Me too: Israeli women tell their stories about assault

As the 'me too' campaign conquers social media, women's groups in Israel are hoping it marks a real turning point in the fight against harassment and assault.

Sonia Ossorio, President of the National Organization for Women of New York, speaks during a rally to call upon Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to reopen a criminal investigation against Harvey Weinstein, New York, October 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)
Sonia Ossorio, President of the National Organization for Women of New York, speaks during a rally to call upon Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to reopen a criminal investigation against Harvey Weinstein, New York, October 2017
Me too.
If you've logged in to any social media accounts over the past few days, you've almost certainly encountered those two words, over and over again.
As the scandal surrounding disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein unfolds, women around the globe have been telling their stories of sexual harassment, assault and rape, using the hashtag "#metoo."
And the stories have poured in from around the globe. From actresses to singers, journalists, doctors, mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends and wives. In Israel, politicians, news anchors, singers, athletes and models have come forward with their tales.
Many are hoping this will be a turning point, that the frank and open discussion of the disturbing prevalence of this behavior will mark a real change. The heads of women's groups in Israel say despite the ongoing problems and the work to be done, the "me too" campaign gives them hope for the future.
"Women are changing the rules of the game," Galia Wolloch, president of Na'amat, the The Movement for the Advancement of the Status of Women, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "They're not OK being silent any more, they're talking, they're pouring out their hearts on this issue."
Wolloch said the many strong, famous women coming forward with their stories "give strength to other women to share... there's no doubt that social media gives a voice to all women."
Michal Gera-Margaliot, CEO of the Israel Women's Network, says she sees amazing progress in this area, "with the awareness of the public, with public acceptance of these issues.... we are seeing less and less tolerance for the entire spectrum" of sexual assault and harassment, she said.  
Orit Sulitzeanu, the executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, is more cautiously optimistic.
"Women are starting to break the 'code of silence,'" she said. "Women are speaking up and telling their stories - and there is a revolution giving more legitimacy to breaking that silence." But on the other hand, she said, there is still a tendency to victim blame, and to shame those people who do come forward with their stories. Just this week, she said, model Maayan Keret shared a post about the many times over her life she's been assaulted and raped. Some of the comments many posted in response to her story blamed her for her actions, and for not speaking up, and for not being able to stop the attacks.
"Even today," said Sulitzeanu, "when we're living in more enlightened, more liberal times, these attitudes haven't reached the whole population, not everyone understands the problem."
She added a reminder that is also "legitimate not to share. Not everyone is ready for that, and they shouldn't feel that pressure."
Gera-Margaliot said it was even hard for her to share her own story.
"A few weeks ago," she said, "I posted a story about an incident that occurred to me about 18 years ago." It was before the #metoo campaign, and Gera-Margaliot said she wrote it after the accusations against singer Shlomo Gronich, which dated back 25 years. She wanted to explain, she said, why some women may remain silent for so long.
"Even for me it was hard, and I speak about these issues all the time, I'm a strong feminist," she said. "But it was really hard to write about it. I still needed to take a deep breath over things that happened so long ago. Even things that appear to not be super traumatic, can be something that stays with all of us."
It's true, said Wolloch, that there is still a long way to go in dealing with this issue, but "I completely think that it's a turning point." She said that this campaign will help men "understand that it's not acceptable, and that we're no longer living in the time period where these behaviors are accepted." And women, she said, are learning as well.
"We feel more and more comfortable talking about this," she said. "We feel less guilty, we are rejecting the idea that perhaps I'm guilty, maybe I did something wrong, maybe there was something wrong with my behavior."
There are many instances over the past decade in Israel that have denoted serious change, the women all echoed. The conviction and imprisonment of president Moshe Katsav, the resignations of lawmakers Yinon Magal and Silvan Shalom, were positive developments. But there are also instances like singer Eyal Golan and MK Nissan Slomiansky, who have both been accused by multiple women of assault or harassment and "while the facts are clear their lives haven't changed," said Gera-Margaliot.
"We have a long way ahead of us but we've made progress, meaningful progress," she said.
Sulitzeanu said a critical element missing from the fight is the need for education and awareness from a very young age.
"There has to be a foundation within our infrastructure where we guard against these instances," she said. "There's not enough education and no systematic education from a young age that discusses how to avoid this."
Despite the uphill battle, Wolloch says the progress is serious. "Something has happened in the past year," she said. "We always say that the idea of gender equality takes very small steps, but it's always progressing."
Sulitzeanu agreed.
"There is still a lot of work to do, but there is movement, and the movement is very positive," she said.