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Shimon Peres, Eliezer Stern, and other tales of sexual assault in Israeli corridors of power

This has been a week of revelations about sexual harassment in high-powered Israeli culture.

First up: Colette Avital, who has often been the only woman in a room full of powerful men, shared her truth this week: That she was sexually assaulted by the late Shimon Peres.


This should not come as a surprise. The worst-kept secret was that Peres and Rabin spent the 70s and 80s hitting on women. It is still kept secret by the Israeli media, which likes its heroes to stay heroes, no matter how many people (read, women), they hurt behind closed doors.


Critics will point to the fact that she continued to work with him afterwards. But that criticism ignores the reality of women's lives. When women are faced with outing their abusers and losing their jobs, or keeping quiet and keeping their careers, most women chose the latter. Working with pain is as much of women's reality as women unsuccessfully seeking justice. Working is usually better.


Next up: MK Eliezer Stern, who used to be the head of IDF "Manpower" (an already gendered term that has been replaced by those not wanting to be seen as sexist with the term "Human Resources) admitted that he shredded complaints of sexual harassment. One woman reported today that he told her, "If you don't shut up, your career in the army will be ruined."


Stern is being considered for the post of head of the Jewish Agency, and all this *might* affect his chances.


Critics will say that he was just opposing "anonymous" complaints, not "legitimate" ones. This, too, ignores the reality of women's lives, and what happens to women who complain.

(It continues to amaze me how much our culture protects sexual abusers with far more intensity and effectiveness than it does women who have been sexually attacked.)


How our political leaders have responded so far:


Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), quite unfortunately, said he believes Stern and not the woman accusing him.


Merav Michaeli (Labor), thankfully, does not. She wrote a strong and scathing response about Stern.


Miri Regev (LIkud) did, too, and reminded us of how utterly misogynistic and obnoxious he has been to her.


While perhaps shockingly (or not) Michal Rozin (Meretz) -- who used to head the Rape Crisis Centers in Israel -- does not want to sully the reputation of Shimon Peres. That, to her, is more important than anything Colette Avital has to say on attempted rape or anything else.


The fact that a female MK from the right is currently more supportive of victims of sexual harassment than a feminist MK from the left can leave your head spinning. Maybe it's because the comments have less to do with what women need and more to do with political expediency. Or maybe it depends whose reputation is under the microscope, and whose "camp" the accused is in.


What is clear is that the culture of sexual harassment and sexual assault in Israel runs deep and hits hard in the hallways of power. But it is unlikely that it will change dramatically in the near future.


Although, if Stern loses his coveted position because of this -- and isn't given a powerful alternate while nobody is looking, as so often happens (think Tzahi Hanegbi, who was CONVICTED of sexual assault and later became a minister) -- if that DOESN'T happen, maybe that will be a sign of change... or something.....


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