(photo credit: )
Among the more disagreeable developments of the far-from-agreeable year just passed were the sexual harassment charges leveled against our president and justice minister - both holders of offices which patently require squeaky-clean conduct.
Both affairs have severely dismayed local opinion and aggravated the sense of domestic malaise, regardless of the differences between the two cases and of how either is eventually resolved.
Nevertheless, the fact that no dispensation was made for men of such undoubted prominence should constitute a source of hope and a potential deterrent.
The mere appearance of sleaze is itself enough to dishearten those who remember David Ben-Gurion's vision of a renascent Israel as no less than "a light unto the nations." But the irony is that things even in those early days were never as puritan as obligatory political affectation made them out to be. Some of the most venerable founding fathers were famous, even pre-state, for their assignations. And post-independence, some of the new military elite were renowned philanderers. When complaints were made to Ben-Gurion personally about one particularly charismatic general, the prime minister suggested that this womanizer deserved special indulgence - "like King David." Sexual harassment of women in military service and of women employees was no secret back then, but was seen as a sordid fact of life, somehow to be contended with and not made a fuss about.
In that respect, things are better today. The current high-profile sexual harassment cases, particularly after the disgrace of former army highflier and defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai, would seem to constitute a trend that would-be offenders can hardly ignore. Excessive permissiveness is certainly a phenomenon of the age, but recent cases incontrovertibly prove that it is now much harder to get away with behavior that could once have been swept under the rug.
Not everyone here is happy about this. While the president is insistently denying any wrongdoing, and no charges have been brought against him as the probe of the matter continues, Ramon has acknowledged a degree of responsibility. But many of his supporters complain that his offense, if the facts to which Ramon has admitted prove correct, is too minor to warrant trial and that his prosecution may be no more than a conspiracy to get him out of the Justice Ministry. Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz has been roundly criticized in those quarters for so much as pressing the case.
Others grumble, in the context of the Ramon case, that trying a man for an unwanted kiss means the end of romance and carefree flirtation. But romance and flirtation are not the issue here. Ramon has not been charged with giving an affectionate peck on the cheek but with something more serious, even if it comes under the definition of a kiss. The recipient of his unwanted attentions, it is alleged, is a virtual stranger and decades younger than himself.
Mazuz merits support for not taking the easy way out, pronouncing the incident "a misunderstood romantic gesture," and closing the file. Whether or not his team wins this case, a message has already been sent loud and clear to all Israeli machos - be they ordinary folks exhibiting run-of-the-mill he-man complexes or those exploiting high-level executive positions.
The lesson should be that taking liberties is not a perk automatically accruing from power. Even those who have climbed the highest rungs on the ladder of success - indeed especially they - must abide by minimal standards of decorum.
We've already come a long way if nothing is gained but hammering in the message that the excuse of "no harm done" is no longer acceptable and if "encouragement" or "temptation" cease to be proffered as justification. We are entitled to expect self-control and respectability from our higher-ups.
Gentlemanly behavior may be an old-fashioned virtue but if the prosecution's aggressiveness succeeds in promoting greater circumspection, Israeli society would only benefit.
There is nothing wrong in demanding singular respect for others from public figures. They need to realize that Mazuz has just signaled that he will not look the other way when national leaders, in their personal conduct, behave without the appropriate restraint. That in itself is not at all bad news.