Right From Wrong: #MeToo, harassment and Yaron London

By
June 30, 2019 15:16
YARON LONDON

YARON LONDON 370. (photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Wednesday evening, veteran Israeli broadcaster Yaron London opened the current-events program that he co-hosts nightly with Geula Even by issuing a “clarification” – demanded by his bosses at KAN, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation – of something “inappropriate” he had said during Tuesday’s show.

London did this by repeating the anecdote that got him into trouble with angry feminists across the political spectrum, and explaining why he did not need to apologize for it.

The “scandal” for which he is being raked over the coals, and that has been eliciting non-stop calls for his ouster, surrounds a story he told in the context of an item about a social-media post by Arab-Israeli anchor Lucy Aharish. Aharish – who recently married hit series Fauda star Tzachi Halevy – complained about strangers approaching her on the street and asking whether she’s pregnant.

“Stay out of my uterus,” she wrote, requesting that the public respect her personal space.

Agreeing with Aharish about the liberties people take with celebrities, London recalled an invasion of his own privacy 10 years ago: A woman with whom he happened to be sharing an elevator suddenly leaned over and patted his belly.

“London, what’s this?” he recounted her commenting with uninvited familiarity, as a way of indicating that he had put on weight over the years.

Clearly embarrassed and irritated, London retaliated in kind.

“I touched her breast and said, ‘This also isn’t what it used to be.’”

As soon as London finished his tale, co-host Geula practically jumped out of her chair.

“What?” she shrieked. “That’s shocking!”

“Why wasn’t what she did to me shocking?” London asked.

After all, the woman in the elevator not only had rubbed his stomach without permission, but insulted him in the process.

“A breast is a body part with sexual connotations,” Geula shot back. “A pot belly is not.”

She was furious, but her visible and audible displeasure were mild in comparison to the countrywide carry-on that ensued.

THE ISRAEL Women’s Network immediately released a statement of condemnation.

“To grab a woman’s breast is an indecent act, and an awful response by a man to a situation in which his feelings are hurt by a woman,” the statement read. “This is a perfect example of the fact that a woman touching a man is not the same as a man touching a woman, because women fear men physically, and men fear women’s ridicule. It cannot be that in Israel in 2019, men still feel that it’s perfectly alright to do with women as they please.”

Former Labor Party and opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich, too, spewed her disgust.

“So, coarse chauvinists whom [we thought had come] to understand that it’s a bit problematic to commit indecent acts… are again feeling free to act like cavemen,” she tweeted. “It’s apparently part of the self-pity campaign of [men who say] ‘oof, how hard it is to be a man, and how [dare] you have the over-the-top feminist chutzpa to demand not to be victims of sex crimes.’”

Eva Madj’iboj, director general of Israel’s Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, chimed in as well.

“Yaron London’s words [Tuesday] evening are precisely the reason that we not must not minimize the importance of the MeToo campaign.

“The unbearable ease with which a well-known man allows himself to sexually harass a woman and to justify his contemptible behavior legitimizes violence. I am sorry that the woman in question did not complain at the time,” she said.

“I am sorry that Mr. London sees fit to be proud of his behavior,” Madj’iboj continued. “The past few years require us to redraw the boundaries of acceptable behavior, part of which lies in the total condemnation of all violence against women. I expect [his] managers at [KAN] to clarify the corporation’s position on the matter decisively and unequivocally.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev also went ballistic in a rant against London.

“Don’t you understand that you broadcast live about an act of sexual assault that you committed?” she tweeted. “Do you really not see the difference between touching a belly and cupping a woman’s breast? How disconnected from reality can you be? You must resign right here, right now. And if you don’t, the public broadcasting corporation should suspend you immediately, and prevent you from being able to continue using taxpayers’ money to pollute media discourse.”

SOCIAL EQUALITY Minister Gila Gamliel’s contribution was to use a play on the name of the broadcasting corporation – KAN, which means “here” in Hebrew – by tweeting: “There’s no place here [at KAN] for harassers who do not internalize the moral revolution that the world has undergone. How is it that we haven’t heard of Yaron London’s suspension or dismissal?”

The list of women who have been treating London’s foolish reaction to the slight of a stranger as virtually tantamount to rape is as long as the coverage of it has been extensive. Though he remains steadfast in his self-defense, he has said that if a similar incident were to happen to him today, he would not repeat his puerile elevator performance of a decade ago.

Being as clueless about the might of the #MeToo movement as he is arrogant, however, he inadvertently added fuel to the fire by saying that the reason he would now refrain is that some “strong woman who does Pilates” would probably belt him in the jaw if he did it.

Whoops.

Alluding to women’s ability to fend for themselves is a huge no-no these days, when female victimhood is even more sacred than breasts.

Which brings us to the most intelligent thing that the venerated, nearly 79-year-old pundit had to say when grilled by Geula on Wednesday’s program. He pointed out, correctly, that a breast is only sexual when viewed or desired as such. To illustrate, he used the example of a nursing mother. And then he reiterated that when he touched the woman in the elevator, he did so with zero sexual intent – a claim, ironically, that nobody disputes.

He also wondered aloud how an episode like this would be portrayed if the genders were reversed, and a strange man had instigated an unwanted belly-rub on a woman in an elevator.

The answer is obvious. The guy would be depicted as a pervert predator, no matter how the female reacted. Even if she grabbed or kicked his crotch.

I CAN attest to this from a past experience of my own, which bears a striking resemblance to that of London’s, and may have occurred at around the same time as his elevator escapade.

The location was a sidewalk café in Jerusalem. A close friend and I had met there to engage in deep conversation, probably about the relations between men and women in general, and the men in our lives in particular.

A guy we knew from the neighborhood – a writer from a left-wing newspaper whose favored mode of communication/flirtation was to call me a Likud-supporting fascist – inconspicuously slithered into a nearby seat. Before we had a chance to note his presence, he reached over, grabbed a fold of my stomach and said, “What’s this?”

Startled and humiliated, I clenched my fist and punched him with all my might, leaving a big dark bruise on his upper arm.

While he walked away wounded, literally and figuratively, I went on talking to my friend about what jerks men can be. Especially those “progressives” who have been given a pass by feminist culture to shun chivalry and embrace the kind of equality in the battle of the sexes that women like me do not wish to possess.

It is doubtful that our discussion included a mention of the advantages that womanhood affords. Nor does the incessant debate over London’s behavior leave room for that fact. But one thing is certain: If he had done what I did and punched the woman who touched his belly, he would have found himself behind bars. In contrast, my violent behavior earned me praise from my peers. Of both sexes.

This is not to say that London’s breast-brushing was either warranted or proportionate to the offense in question. On the contrary, it was as silly and pointless as my arm-slugging. Each of our cases highlights an absence of measured restraint. The key difference is that I am aware of it, while London seems to be culturally comatose.

Furthermore, unlike me, he is a highly influential and visible figure – a household name and a famous face, by virtue of his commentary on the issues of the day. For him to exhibit such tone-deafness about the hottest topic around – first by telling the elevator story on air, then by being surprised at the outrage it unleashed, and finally by refusing to express even feigned remorse – is far more astounding than the MeToo harassment to which he has been subjected this week.

Indeed, if the KAN management does end up giving London the boot, it should do so not over his behavior toward some presumptuous cow, but as professional punishment for his being dangerously out of touch with the political climate that he is paid so handsomely to critique.


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