‘Woman Assaulted By Celebrity Just Needs To Sit Tight For 40 Years Until Dozens More Women Corroborate Story.” While this headline, printed on the satirical news site The Onion, was a spoof, like good satire it seemed ripped from real life.
An obvious allusion to the dozens of women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault or sexual misconduct since the 1960s, it speaks to a recurring theme in sexual abuse complaints against the rich and powerful, in Israel and elsewhere. The victims – at least initially – are the ones who are scrutinized and slandered, their reputations dragged through the mud, often until a critical mass of complaints piles up from more and more women, sometimes only years after the alleged crimes took place.
We saw this play out to some extent in Israel over the past week, until former interior minister Silvan Shalom mercifully resigned from public life on Sunday night, as the number of complainants climbed into the double digits.
The week before, Shalom’s wife, Judy Shalom Nir Mozes, an heiress and media personality of rare power and celebrity for Israel, threatened on Twitter to sully the reputations of the women who complained against her husband. The threat was clear to anyone who read it, and may have constituted witness intimidation and obstruction of justice, which are crimes for which people do go to prison in Israel.
Though Shalom eventually resigned and the Twitter threats were not – as of yet – realized, they showed once again why alleged victims hesitate to complain, especially against the rich and powerful.
One of the strangest aspects of the Silvan Shalom case is that at least one of the alleged incidents took place since a sexual harassment allegation against him went public last summer, when he was still a possible candidate for the presidency.
That allegation involved incidents that allegedly took place a decade ago and were subject to a statute of limitations, but it still torpedoed his chances of becoming president.
Stubborn self-destructiveness is not rare.
A number of police commanders have been accused of sexual misconduct that allegedly took place long after the entire police force was put under the microscope and pilloried in the media for a series of sex scandals. But it is baffling nonetheless.
Whether it reflects a lack of deterrence on the part of law enforcement or an old Israeli machismo culture that is dying a long, stubborn death is unclear, but it doesn’t exactly engender faith in Israel’s veteran male politicians.
A SAGA similar to the Shalom case played out last month, when Bayit Yehudi MK Yinon Magal was accused of sexual harassment by four women who worked for him when he was editor-in-chief of Walla News, before he became a Knesset member.
The case began when a former employee of Magal at Walla, journalist Racheli Rottner, wrote a Facebook post accusing him of sexual harassment. The post went viral, as did a response by Magal on Facebook, in which he apologized and asked for forgiveness for “things that were said between friends before I became a member of Knesset, which I would not repeat today.”
In the ensuing days, one of the main questions asked on social media and elsewhere was why now? Why didn’t Rottner say something last year, when the incident took place? In her original post, Rottner said she came forward only now because she heard stories from other women who had similar experiences with Magal, but it didn’t matter to her critics, who picked through her life with a fine-toothed comb looking for dirt to destroy her reputation or an ulterior motive for her to carry out a “political assassination” of Magal and torpedo his career.
In a post days later on Facebook, Rottner said that since she wrote her initial post, she has been subject to rape threats, curses, smears, and lies about her and her husband.
Some of these insults and threats came from the same people who asked why she hesitated to come forward in the first place, seemingly unaware of the irony.
WITH REGARD to the police, as an organization that has been hammered in recent years by repeated sexual misconduct investigations against its senior command, taking a more forceful and public stance amid such allegations could be a step in the right direction.
While police did confirm that they had looked into the tweets written by Nir Mozes, it would be encouraging – for complainants, victims and society as a whole – to see the organization say in no uncertain terms that they will not tolerate the intimidation of witnesses in sexual abuse cases, and that they will treat it as the serious crime that it is.
Every suspect accused of a crime must be given the benefit of the doubt and considered innocent until proven guilty, including in cases of sexual abuse, where it is usually a matter of one person’s word against the other’s. Israelis are right to be cautious in such cases, and to also be cynical about accusations leveled against public figures, considering their ability to destroy careers.
Still, it would be a refreshing change of pace if the next time such an allegation is made against a public figure (if past history is any indicator, one can assume this will be sooner rather than later), the accuser isn’t subjected to a campaign of shaming, isn’t denigrated and abused, and isn’t herself treated as a suspect.
The writer covers crime, African migrants and security issues for The Jerusalem Post. His blog can be found at www.benjaminhartman.com