Hebrew University of Jerusalem Sociology and Anthropology Professor Eyal Ben-Ari may have sexually coerced his female doctoral students over the course of as much as 15 years, according to police.
The professor was remanded to house arrest and banned from university premises for 30 days on Wednesday by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court. Ben-Ari was also forbidden to contact any of the complainants. Ben-Ari on Thursday denied the allegations against him.
The allegations stem from an anonymous letter sent by several female students to the university's administration stating that they had been raped and coerced into having sex with Ben-Ari, who had threatened to cut off their grant money if they refused. Those who refused, according to the letter, were treated miserably and quickly dropped as advisees. The women maintained that Ben-Ari had also misused grant money to arrange trysts abroad and to buy them gifts.
The university forwarded the letter to the police, who opened an investigation.
Sociology Department chair Prof. Zali Gurevitch told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that the first rumors had reached his ears some time ago.
"The first time I heard about this was a year ago. A student told me rumors about him and doctoral students. I brought the issue to the dean, who took it to the university's administration. However, the student didn't want to testify and so the issue couldn't be dealt with," he said.
Gurevich said he was surprised by the rumors and by the new allegations.
"I was surprised. I have no idea if the allegations are true or not since I wasn't there. He was a colleague and was a good colleague," he told the Post.
Gurevitch said that following the rumors discussions were held with the faculty and students over the course of the year. He said he imagined the issue would be discussed in depth at the beginning of the next school year as the current one had just entered the exam period.
A statement released by university spokeswoman Orit Sulitzeanu said:
"The university categorically denies the charges of the police. Every complaint which was received by the university on this issue was dealt with immediately."
"When an anonymous letter was received by the administration regarding actions taken by this lecturer, the letter was immediately forwarded to the Israel Police. The police asked the university to stop the investigation it [had] initiated so that they could conduct an investigation.
"The university takes very seriously any sexual harassment and will take all necessary steps to deal with complaints of this sort."
In a department known for its feminist leanings, Ben-Ari's main fields of research were the anthropology and sociology of the military as well as Japanese culture and childhood education. He has written books and articles about the IDF as well as Japan.
Ben-Ari was well-known in the department and among its students, as he has taught the Intro to Anthropology course to undergraduates for the last five or six years. A student who had taken one of his classes described him to the Post as a "dynamic, charismatic and funny lecturer."
Ben-Ari stepped down as head of the university's Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace in January 2007. He was also an active member of the university's Institute for Innovation in Education, with a special emphasis on early childhood.