One of the most prominent stories in the international Jewish media in recent weeks has been the sudden fall from grace of the prominent Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit. We’ve had half a dozen articles about the Shavit situation in the online Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
The roots of the Shavit story go back to the now infamous 2005 recording of real estate mogul and reality TV show star Donald Trump bragging to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush about committing serial sexual assaults.
The tape came to light on October 7 during Trump’s campaign as the Republican U.S. presidential nominee – as I write, the election is four days away, but the results will be known by the time you read this. While Trump dismissed his highly offensive comments as just “locker room banter” about acts he did not actually commit, there have been numerous women who have since stepped forward to describe incidents of Trump behaving similarly over the years to the way he described on the tape.
In the wake of the Trump story, an editor at the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles asked reporter Danielle Berrin if she would write an article about sexual assault.
Berrin wrote a column titled, “My sexual assault, and yours: Every woman’s story,” published October 19 – http://tinyurl.com/zngfo2p – in which she describes how she was sexually assaulted by a prominent Israeli journalist and author when she went to interview him at his hotel.
Berrin did not name the perpetrator in her column, but did mention several physical traits that led to speculation she was talking about Shavit.
The following week, Shavit acknowledged that he was, indeed, the man Berrin was talking about and issued an apology, of sorts, for the incident. For him, it was a “misunderstanding.”
“Until I read this week the article she published, I felt that we had a friendly meeting that included, among other things, elements of courtship. I did not for a moment think that sexual harassment had occurred. But what I saw as courtship, Berrin saw as inappropriate behaviour and even harassment from me,” Shavit said. “I apologize from the depths of my heart for this misunderstanding.”
It soon emerged that the incident with Berrin was not an isolated case. The Forward reported that J Street – a pro-peace Zionist group in the U.S. – had stopped using Shavit as a speaker at its events since a similar incident with one of its female employees who was accompanying Shavit to a J Street event where he was speaking.
This time, Shavit’s response was more appropriate. He resigned his newspaper and TV positions at Haaretz and Channel 10 in Israel and issued a statement that was much more contrite than his initial response to Berrin.
“I am ashamed of the mistakes I made with regards to people in general and women in particular,” Shavit said. “I am embarrassed that I did not behave correctly to my wife and children. I am embarrassed about the consequences of what I did.”
Shavit added, “In the last few days, I have understood that I have been afflicted by blindness. For years, I did not understand what people meant when they spoke of privileged men who do not see the damage that they cause to others. Now, I am beginning to understand.”
In social media discussions about the Shavit and Trump stories, I’ve read accounts by several women I know – and whose accounts I trust – of similar situations they’ve had to face in dealings with men in positions of power over them. And, when so many women come forward with such accounts, we have to realize they represent just the tip of the iceberg. Many women, for whatever reasons they may have, keep silent about such experiences.
There are lessons for all of us in the Shavit situation. Many men – I would hope most men – understand the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. It is time all of us, without exception, do.
In a follow-up column published November 1 in the Jewish Journal – http://tinyurl.com/gojkyya – Danielle Berrin points to a “silver lining” from the scandal and that is in the thoughtful conversations about it taking place around the world, in the collective reaction to it from the Jewish community, and in the ultimate response from Ari Shavit himself in realizing he must take responsibility for his actions.
Berrin concludes by saying the “Jewish ability – indeed, responsibility – to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh, accounting of the soul, and teshuvah, repentance and return, is a model for the world.”