In 2008 Hebrew University sociology professor Eyal Ben-Ari was detained by
police on suspicion of sexual misconduct with a student.
article at Haaretz noted “both professors and students described a reign of
terror at Hebrew University’s sociology department that kept female students
from reporting his sexual harassment.” I was completing my doctorate at HU that
year and remember discussing the issue with students and faculty. One after
another they related that “everyone knew” this had been the case “for
Students knew “certain professors always harass the pretty
students, they make lewd comments, they expect that research assistants will
have affairs with them.” One 20- year-old hired as a research assistant in
another department described an elderly professor who closed the door to his
office and asked her to sit on his lap. But university administrators were mum.
There were no student protests. Ben-Ari was immediately released and charges
The university embarked on an extensive investigation of Ben-Ari, bringing him before a disciplinary committee which suspended him for two years. The administration appealed that decision which eventually resulted in the his dismissal in 2011. The university notes that it "permanently disqualified the accused from advising students in the future."
Also in 2011, the
university agreed to pay a student NIS 38,000 after she complained that a
sociology professor named Gideon Aran had harassed her. According to reports,
“as part of the deal, disciplinary proceedings against Aran were
The university said the agreement ‘serves the public interest.’”
In each case the university, rather than loudly condemning sexual harassment and
vowing clearly to root it out and make it easy for students to complain, quietly
made the issue go away. Reports noted that one professor who received complaints
tried to “mediate” between the student and the faculty member and “protect all
those involved.” Those are code words for inaction.
When a criminal
steals a car, the police don’t suggest “mediating” with the criminal and
“protecting those involved.” When a professor has sexual relations with his
students there is nothing to “mediate,” since the affair itself is
Consistently, when cases of sexual harassment at
institutions or businesses come to light, they follow a pattern of cover-ups and
Let’s consider a series of cases.
Transportation Ministry director-general Alex Langer was reported to have
“sexually harassed women who worked for him and promoted those who slept with
him.” The Civil Service commission docked him one month’s pay and in effect sent
him to early retirement at age 64.
Now there is the case of Channel 10
journalist Emmanuel Rosen. Despite the fact that, according to reports, Channel
2 fired him two-and-a-half years ago over sexual harassment complaints, his
career was not harmed. According to one report, “a large number of women said
Rosen stalked them, barraged them with SMS messages, sometimes with lewd
suggestions, telephoned them repeatedly in the middle of the night and was
verbally abusive when rebuffed.” This type of behavior is alleged to have gone
on for more than a decade, but the women remained silent, moving on to other
positions in journalism.
In every large institution there are offices
where people know harassment is the norm. In the army, for instance, there is a
certain unit where people relate that “the officer in charge forces himself on a
pretty woman, harassing them constantly until they give in or
There is often no way for the victim to report harassment because
the offices that hear the complaints are primarily designed to protect the
institution’s reputation and keep the complaints quiet – to “mediate” and
“protect those involved.”
A report by The New York Times
on rape in the
Peace Corps in 2011 noted that the organization had made it difficult on victims
Every year almost two dozen women are raped while on Peace
According to the article, “Jessica Gregg, who was
drugged and sexually assaulted in 2007 in Mozambique, said a Peace Corps medical
officer ‘made me write in my testimony that I was intoxicated’ and suggested
that ‘I willingly had sex with this guy.’” Naomi Wolf revealed that for years
Yale had seemingly silenced victims: “I discovered that the university and its
lawyers used the sexual harassment ‘grievance procedure’ as a screen to protect
the institution, its harassers, and even its rapists, rather than as a means to
investigate incidents of abuse.” She related that allegations kept popping up
against the same faculty members, and yet nothing was done.
TREAT sexual harassment, including sexual assault, as a class of inappropriate
behavior that is supposedly unlike other types of workplace abuse. For instance,
if a boss sent a male assistant hundreds of rude and abusive SMSs over a
weekend, one would consider the boss unstable and reprimand him
But so long as the texts are of a sexual nature and directed
at a woman, the notion is that such behavior calls for “mediation.”
manager slapped one of his male research assistants in the face, he would not
only be fired, charges of assault would be filed. But if he grabs a woman’s
behind it is considered a special type of conduct, the proper response to which
is “protecting all those involved.” If a man exposes himself to male colleagues
in the office it would be taken as a sign of severe psychological problems, and
he would be sent packing – but so long as he closes the office door and exposes
himself to his female secretary, it is considered simply a “grievance” that
might be “investigated.”
Organizations traditionally work to silence
victims and shield abusers. One will almost never encounter an institutional
response which is decisive in meting out punishment and firing those involved.
Instead serial abusers and even rapists are given a “leave of absence” or “early
retirement,” and their pensions are protected. The organizational response is
rarely to encourage women to come forward, but rather to tarnish the women’s
reputation through endless inquiries and insinuations of
Consider the case where every semester a professor has an
affair with a student, where he is always having sexual relationships with his
assistants and the women he “supervises” for PhD work.
And it goes on for
years, and no one bothers to say anything.
Such conduct is condoned by
the institutions that tolerate it. Procedures for complaints are circuitous,
complicated or non-existent.
In many cases women are never informed of
There is no difference between “progressive” institutions,
such as the Peace Corp or a university sociology department, and male-dominated,
conservative workplaces. One also doesn’t find that women supervisors are
necessarily more effective in rooting out serial harassment by male colleagues
than male supervisors. Feminists at HU, for instance, never spoke out against
the rampant harassment by their male colleagues, many of whom were themselves
described as “feminists” and even hired by the IDF to be consultants on women’s
The media doesn’t listen to the victims sufficiently but
provides others a voice; Israel’s leading leftist, Gideon Levy, compared
accusations against Ben-Ari to a “blood libel” for “impugning the honor of a
innocent man...his life has been ruined by a few baseless headlines.”
Bernard-Henri Levy cast doubt on the those who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn
(DSK), “I hold it against those who complacently accept the account of this
other young woman who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of
attempted rape.” Why are the powerful and their allies able to use the media to
attack the victims who are not afforded a column in a newspaper to tell their
stories? Institutions think somehow that their reputation will be tarnished if
it turns out senior members are harassers. For instance, left-wing peace groups
faced a series of allegations of coverups of rapes and sexual harassment in
2010. According to Arutz Sheva a “rape occurred several months ago in the
village of Umm Salmona, near Bethlehem.
The victim, an American activist,
wanted to press charges but leftist activists put pressure on her not to do so,
so as not to damage the struggle against the ‘occupation.’” However, if the
organization had quickly come forward and ferreted out the rapists, it could
have formulated it as part of the overall progressive struggle. It could have
served as a teaching lesson for activists, it could have emphasized the proper
way to complain quickly in order to see justice done.
That type of
response would reflect well on an institution.
If the Peace Corps, for
instance, had come forward years ago and said it would no longer allow the
sending of activists to countries where rapists walk free, it would have
protected its female volunteers. Instead it offered them up, year after year, as
sacrificial lambs to the overall “cause.”
WOMEN WHO say they were victims
of the harasser at Channel 10 claim that they didn’t come forward for fear it
would hurt their careers.
Instead of hurting their careers, institutions
should hold up as role models those women who do speak out, so that it is the
harasser who must hide in the shadows, not the victim.
Consider the case
of BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, accused of literally hundreds of cases of sexual
assault against teenage girls. The BBC is accused of knowing about the claims
but keeping them under wraps until after Savile had passed away. A proper
response would have been to publicly accuse Savile while he was alive, and use
it as a way to show that the victims had a voice.
Instead the monster ran
wild, receiving a knighthood and abusing his charity to rape women.
the case of IMF head Strauss-Kahn, when a maid and a journalist came forward to
accuse him their reputations were attacked by numerous prominent figures, and
the journalist was even threatened with lawsuits for daring to “libel” Strauss-
Kahn. When a victim cannot even file a complaint without it being “libel” the
odds are stacked in the perpetrator’s favor.
Sometimes it does seem a
corner is being turned, for instance, the 2012 documentary The Invisible War
exposed a pattern of sexual assault in the US Army. The Catholic church has
begun to learn the lessons of numerous priest sexual abuse scandals. However,
responses have been slow in coming.
Since the 1990s we have learned that
sexual harassment is unacceptable, but our institutions are still living in the
1980s, if not the 1950s.