Grapevine: Dangerous encounters

Eitan Broshi
The Hebrew media’s storm in a teacup over what was largely perceived as sexual harassment on the part of Zionist Union MK Eitan Broshi, who during a field trip by party members touched the rear end of fellow MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and initially ignored her demand for an apology, points to the need to reexamine the sexual harassment law word by word.
As things stand now, the most innocent physical contact initiated by a man toward a woman is considered to be sexual harassment. He doesn’t even have to touch her. It’s enough if he compliments her on her looks or her mode of dress, and he can be accused of sexual harassment.
The law is killing romance, not to mention freedom of expression.
It ruins a man’s reputation and gives a woman five minutes of dubious glory. There has to be a more logical definition of sexual harassment, and allegations of sexual harassment should not be made via Facebook or other social media, but should be reported to the police.
Otherwise, it’s just a publicity stunt.
■ MOST PEOPLE who apply for jobs these days do so knowing in advance that it’s likely to be a short-term relationship. Whereas their parents and grandparents seldom had more than two or three places of employment throughout the whole of their working lives, today, getting a job is a bit like networking.
You spend two to three years in a particular job and make a lot of connections, which often come in handy after you’ve moved on.
Case in point is Jason Pearlman, the new foreign affairs adviser at the Education Ministry. If the name seems familiar, it’s because, up until February of this year, Pearlman was the international media adviser to the office of President Reuven Rivlin. He held that position for three-and-a-half years, and continued to help out here and there after he left, because no replacement was appointed in his stead. From the President’s Office, he returned to his native England, which anyway he had visited frequently on the lecture circuit, but this time it was to take up the role of deputy director of the Henry Jackson Society. When the news got out that he was taking a top job at a prestigious think tank, his Facebook page was flooded with good wishes.
He left his wife and children in their apartment in Modi’in, but was home every weekend to spend Shabbat with his family. He didn’t like the separations, nor did they.
But to uproot them and take them to London was like taking coal to Newcastle. So Pearlman, after only a few months, during which he had made appearances on the BBC and Sky News, came back to Israel and quickly found his current position in the Education Ministry. Had there been a vacancy in the Tourism Ministry, with which he has worked in the past, he might have gone there. But he took the Education Ministry job, knowing that an election is just around the corner.
Actually, for someone who’s 36 years old, he’s had quite a lot of experience. In general terms, he’s a strategic consultant and media adviser in communications and campaigns. Before coming to Israel 11 years ago, he was media director for one-and-a half-years of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
After that he worked for a year in the department of public affairs of the Israel Embassy in London and then came to Israel and spent three years as a foreign press liaison at the Government Press Office. His next job was managing director of a public relations company, but after two years he felt that he had gained sufficient savvy to open his own strategic, media and political development company, with clients that included political figures, sports personalities, philanthropists, investors and nongovernmental organizations.
He was more or less his own man for two-and-a-half years when the position at the President’s Office became vacant. It was an opportunity that Pearlman couldn’t resist.
But three-and-a-half years was a long time for him to be in one place, and he once again experienced the familiar itch for new horizons.
Along the way in his various positions, Pearlman has continued to maintain contact with friends and colleagues acquired during different phases of his career. He has instant access to a large swath of prominent personalities and/or their personal assistants, and therefore is in the position to garner a huge compendium of information on numerous subjects. As he’s just started with the Education Ministry, it’s too soon to guess how long he will be there or where he will go next, but one thing is certain: Wherever he goes next, it will be to a position of influence. Despite the fact that he’s an upwardly mobile individual, Pearlman always manages to have time for people who are not necessarily in his professional orbit.
■ NOW THAT he’s a leading candidate in the Jerusalem mayoral race, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin shows up at almost every event in the capital to which he is invited. Last week it was the inauguration ceremony for United Hatzalah’s 30 new emergency electric bicycles, which allow for greater speed and efficiency by first responders to emergency calls. In a game of political musical chairs, Elkin, who must resign from the Knesset in the event that he wins the mayoral election, was accompanied by outgoing Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who hopes to replace Elkin in the Knesset on a Likud ticket.
Elkin’s image has changed lately, in keeping with the custom in many religious circles not to shave during the nine days prior to Tisha Be’av. It will be interesting to see whether the beard comes off on Monday, or whether it will remain as an influential factor in securing the haredi vote.
Barkat, who was among the speakers at the event, said that he had personally witnessed the arrival of United Hatzalah responders before anyone else in order to save lives.
He praised the initiative behind the organization and voiced appreciation on behalf of all the residents of Jerusalem. Elkin noted that United Hatzalah, which began as a modest Jerusalem initiative, has grown into not only a large national organization but an international organization with development that constantly demonstrates out-of-the-box thinking.
■ FOLLOWING THE proposed Irish bill to criminalize anyone doing trade with West Bank settlements or Israeli enterprises in east Jerusalem, Irish Ambassador Alison Kelly is in somewhat of a bind.
Although the ruling party is against such a bill, it was outvoted, and if the proposal is adopted by the Senate, Kelly may not have diplomatic immunity where purchases are concerned. Regardless of whether their governments recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, all ambassadors stationed here make a point of taking visitors on tour to the Old City, and often make purchases while in its exotic environment.
Presumably, it’s OK to do business with Arab vendors but not with Jewish ones. That may well include coffee shops and restaurants.
What that could mean is that when Kelly takes visitors to the Old City, she has to steer clear of the Jewish Quarter so that no one will inadvertently break Irish law.
Apparently, Erin is a non-Jewish substitute for Chelm.
■ CULTURE AND Sport Minister Miri Regev is not the only member of the government coming under fire from liberal groups that claim that she is trespassing on basic democratic freedoms through the various reforms that she is trying to push through. Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis is also under attack. The executive committee of the Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF) has issued a statement in which it says that it views with deep concern the recent decision by Akunis to block the appointment of accomplished Israeli brain researcher Prof. Yael Amitai to an Israeli-German scientific committee. “We believe this decision politicizes the work of a fundamentally academic and nonpolitical international committee.
We urge that the decision be reversed,” wrote the committee members.
Amitai, the head of the Inter-Faculty Brain Sciences School at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, had been recommended as a representative to the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development. The appointment required government approval. Although government officials are not bound by the principles of academic freedom, which covers the rights and responsibilities of faculty members and students within their institutions, the minister’s decision is perceived as having wrongly punished an academic for holding political views that in no way relate to the exclusively academic duties she would have had on this committee.
The AAF statement charges that Akunis has impinged on and compromised both academic freedom and the professional integrity of the faculty. “His action set aside the professional values academic freedom supports and instead imposed his political commitments. When the government has approval authority for membership on such a committee, it should honor academic, not political, standards,” the statement continued.
“The unacceptable and invasive character of the minister’s decision is made clear by the reason he offered – that Prof. Amitai years earlier had signed a petition supporting the right of Israelis to refuse military service as a matter of conscience.
That political position clearly has no bearing on the work of the scientific committee, which includes reviewing applications for science grants. The minister’s effort to classify signing a petition as action, not speech, to justify his action is altogether specious.”
The AAF has applauded the decision of the Forum of University Heads to urge the prime minister to intervene and approve Amitai’s appointment.
The AAF is a group of progressive scholars and academics who reject the notion that one has to be either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian.
It believes that empathy for the suffering and aspirations of both peoples and respect for their national narratives are essential, if there is to be a peaceful solution. Scholars and academics should play a positive role in asking difficult questions and promoting critical thinking about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but this can be achieved only when there is academic freedom and open intellectual exchange among people of diverse views.