After a second woman came forward alleging sexual harassment against veteran Haaretz columnist, Ari Shavit, he resigned from the paper and from his weekly appearance on a Channel 10 news of the week show. The second victim, who refused to permit herself to be named, told the Jewish Forward that Shavit had molested her when she was a J Street staff member, as she chaperoned him from the Baltimore train station to a speaking engagement at Johns Hopkins University. As they drank coffee before his event, he grasped her hand and caressed it in a suggestive manner and asked her if she would spend more time with him alone the following day or later when she was in Israel leading a tour group. She said she would not have time due to her responsibilities for the group, but that perhaps they could have coffee. He told her he didn’t want coffee, but wanted to go drinking with her “alone.” She was so uncomfortable that another J Street staffer accompanied the two of them on the rest of the journey from Baltimore to his hotel.
Unlike his earlier acknowledgement of the incident with Danielle Berrin, when he asserted that he’d intended to “flirt” with her and that she misinterpreted his intent, this time Shavit offered an unconditional apology. He even managed to include his wife and children this time! He said that he had much work to do to learn from the suffering he’d caused others. It was an uncharacteristically chastened Shavit, whose normal mode is macho, superior Israeli Ashkenazi male.
Danielle Berrin said a few days ago that she objected to the media (including this blog, presumably) focusing on Ari Shavit as an individual, and that she wished the story focused on the general status of women in society and the need to develop greater sensitivity to these issues. While I have no disagreement with her, I think she’s a bit naïve. Considering she’s a reporter who covers Hollywood, that’s surprising. She should know that the way the public develops sensitivity to issues is through human interest stories. If you produced a 30-minute documentary about sexual abuse it would find a small audience. But find a woman groped by Donald Trump or a powerful alpha Israeli male, then you’ve got the audience by the lapels.
But given Berrin’s pronounced identity as a liberal Zionist (she still adores Shavit’s work), there’s another critical aspect of this story that’s overlooked. While I do not downplay the gravity of Shavit’s behavior and misogyny, his embrace of Zionist supremacism in his reporting and his best-selling book is, if possible, even more disturbing. It is not surprising that a man who refuses to consider women independent and peers, deserving of respect–that the same man refuses to acknowledge the identity of the Palestinian people as equals to Israelis; as a people deserving of the same rights. In other words, Shavit’s work is the literary equivalent of a mauling. He denies Nakba. While he bemoans the Occupation he, in typical liberal Zionist fashion, refuses to call for its immediate, unconditional end. He shoots and cries–he doesn’t like war but it’s a dirty business and someone’s got to do it. At least, so he claims, Israel wages war in as humane a way as possible. You’ve heard all these tropes before. They’re as tired and stale as they were when the first Israel apologist offered them. Just as tired as Shavit’s first quasi-apology to Berrin.
An aside: though I was the first blogger outside Israel to report that Shavit was Berrin’s attacker and the journalist released his first statement only a few hours after my first post was published, not a single media outlet in Israel or abroad has acknowledge the important role Tikun Olam played. Further, within a few hours of my second post being published, Shavit announced he was “taking a break” from Haaretz. Throughout this process, I kept Haaretz managing editor Aluf Benn apprised of what I was published so he would know that the media would hold both Shavit and Haaretz accountable. Yet, unsurprisingly no Haaretz report has referred to this blog or linked to any of my posts. The same holds true for The Forward, the Guardian and virtually everyone else. Though the Forward’s editor, Helen Chenikoff admitted she knew I had first reported the story, she claimed her paper decided not to credit my reporting because I conceded I did not yet have a direct source to confirm Shavit’s identity. Being first and right apparently weren’t enough to deserve any mention in the pages of The Forward. This is the type of artificial distinction and sophistry which gets the liberal Zionist media in trouble in the first place.
Even Danielle Berrin herself, in her initial response to Shavit’s “apology” to her only referred to “Israel and Jewish media” which had identified him. As a victim in this incident, I don’t find fault with her personally. But something there is about a liberal Zionist which makes them allergic to crediting or even acknowledging the existence Jews to their left.
I think that American Jewish organizations should reconsider permitting female staff to travel unaccompanied with Israeli men who travel here to speak on behalf of these groups. As Avital Chizik has confirmed, Berrin and the J Street staffer are not the first Jewish women to be assaulted in such circumstances by Israeli men. And if the NGOs don’t respond to this problem properly, they won’t be the last.
Before the Israeli men in the audience begin a geshrei, they should look in the mirror. If they haven’t done such things then they aren’t to blame. But too many Israeli men feel entitled to abuse women when they travel abroad and are away from their wives and family. It’s a temptation some seem unable to resist. So the temptation must be removed. The alternative is to equip every female Jewish staffer with mace to protect herself when she’s chaperoning Israeli men on behalf of her employer.