Senior Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit admitted Thursday night that he was the Israeli journalist accused of sexually assaulting Los Angeles Jewish Journal reporter Danielle Berrin in a column she published last week. In the column, Berrin recounted her story of the alleged assault.
Berrin’s cover story for the newspaper, “My sexual assault, and yours: Every woman’s story – How the Trump video launched a collective soul-searching over sexual harassment and assault,” began to circulate on Israeli Twitter and Facebook accounts on Wednesday, a week after it had been published. In it, Berrin said the journalist – who she declined to name – pawed at her and tried to convince her to come up to his hotel room.
Shavit, for his part, said he saw their 2014 meeting differently, until he read Berrin’s column.
“I thought we had a friendly encounter which included elements of courtship,” he wrote on Haaretz’s
website late Thursday evening. “I never thought for a moment that this constituted sexual harassment, but what I saw as courtship Berrin saw as unacceptable behavior and even harassment.”
Shavit is one of the paper’s senior columnists and the author of the bestselling My Promised Land, which came out in the US in 2013.
Shavit wrote that he respects “every woman and person” and “apologized from the bottom of his heart for the misunderstanding.”
Berrin told The Jerusalem Post
she was disappointed with the Israeli media’s focus on “whodunit” about the perpetrator’s identity, which was distracting from the real issue at hand: that women feel emboldened to talk about sexual assault after a tape of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women by their genitals surfaced.
Berrin explained that she told her personal story in order to bring attention to the issue of sexual assault in the community that is the Jewish Journal’s audience – Jews in the Los Angeles area – and to contribute to the national conversation sparked by the Trump tape.
“I think the obsessive focus on the identity of the person is an utter distraction from the conversation we need to be having about sexual assault and violence in our communities and the world, what that looks like, and how we create awareness,” she said. “It’s not about [my assailant], it’s not about Trump or any one person. It happens every day to women around the world, and we need to be talking about that, not about this one person in Israel.”
As for the argument that naming the journalist who assaulted her could prevent him from doing the same to other women in the future, Berrin said a “national conversation” that helps people identify and stop tolerating this kind of behavior, and for people to share their stories, will create systemic change.
“It’s not about meting out justice to one person,” she added. “I think we have to be very careful about how much attention we want to put on one man…It’s a systemic problem, we have to remember that.”
Berrin said she was sorry how the emphasis had been changed, saying “I regret that any kind of description I offered in my story led to this” focus on the perpetrator’s identity. “That was not my intention.”
The Jewish Journal reporter described Shavit in the much-circulated article as an “accomplished journalist from Israel” who had recently published a book “having an impact on the Jewish conversation.” The journalist with “dark eyes…black hair…[and a] lecherous look on his face” invited Berrin to interview him at 10 p.m. in his hotel lobby, saying it was the only free time he had in his two-day trip to the US.
When Berrin met with Shavit, he began asking her personal questions that made her uncomfortable.
“After I answered one of his questions in a way that moved him, he lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him,” she wrote.
Shavit, she said, told her he had an “arrangement” with his wife, and invited her up to his room saying: “We don’t have to have sex…I just want to give you a hug.” He “continued to pull and paw” at Berrin despite her rebuffing his offer, she recounted.
“He was going to be spending a lot of time in the States, he’d told me, and wouldn’t it be fun if I met him in New York as his mistress?” Berrin wrote that he said.
Berrin described feeling torn about whether she could walk away from an opportunity to interview “someone so prominent” with a “distinguished reputation,” and wondering what she would tell her editors.
“Confused, I found myself feeling paralyzed,” she continued. “Earlier that day, this man had been someone I deeply respected. I’d read his book voraciously and underlined passages; I’d even read every review, and recommended the book to friends. And this was supposed to have been a really important interview — one I was lucky to get. My editors were expecting something good. Could I just walk away? From someone so prominent?”
The journalist told her if she wanted the interview, she would have to come back again the next night.
Berrin described the incident as sexual assault.
“I was groped and grabbed and pulled,” she wrote.