Column for Jewish News October 31 2016
As we enter the dying days of the US presidential race it is instructive to look at an unexpected side- effect of the allegations of sexual misconduct committed by the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
It’s been a matter of record for years that Israeli society is riddled with the sort of misogynist attitudes apparently held by Trump, that assumption that by virtue of being a man, that person can have anything — or anyone —he wants.
Two of the most egregious examples: Moshe Dayan and the former president, Moshe Katzav. Dayan could never have got away with his behaviour in today’s climate; Katzav is serving seven years for rape and sexual harassment.
It’s not confined, this sort of thing, to Israeli society. Jewish community life was riddled with it when I was a young reporter.
One man, now long dead, actually chased me round a couch in his office; another, now disgraced for a different kind of unethical behaviour, took exception to something I had written and complained to my editor that I had made advances towards him.
I will be forever grateful to that editor for treating the approach with the contempt it deserved.
Young women, when I was starting out, didn’t have many options about confronting these attitudes. As the Savile victims will confirm, most women had to grin and bear it — or take themselves out of harm’s way wherever possible.
But many men continue to believe they can behave with impunity, as the depressing tale of Danielle Berrin and the Israeli journalist Ari Shavit illustrates.
Berrin, who is, not to put too fine a point on it, strikingly gorgeous, waited for two and a half years to take her revenge on Shavit, who, she says, sexually assaulted her when she went to interview him for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal while he was in America publicising his critically acclaimed book, My Promised Land. In her damning cover story, Berrin recounts how she went to an unnamed Israeli journalist’s hotel at 10pm to get her interview.
Instead, things went very pear-shaped: the Israeli lunged and grabbed at her, claimed that he and his wife had “an arrangement” and speculated on what might happen if Berrin became his mistress.
Five minutes after publication, the whole of Israel had figured out that the grabber was Ari Shavit, the “moral voice” of the peace camp, whose articulate denunciation of the right-wing has made a whole slew of society feel better about itself.
In short order, Shavit outed himself and apologised to Berrin for what he characterised as “flirtation”, which I imagine is what he told himself (and possibly his wife) to make himself feel better. Berrin doesn’t buy his apology.
Three days later and another American Jewish woman, this time anonymously, complained that Shavit had hit on her. She was 26 at the time; Shavit is 58.
Now he has had to resign from Ha’aretz, where he has been a long-time columnist and a member of its editorial board, and from Israel’s Channel 10 TV, where he presents a political show.
Thus Shavit is, effectively, ruined, though he has only himself to blame. All moral authority and credibility are gone.
Full disclosure: I interviewed Shavit and he was a perfect gentleman.
Lucky me, huh?