The sexual misconduct allegations against Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit have rocked the world of Jewish and Israeli journalism. Danielle Berrin wrote in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles describing Shavit’s pulling of her head towards him and forcibly kissing her followed by unwanted groping in 2014 while she was trying to interview him about his book, My Promised Land. And a 26-year-old J Street staffer approached a Forward reporter to detail unwanted groping and sexual propositions from Shavit when she was tasked with driving him to deliver a talk in Baltimore, also in 2014.
Shavit first claimed that his interaction with Berrin had been one of “courtship.” But once the second set of allegations emerged, Shavit announced his resignation from Ha’aretz and Israel’s Channel 10. “I am ashamed of the mistakes I made with regards to people in general and women in particular,” Shavit said.
Stemming from all of this, I’ve learned two lessons.
The first is that it’s important to speak out about sexual trauma, no matter how long ago the trauma occurred. After Berrin released her article (which she said was inspired by the many allegations against Donald Trump), I was moved to share my own personal story on Facebook of an unwanted sexual advance: it was from the supervisor of my academic internship while I was studying for a year at the Hebrew University in 1993. After taking me for lunch to “thank me” for my work, my supervisor stopped his car on an isolated mountain road. I suppose I could be “grateful” that all he did was ask me if he could kiss me. But I recall feeling trapped and terrified. I insisted he let me out. I have no memory of how I found my way from the outskirts of Jerusalem back to campus.
Sharing my story publicly for the first time prompted dozens of people to offer their love and support. It also prompted at least one other person to come forward and share his story of sexual trauma as a high school student at the hands of a teacher. Sharing these accounts helps relieve us of the burden of bearing our pain alone, and it reminds others that we must continue to fight against the scourge of sexual assault in society, what some refer to as the age of rape culture.
The second lesson is that there remain some fundamental misconceptions around the dynamic of sexual harassment and assault. Some of the reactions on social media to the Shavit allegations were deeply unsettling. One senior academic called Berrin’s experience a “tempest in a teapot.” Another Israeli journalist wrote that “she could have simply walked away from the interview, told her editor and that would have been it. She could have smacked him in the face, too. The only thing Shavit was ‘guilty’ of was an attempted, unwanted kiss. No sexual assault. No sexual harassment. I think his apology was enough, and he didn’t need to suspend himself from work.”
In Canada, we are well acquainted with the all-too-real dynamic of trying to placate one’s sexual harasser or assaulter. The accounts of the accusers of former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi demonstrate how powerful can be the instinct, when being sexually attacked, to make it all OK.
But it’s not a tempest in a teapot and it’s not OK. The J Street staffer recounts feeling terrified to drive Shavit back to his train. She addressed the issue by recruiting another colleague to join her in the car. Perhaps we wish we were watching a television show where she hurls expletives at him and forces him to walk back to the station alone. Ditto Berrin. Perhaps we wish she had stormed out and “outed” him the next day.
But we don’t always have scripts at the ready, especially if we are feeling scared and violated. For now, we need to continue to share our stories.