had actually written an editorial DEPLORING Ramon’s conviction. Say what, you say? That’s right. They deplored it. Here’s some of their dubious reasoning. And if you hear echoes of what the women’s movement faced way back in the 1970s, you’re right:
The verdict in the trial of Haim Ramon marks the beginning of a new age, and not necessarily a better one, regarding the attitude of the justice system to sexual offenses. On the one hand, the Ramon verdict will make it easier for a woman to lodge a complaint in cases that until now were considered borderline. On the other hand, defining Haim Ramon as a sex offender, and a non-consensual kiss as a sexual crime opens too wide a door and may blur the boundaries between real sexual crimes and inappropriate behavior. To a great extent, detached from the sexual permissiveness and freedom in society, the judges ruled that “a kiss on the mouth with the tongue that is non-consensual is clearly a sexual offense…We are not dealing with …a gray area… but rather with an intrusive, damaging and humiliating act… a kiss that is non-consensual arouses repulsion, disgust, revulsion.” These statements appear detached from the times and cultural context, as if they were written in a different society.
Where do we begin? First, you’ll notice that a report from a young woman that a cabinet minister kissed her against her will is a “borderline case.” Since when? And how, pray tell, does labelling this act for what it is–a crime–damage our ability to prosecute “real sexual crimes?” Hasn’t this writer ever heard of progressive levels of sexual predation and anti-social behavior? Just because Ramon didn’t rape her or worse that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a “real” sexual crime.
Then you’ll note the Haaretz editorial writer excusing Ramon’s offense by saying it was caused by society’s ‘sexual permissiveness.’ Rather, I’d say Ramon’s kiss was caused by a prevailing societal notion that a powerful man can get away with a lot and that a subordinate would never be willing to hold him to account. That’s not sexual permissiveness, that’s the corruption of power as exerted by men of estate used to never having their wishes or libidos denied.
It appears that Haaretz IS troubled by Ramon’s behavior, but not troubled enough to wish him seriously punished:
Ramon’s conduct as described in the verdict is the vulgar and unacceptable behavior of a man in authority, who according to the judges did not think he needed the soldier’s consent for the kiss. The fact that he lied in court is itself serious. However, it is a long road from this to criminal conviction.
Excuse me? You lie in court, bud and it’s a very short road to criminal conviction. Tell it to Lewis Libby, who may yet do some jail time for his fibs to a federal grand jury.
It also appears Haaretz believes that Ramon deserved to be sentenced to a social worker instead of the witness chair in a courtroom:
The question is not whether Haim Ramon kissed the soldier against her will and whether this behavior is to be tolerated when it comes to a government minister, but rather whether the court is the appropriate place to discuss behavioral norms.
Again, with the “kisses like this happen all the time and they don’t land a guy in jail” routine. We’re not talking merely about breaking a “societal norm.” We’re talking about abusing your authority and harassing women. That’s not something to be taken lightly. Though perhaps in Israel it is. At least till now.
Here is where the utter cluelessness of the editorial comes into play:
Israeli society seems to have come a long way from the total disparagement of cases of sexual harassment to strictness in this regard, which sometimes, as in this case, itself borders on harassment.
You read that right. What concerns the nincompoop who wrote this editorial is not Ramon’s harassment of the woman, but the legal system’s HARASSMENT of Ramon! Can you believe that?? We are still living in the 70s over there aren’t we?
The offenses of which President Moshe Katsav is suspected are clearly sexual, and have components of long-term coercion, aggression and humiliation, and secretiveness, while the case of Ramon touches more on relationships between men and women, on a misunderstanding, on the boundaries of flirtation, matters that it is difficult for the court to rule on, if at all.
No, Katsav’s rape of women working in his office is clearly sexual predation. Again, just because Ramon didn’t rape the poor victim doesn’t make a kiss less than sexual. A kiss IS sexual. Why should anyone have to point this out? Unless the editorial writer perhaps has never kissed anyone and doesn’t recognize the nature of the act.
Thanks to Eran for turning me on to this terrific Haaretz column by Gideon Levy which excellently refutes the argument raised above:
Israel should take pride in this ruling, even if, as a public figure, Ramon pays a steep personal price for it. Just as the public figures among us enjoy a nearly endless list of extravagant benefits citizens can only dream about – much more so than in many other countries – the price they should pay when they stumble must also be heavy…
The ways of the world that are liable to change, one would hope, as a result of this ruling are those that should have disappeared long ago. Courtship will not end and the kiss will not die. The court acted with noteworthy courage when it ruled contrary to widespread public sentiment and set clear limits that must not be crossed…
There are countries in which a government minister would never dream of kissing a female soldier, but in the wanton atmosphere that prevails here, there is no alternative to mobilizing the justice system…
Even before the verdict, he knew the limits of the permissible and the forbidden in the relations between the sexes. Whether they are government ministers or simple citizens, there are many men to whom it would never occur to stick their tongue in the mouth of a female soldier when they barely know each other. The unruly men, those who thought until a few days ago that almost anything was permissible for them – to grope, kiss, embrace, rub against, pinch and harass – are the only ones who will be a little more cautious now, and that is a good thing.
But the verdict’s main impact will actually be on women. From now on, each Israeli woman will know it is her right to resist and her duty to complain if a man intrudes upon her body, in any way, without her consent.