Could disgraced journalist and author Ari Shavit be poised for a comeback?
Just a year after his fall from grace, Shavit appears ready to return to the public eye, aided by the 92nd Street Y in New York City. The organization recently announced that Shavit would be the keynote speaker at its Israeli Independence Day celebrations in April, marking the 70th anniversary of the Jewish state.
Shavit, the author of the acclaimed 2013 book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, was a popular speaker on the Jewish state across the United States for many years. But last year, after being accused of sexual assault and harassment, he lost his jobs with Haaretz and Channel 10 and was persona non grata at most Jewish institutions.
In a statement to The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday, Shavit said that “over a year ago I left the public arena so I can go through a deep process of self-reflection. This was a personal year of reckoning, humility and change,” he added. “I spent precious time with my family, addressed my past and did my utmost to become a better person.”
Shavit said the process “is ongoing and will stay with me for the rest of my life. I am looking forward to discuss it in depth and full transparency next year. When I’ll do so, I will express unequivocal commitment to women, gender equality and tikun olam
In the year since the scandal around Shavit, the global spotlight on sexual assault and harassment has never been stronger. The Jewish center in Manhattan ignored multiple requests for comment on its decision and the thought behind it.
As American media figures ranging from Matt Lauer to Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose have come under fire for patterns of sexual harassment, a national reckoning on the issue has emerged like never before. So why did the 92nd Street Y make such a tone-deaf choice?
Shavit’s downfall began in October 2016, when Jewish journalist Danielle Berrin published her account of being sexually assaulted by a prominent Israeli writer. After she met him in a hotel lobby to interview him, “he lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him,” she wrote. He asked her to come up to his hotel room and she declined, and tried her best to extricate herself from the interview.
Berrin did not name Shavit at first in her cover story for The Jewish Journal
of Greater Los Angeles, but Israeli reporters quickly discovered that it was him. Later, the lobbying group J Street also said that a staffer who chose to remain anonymous alleged she had an experience similar to Berrin’s.
Shortly after the allegations, Shavit issued a statement saying that he “misconstrued the interaction” and apologized “from the depths of my heart for this misunderstanding.” At the time Berrin rejected his characterization of their interaction and said his apology let himself entirely off the hook. Berrin declined to comment for this story.
For more than a year after the explosive allegations, Shavit lived a life almost entirely out of the spotlight. In May he published a book review in The Times Literary Supplement
in the UK. In September, he spoke to the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore on “Is peace possible in the Promised Land?”
The event listing on the 92nd Street Y website mentions a “forthcoming book” from Shavit, though no information could be found and the writer declined to elaborate.
Shavit has also written an introduction for Michal Safdie’s forthcoming book on Jerusalem, Under My Window
, which is slated for an April release.
At the time of the allegations, My Promised Land
was slated to be made into an HBO documentary, which was then put on hold. A representative from HBO did not respond to a request for comment on the current status of the film.
Gil Troy, the university professor and Post
columnist, said that he struggled with the decision to include Shavit in his upcoming book, The Zionist Ideas
. The book, slated to be published in April, explores the visions for the Jewish state from 170 thinkers across more than 100 years.
“I not only debated whether to include Ari Shavit... but also argued it out with a close friend, who absolutely opposed my decision,” Troy told the Post
He ultimately chose to include him for four reasons: First, “the accusations against him, which I read, were about boorish, aggressive, disrespectful behavior,” and not rape. Second, Troy said, “he was punished – quite severely – and apologized – quite profusely.”
He also said that he didn’t want to hold Shavit to a higher standard than so many other intellectuals throughout history, whose behavior is unknown, have been held to. Finally, “as an American-born liberal Democrat, I fear purges. I won’t stop watching great movies Harvey Weinstein made... and I will continue quoting from and teaching Shavit’s words and – putting his character aside – judging his words as they should be judged – on their merits.”