Is there a plague of sexual harassment in Israel?

“If they couldn’t fight against it, how can I?” a woman asked as she watched a recent special on channel 2 highlighting female Knesset members who were sexually harassed.  It was prevalent everywhere some interviewees said.  Even in the Knesset they were being harassed. It may be no surprise a former Israeli President was sent to prison for rape. High level political bureaucrats have been accused.

The stories of female members of the Knesset suffering under this regime only reveals how pervasive it is.  At Israel’s universities there have been numerous sexual harassment scandals and indications of not only cover-ups but also evidence that it is difficult for women to report harassment or get results when they do.  In many discussions harassment also has a racial side to it, views that women from “weaker” sections of the population can be preyed upon more, or that they “deserve it”. Ethiopians, Moroccans or Russians were seen as acceptable victims by an entitled elite.

The Israeli police has had large numbers of its highest ranking officers get in trouble for sexual harassment. Some never faced any real discipline.

In the army recent stories about Rehavam Zeevi have only brought up stories from the old days when top soldiers like Ezer Weizman and Moshe Dayan were given free rein to harass women and prey on them, as if the army was their own private dating club. It was considered normal, and women were the “mattresses” for elite men in the army, drafted for serve them, as well as the country.

In arts and culture, numerous directors, writers, playwrites and artistic directors have been charged with harassment. Some encouraged women to come to their house for “special sessions” to succeed in their field.

In media major media personalities have been accused of endlessly preying on interns and text messaging them at all hours of the night.

The picture that is painted is of a sick society, even though a minority of women report harassment.  A society plagued by sexual harassment.  In the most “liberal” parts of the society, the harassment is as prevalent if not more so than other other places.  In those places that pay lip-service to “feminism”, it is found.  Harassers feel they can do as they please.  And what we see is that the large institutions, such as the army, police, university, that women must pass through in society, drafted into the army or police, and wanting to have a minimum of a first degree, are forced into a cage in which sexual harassment is normal.

Because few, if any, of these men are ever punished, the message is sent that harassers can get away with it.  Some pretend to be persecuted for their political beliefs. But can so many accusations, in so many parts of society, across almost every profession, be a coincidence. Is it just that society is more “aware” of harassment.  That strange concept that is trotted out somehow makes it acceptable for men to demean women, text message interns at all hours, or force actresses over to the house for “special lessons”, simply because the men didn’t “know any better.” If it was male interns getting gross messages at 1am, or it was men in acting being asked to a special “body work” session, or it was men being asked to “service” a professor to get a grade, or it was men being patted on the behind at work and given an unwanted “massage” by their boss, would we similarly pretend “no one knew it was wrong”?

It’s not that society is “more aware”, it’s that society has a problem and never dealt with it.  It is that these acts were widespread and men felt they could use every position of power, from being a professor or theatre director, or producer of a news program, or soldier or police officer, to abuse and harass.  It was a male society, for men, by men, and with license to harass.

Part of this may have been engendered by the fact that Israel was a socialist nation and thus women were seen as part of the “apparatus”, entitled men who viewed themselves as part of the country’s national ethos, felt that women could be seen as nationalized and used for their benefit. But there are other predatory male instincts at work that were not confronted at all levels. The former justice minister was found guilty of “forcibly kissing” a soldier. Where does an old male get the idea that he can forcibly kiss young female draftees in the army?  When the former justice minister, the president, the generals, the police commanders, the professors, too many of them are groping, and forcibly kissing, and harassing, it is part of a culture. It is part of an overall culture of harassment. It is part of a worldview that women have no right to say “no”.

These older men, and they are all men and most of them older, wouldn’t accept for a second a society in which they were forcibly kissed.  No of course not. An Israeli man in his 50s must not be forcibly kissed.  But he can do it to an 18 year old girl, forced to stand at attention as part of her military service.  Because he believes he is entitled to women, that they are his property. And it is part of a plague, a national sickness. And it is not being confronted.

 

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