Israelis at center of NYU sexual harassment scandal

Prof. Avital Ronell was suspended by the university after an investigation.

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August 14, 2018 12:01
1 minute read.
NYU

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A sexual harassment scandal involving two academics with Israeli roots has rocked New York University.

The New York Times revealed on Monday that NYU has suspended Prof. Avital Ronell after an investigation found her responsible for sexually harassing her former student, Nimrod Reitman.

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Ronell, a world-renowned professor of philosophy, German and comparative literature, was found to have verbally and physically sexually harassed Reitman over a period of three years.

Ronell was born in Prague to Israeli diplomats, and moved to New York at a young age. Her work in the fields of literary studies, feminist theory and psychoanalysis have gained her international acclaim in the academic world.

In 2017, two years after he graduated from an NYU doctoral program, Reitman filed a complaint to NYU about Ronell’s behavior, according to the university newspaper Washington Square News.

Reitman alleged that Ronell touched and kissed him without his consent, sent dozens of inappropriate emails and text messages and even insisted on sleeping in his bed. Reitman accused Ronell of threatening not to work with him and retaliating against his professional career for not giving into her demands.

Reitman, who is currently a visiting fellow at Harvard University, is a native Israeli who received his bachelor’s and master’s degree from Tel Aviv University. Reitman is gay and now married, and Ronell has identified herself as queer.

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The professor told The New York Times that their relationship was not how Reitman described it.

“Our communications – which Reitman now claims constituted sexual harassment – were between two adults, a gay man and a queer woman, who share an Israeli heritage, as well as a penchant for florid and campy communications arising from our common academic backgrounds and sensibilities,” she wrote. “These communications were repeatedly invited, responded to and encouraged by him over a period of three years.”

The scandal drew added attention over the past few months due to Ronell’s prominence in the world of feminist theory, and her high-profile defenders.

In May, a group of academics, including famed feminist scholar Judith Butler and other prominent thinkers, wrote a letter for the president of NYU defending Ronell. The letter accused Reitman of waging a “malicious campaign against her” and said it would be an “injustice” if Ronell were to be fired.

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