Ari Shavit, Celebrated Israeli Columnist, Resigns After Sexual Harassment Accusations


By PETER BAKER–  The New York Times

JERUSALEM — The author Ari Shavit attained international celebrity with a deeply introspective look at Israel’s remarkable rise and its controversial moments. With passion and authority, he helped make it possible for many liberal supporters of Israel to admire the nation while questioning its policies.

But now the writer, acclaimed for his examination of Israel’s virtue and vice, finds his own conduct under scrutiny.

Accused of sexual harassment, Mr. Shavit resigned on Sunday as one of Israel’s most influential newspaper columnists and television commentators, promising to rethink how he approaches other people, especially women.

“In the last few days I have understood that I have been afflicted by blindness,” Mr. Shavit said in a statement published by Haaretz, the leading left-of-center newspaper, for which he wrote a widely read column. “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.”

The woman who complained that Mr. Shavit, who is married, had tried to force her to kiss him in a hotel lobby two years ago praised him for taking responsibility.

“I’m grateful for Ari Shavit’s powerful honest statement,” the woman, Danielle Berrin, a writer for The Jewish Journal, wrote on Twitter. “His resolution to do ‘heshbon hanefesh’ — an accounting of the soul — is admirable.”

The unexpected fall from grace of one of Israel’s most prominent figures shocked his admirers both here and in the United States. In effect, it was unexpected collateral damage from the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump. Ms. Berrin wrote about her encounter with Mr. Shavit to make a point about sexual harassment, after similar accusations were made against Mr. Trump.

But unlike Mr. Trump, Mr. Shavit acknowledged wrongdoing and did not attack his accuser’s truthfulness. A harsh critic of the Republican presidential candidate in his column, Mr. Shavit told people close to him that he was genuinely remorseful and determined to respond in a way opposite to that of Mr. Trump.

“I am ashamed of the mistakes I made with regards to people in general and women in particular,” he said in his public statement on Sunday. “I am embarrassed that I did not behave correctly to my wife and children. I am embarrassed about the consequences of what I did.”

His resignations from Haaretz and Channel 10 came as a second woman complained that he had made an unwelcome sexual advance against her.

The second woman, a staff member for J Street, a Washington group advocating peace between Israel and the Palestinians, told the Forward newspaper that when she was dispatched to escort him to a book event in 2014 in Baltimore, he stroked her hand in a way that she described as “hand groping.” The article did not give her name, to protect her privacy.

Ms. Berrin’s first-person account in The Jewish Journal this month did not name Mr. Shavit but described him as “an accomplished journalist from Israel” with dark eyes and black hair who had just published a book — a description that many quickly took to be Mr. Shavit. He then came forward to acknowledge that he was the journalist in question.

Ms. Berrin wrote that she had wanted to interview Mr. Shavit about his book, “My Promised Land,” when he visited Los Angeles in February 2014, and he suggested that they meet in his hotel lobby at 10 p.m. because he was so busy. When she did, she said, he immediately began pressing her about her personal life.

“But after I answered one of his questions in a way that moved him, he lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him,” she wrote. She reminded Mr. Shavit that he had a wife. “We have an arrangement,” she said he had responded.

Her account scandalized Israel, and Mr. Shavit initially released a statement apologizing, saying he had considered their conversation to be “courtship,” not sexual harassment. Ms. Berrin fired back, saying it was “absurd” to characterize what she called “unwanted aggressive sexual contact” as mere flirtation.

Groups began canceling Mr. Shavit’s speaking engagements. He was to appear Sunday on a panel discussion at a conference in Tel Aviv sponsored by Haaretz and The New York Times, but in the end did not participate. Within hours, he resigned and issued his fuller apology.

Mr. Shavit’s book was seen as a passionate but evenhanded explanation of his country to the world, at once celebrating its unlikely success in building a nation while lamenting its treatment of Palestinians. The book made him a regular on the American speaking circuit and a spokesman for a sort of liberal Zionism that had fallen out of fashion.

“This is the least tendentious book about Israel I have ever read,” Leon Wieseltier, the literary critic, wrote in The Times. “It is a Zionist book unblinkered by Zionism.”



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