Reality Check: Codes of behavior

MK Slomiansky’s refusal to stand down reflects much more badly on the Knesset’s image than the length of a parliamentary assistant’s skirt.

December 18, 2016 20:50
3 minute read.

The Knesset. (photo credit: ITZIK EDRI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Dress codes are a tricky thing. Just what, exactly, is the difference between “business casual” and “sport elegant”? As someone whose mother never forgave him for turning up to a wedding wearing sandals despite being the best man, it’s fair to say that on matters of attire I’m probably not the man to issue any definite rulings.

And neither, it seems, is the Knesset. Its attempts to enforce a dress code turned into farce last week as parliamentary assistants deliberately flouted its ban on short skirts and were refused entry into the building.

Highlighting the idiocy of the ruling, Zionist Union Knesset member Manuel Trajtenberg stripped down to his undershirt before going through the Knesset doors. It was not a good look. Nevertheless, the scrawny-armed legislator avoided the attentions of the newly formed Knesset fashion police because they were only concerned with hemline length.

A too close interest in the length of a woman’s skirt, or whether (heaven forfend) she’s baring her shoulders, tends to be the hallmark of repressive religious regimes along the lines of Iran and Saudi Arabia, or the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities in our midst, and reflects a deliberate subjugation of women. It therefore goes without saying that the parliamentary assistants were totally right to protest this unnecessary and discriminatory infringement on their choice of clothing.

At the same time, given the average Israeli’s lack of sartorial elegance there is a certain logic in the Knesset feeling the need to issue guidelines on what is, and what is not, suitable attire for working inside or visiting the country’s parliament. And it’s not just “average Israelis” who sometimes take dressing down that step too far. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even had to ask Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz to leave the weekly cabinet meeting and change from his polo shirt into something more formal and fitting for a cabinet discussion.

Which is why, following the short-skirt protest, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein made the right decision to scrap the present discriminatory dress rules and establish a committee of both Knesset members and their aides to put together a new set of guidelines with which everyone can feel comfortable. Until then, the Knesset guards have been told to relax their scrutiny of skirt lengths and parliamentary assistants have been asked to dress with “common sense.”

Unfortunately, in other areas of the Knesset common sense has been in very short supply. Now that Nissan Slomiansky has admitted he is the Bayit Yehudi Knesset member accused of sexual harassment by eight different women, he should follow speaker Edelstein’s call and at the very least suspend himself from the Knesset until the validity or not of the accusations has been established.

Slomiansky’s refusal to stand down and the weak reaction of Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett to the revelations surrounding Slomiansky, reflect much more badly on the Knesset’s image than the length of parliamentary assistants’ skirts. Slomiansky’s announcement yesterday that he is suspending himself from his position as head of the prestigious Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is not enough.

One would have thought that having already lost one Knesset member, Yinon Magal, due to sexual misconduct, Bennett would be keen to stamp out any more similar scandals besmirching the national-religious party, which is in serious danger of losing its holier-than-thou pretensions. Disturbingly, neither he nor party colleague Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked seem keen to take a stand here on a woman’s right not to be touched against their will.

Of course Slomiansky has every right, until proven otherwise, to claim his innocence, but given the weight of the charges against him, he needs to do so outside of the Knesset. Thankfully, the rules of what’s regarded as acceptable have changed over the years.

What Slomiansky claims as his “warm” behavior in the apology of sorts he issued at the end of last week is now seen as totally inappropriate.

Even a committee of Orthodox rabbis, not always noted for taking the woman’s side of the argument, has found against him. As noted by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a member of the committee who investigated the allegations, the fact that the committee called on Slomiansky to apologize for his actions shows that something did happen.

Perhaps Slomiansky thinks he can brazen this out a la Donald Trump and the many sexual harassment allegations the US president-elect faced. But, as in so many different areas, Trump is not the role model our politicians should aspire to mimic.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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