I just wrote a post about the shameful decision by the Jewish Forward’s managing editor, Jane Eisner, to censor a news report on the claim by Jenny Listman that Elie Wiesel groped her during a photo shoot at a Jewish charity event when she was a teenager. Yesterday, further news of a similar nature revealed that long-time Jewish cultural icon, Leon Wieseltier, had been charged with even more flagrant offenses by female staff at his former publication, The New Republic. The news caused Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, to pull the plug on his new publication, Idea, which was about to debut this coming week.
Wieseltier essentially ‘fessed up to his behavior. He did so in his typically florid, egomaniacal prose style:
“For my offenses against some of my colleagues in the past I offer a shaken apology and ask for their forgiveness,” he wrote. “The women with whom I worked are smart and good people. I am ashamed to know that I made any of them feel demeaned and disrespected. I assure them I will not waste this reckoning.”
He claims that he’s withdrawing from the professional media world for a time in order to address his behavior. But that seems to be the default position for such sexual predators. Harvey Weinstein announced he was going to Europe for an extended period in rehab. Instead he spent a week in rehab in Arizona. Not a very convincing act in my opinion.
We’ll have to see what happens in Wieseltier’s case. But begging the forgiveness of female victims in a press statement doesn’t seem the most convincing way to approach these very personal, intimate matters. I’d say that until he figures out where and how his behavior originated and tames it, he has no write to ask anything of his victims.
Avner Cohen just reminded me of another very similar case from last year which originated in a post here which identified the offender. A staff member for J Street revealed that Ari Shavit had made unwanted sexual advances toward her. She had been accompanying him during a visit to Washington DC he made on behalf of the organization. That news, borne out by another victim who stepped forward, led to Shavit’s forced resignation from Haaretz. It also led to HBO cancelling a documentary that was to be based on his best-selling, (and brazenly bad) book.
Though I strongly opposed the political-ideological views of Wiesel, Shavit and Wieseltier, especially regarding Israel, and believe theirs intolerant, abusive views toward Palestinians parallel similar attitudes they harbored in gender relations, it’s important to note that even liberals like Harvey Weinstein can be sexual bullies. The pattern of behavior of such predators is more influenced by gender-power social dynamics than it is by politics or religion.
But on the other hand, the Jewish community must not excuse the behavior of powerful men merely because they are cultural lions or moral avatars, as they’ve done in the case of Wiesel, Shavit and Wieseltier (his editors knew for years of his behavior).
It’s important not to tie political disagreements too closely to denunciation of such disgusting behavior. This is what faux Muslim “reformer” and Zuhdi Jasser acolyte, Asra Nomani has done in her odd NY Times column denouncing Tariq Ramadan, Is This the Harvey Weinstein of Conservative Islam. Ramadan has been charged by a single Muslim woman with sexual assault. In her piece, Nomani offers unsupported claims that Ramadan supports female genital mutilation and stoning. In fact, Ramadan does not support either. Apparently, the Times’ editors were asleep at the wheel and didn’t review this story before publication.
In her full frontal assault on Ramadan, Nomani commits a fatal error: she conflates her political-ideological prejudices with her analysis of gender relations. The result is a travesty committed against Islam and fairness. Similarly, in implying that Harvey Weinstein somehow represents Judaism or Jews in his own sexual behavior (a claim stupidly endorsed in Tablet Magazine), she and the Times have committed an offense against Judaism.
In fact, the Times disingenuously changed the headline of Nomani’s piece to: “An intellectual star faces an accuser.” It adds the new subtitle: “Women in the World changed the original heading to avoid a misreading.” The subtitle is just as outrageous as the original title because it implies that only the headline was offensive, when the entire article was. It simply ignores the fact that the entire conception of the piece was a mess undeserving of publication anywhere outside of Debka Files or Frontpagemagazine.
Hamid Dabashi carefully eviscerates Nomani’s piece in an analysis he wrote for Al Jazeera. In it, he aptly called the Times to task for publishing such a piece-of-crap Islamophobia:
The New York Times today is integral to a massive Islamophobic machinery that marks Islam and Muslim as the diabolic enemy of history, of humanity, and of all manners and claims to a civilized life. If something like the Harvey Weinstein scandal has absolutely nothing to do with Muslims and Islam, they will find a pernicious way to find one case of alleged Muslim sexual violence and pin it down not on him as a person, a Muslim, a scholar, but on the entirety of “Islam” itself.
The target of this vicious Islamophobia is not just individual Muslims. It is against Islam itself. It aims to rob Muslims of the very fabric of their humanity, debone their moral rectitude to nullity – either to die under Bush, Obama, and Trump bombs from one end of the Muslim world to another or else convert to a “Judeo-Christian” creed and be saved and civilised.