Social media apps Twitter and Facebook [Illustrative].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The positive side of the #meetoo social media campaign is that it has sparked an avalanche of female testimonies of sexual harassment, assault and rape. Israelis have participated in this trend with politicians, news anchors, singers, athletes and models coming forward to tell their stories.
Actresses such as Gila Almagor and Hanny Nahmias have reminded the public that while there might not be figures in the Israeli film industry with power comparable to that of a Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood, young, aspiring actresses have been vulnerable to unwanted sexual advances by influential men.
In August, the State Attorney’s Office in Haifa announced that veteran actor Moshe Ivgi would be indicted for alleged sexual assaults committed against four women. When singer and songwriter Shlomo Gronich was offered an Education Ministry prize earlier this month for a lifetime achievement prize, a woman who claimed he sexually abused her 25 years ago stepped forward and filed a lawsuit against him.
Clearly, we are living in very different times. The response to the Weinstein controversy both in Israel and abroad is a sign of how sexual harassment is taken seriously. It is no longer considered legitimate in Israeli society for powerful men, such as high-ranking IDF officers and commanders, to use their power to extract sexual favors from women.
This change in attitude was on display Monday, the official memorial day for the late general and minister Rehavam “Gandi” Ze’evi. A lively debate focused on allegations raised last year by the investigative TV news program Uvda that Ze’evi was a serial sexual predator. Though a 2005 law obligates state schools to commemorate Ze’evi’s memory, a number of principals in Tel Aviv refused to do so. Others dealt with Ze’evi’s complexities, focusing on how the man exploited his power in the IDF to take advantage of women.
The less encouraging aspect of the Weinstein revelations is the realization that for so long the man managed to get away with his atrocious behavior even though it was an open secret in Hollywood. As noted by reporter Ronan Farrow, who had been working on a story about Weinstein for NBC for nearly a year but ended up publishing in The New Yorker after NBC balked. “Too few people were willing to speak, much less allow a reporter to use their names, and Weinstein and his associates used nondisclosure agreements, payoffs, and legal threats to suppress their accounts,” Farrow wrote.
It seems to be the unavoidable reality of human nature that men in power will take advantage of their position.
And, crucially, there will be thousands of people who surround these predators who will be complicit in their rapaciousness.
It’s not so much that these people who stand by and remain silent fear punishment, it is more about ambition and self-interest. As David French of National Review put it, “a powerful man is magnified by the collective choices of the desperately ambitious. He feeds on their self-interest, and they reap the considerable rewards of his favor. They fear its loss.”
It was not just that Ze’evi, retired IDF major-general Yitzhak Mordechai, and former president Moshe Katsav wielded power. No less important was the fact that they were surrounded by people with ambition who were willing to forgo their own values and morality for their personal advancement. These are men who did not so much have the power to hurt anyone (though Ze’evi did reportedly employ a gangster to intimidate a reporter with a pipe bomb) rather they had the power to help others.
It is a sad fact of human nature that there will always be predators like Weinstein, and these men will always benefit from the ambitions of fellow travelers willing to turn a blind eye to realize their dreams.
There are no easy answers to this depressing state of affairs. The haredi Jewish solution is to prevent unrelated men and women from being alone in a room together.
That tactic is, of course, antiquated and predicated on the assumption that a man, in the presence of a woman, will not be able to control himself.
Unfortunately, the Weinstein affair and all of the revelations from women from all walks of life demonstrate that self-control and personal integrity are largely lacking in the modern world. Fortunately, the #metoo disclosures will force society itself in the mirror and strive to correct the wayward path it has taken.