(photo credit: )
A group of sexual assault victims gathered outside the Knesset Tuesday to protest the return of former justice minister Haim Ramon, who was convicted of sexually harassment, to the Knesset and likely return to the Olmert government.
In an unusually public demonstration of anger, 10 female political activists and harassment victims, as well as several supporters, came together in the Wohl Rose Garden to send a message to MKs: Ramon's presence in the Knesset conveys an unacceptable attitude that women's security is not an important issue.
Ramon was convicted in March for sexually harassing a 20-year-old female soldier last year, and was warmly welcomed back to the Knesset on May 21 by Kadima ministers and MKs. Several observers have suggested that Ramon's indictment for kissing the woman against her will was, at least in part, politically motivated and unreasonably harsh. The same lack of outrage from within the government concerned protest organizer Dorit Abramovitch.
Abramovitch, an incest victim, wondered when and if there would be a response from MKs. "They all know we're here today. No one has dared to come out and talk to us, demonstrate with us, or even argue with us... I think of all the fathers, uncles, brothers who see the appreciation and support Ramon is receiving and come to believe [sexual harassment] is OK."
A number of other protesters felt that Ramon's reception has more to do with who he is rather than what he did. Several proposed that the public image of an offender is someone darker in skin tone and more from the margins of society.
Co-coordinator Adi Dagan had some suggestions why Ramon has been able to return so quickly to his former political status.
"He comes from the most powerful circles and doesn't fit the typical stereotype of a sex offender. Ramon is Ashkenazi, good-looking... one of the guys." Dagan compared the treatment of Ramon to that of President Moshe Katsav (facing more serious charges of rape), who suspended himself in disgrace despite not having been convicted.
Dagan, who was sexually harassed at work, noted that Tuesday's demonstration was unusual, in that "victims of assault are usually anonymous, ashamed. We wanted to say today that Ramon and the Olmert government should be ashamed. Not us."
Several of the protesters spoke passionately to TV cameras. "It's important that we change the public discourse about how assault victims and perpetrators are portrayed," Dagan continued. "We aren't just victims, we are also activists."
Esther Eillam, 68, traveled to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv to draw attention to the fact that sexual harassment was an issue for women of all generations.
"I want to tell women to listen to their own [instincts] when they feel something isn't right. An official title may sound authoritative, but that doesn't mean you forfeit your ability to stand up for yourself," she said.
Last month, Ramon completed a 120-hour community service sentence. He is a leading candidate for finance minister in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's upcoming cabinet reshuffle.