JNN 10 June 2016 Tel Aviv : Nearly all female members of Israel’s Knesset have fallen victim to sexual harassment or sexual assault at some point in their lives, a report says.
Of the total 32 current female lawmakers at the Israeli legislature, 28 revealed they had suffered from some sorts of sexual abuses in the past, Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported on Tuesday, citing a survey conducted by Israel’s Channel 2.
The report added that two of the lawmakers, Michal Biran from the center-left alliance Zionist Union, and Merav Ben Ari from the centrist party Kulanu, experienced the harassment even after they had entered the Knesset.
Rachel Azaria of Kulanu told of harassment she suffered when she was a Jerusalem City Council member. “There was an incident that repeated itself in the planning and building committee, of which I was a member,” she said. “Another city councilor would make remarks of a sexual nature regarding things that I said, and the whole room would burst out laughing. I consulted with the legal adviser and other officials, and they all said there was nothing to be done. It interfered with my ability to function and I was very distressed.”
Senior Citizen Affairs Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) spoke of harassment on buses. “During my military service I traveled by bus, and I would fall asleep,” she said. “One time on the road, I felt something prodding me. I tried to move, and I saw a hand under my seat. I simply froze. To this day I’m sorry I didn’t complain, because I could have prevented other incidents.”
Ben Ari described harassment she experienced in the military, but also more recent instances. She said harassment occurs even in the Knesset building. “Even today, the fact that I’m a single woman in the Knesset puts me in unpleasant situations,” she said. “Sometimes people make comments … I don’t want to elaborate, but there was a situation recently in the Knesset and I took care of it.”
Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) related that after immigrating to Israel, as a teenager “there was a period when I could hardly go out into the street because of the harassment. Sometimes they would touch my hair and come at me with sexual suggestions. At a certain point I dyed my hair brown so they’d stop touching me, so I’d stand out less. It was a combination of chauvinism and racism.”
Sharren Haskel of Likud said she had been sexually assaulted by an adult whom she trusted. “It happened when I was very young,” she said. When she realized that such experiences happened to other people, “it broke a silence of many years, and the first feeling was that of tremendous guilt… It was hard for me to accept that I could have saved other women from the terrible experience that I went through, and I didn’t do that.”
In December, the Israeli interior minister and vice-premier, Silvan Shalom, was forced to resign after his ex-staffer revealed that she was sexually harassed by her boss and was “touched” against her will, giving details on how he had abused her more than a decade ago.
Subsequently, “several other women also alleged that the minister sexually assaulted them,” according to a December 20, 2015 Ha’aretz report.
The Israeli interior minister is by no means the first top Israeli politician to leave office over sexual misconduct.
Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav stepped down in 2007 on charges of raping two women as a cabinet minister in the late 1990s, as well as sexual assault against two of his female staffers as president.
The issue of sexual misconduct is also frequently reported in the Israeli military, which has given rise to heated debates over the past years.
The Israeli military itself says it has launched about 250 investigations into sexual abuse allegations over the past two years. Twelve of the investigations concern alleged rape, up from eight in 2014 and five in 2013.