In the three weeks since a reporter published an essay that accused an unnamed “accomplished journalist from Israel” of sexually harassing and then sexually assaulting her during a 2014 interview, the journalist in question, reporter and author Ari Shavit, has gone from renown to persona non-grata in the Jewish communal world here.
Since Jewish Journal of Los Angeles reporter Danielle Berrin published the Oct. 19 article, a second woman has come forward with allegations, and several Jewish organizations have canceled speaking engagements with the author. Meanwhile, Shavit first disputed Berrin’s account, calling the encounter a “miscommunication” and then, after the second accusation, issued a formal apology. He also resigned from his positions at the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and Israeli television news station Channel 10.
On Oct. 26, one week after Berrin’s essay appeared, Hillel nixed a speaking tour featuring Shavit scheduled for later this year.
On Sunday, after the Forward reported a second assault allegation — this one from an unnamed staff member at the dovish pro-Israel lobby J Street, the less dovish pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee followed suit, canceling a Nov. 10 event in the San Francisco Bay Area that was going to be jointly put on by AIPAC and the local Jewish Community Relations Council. (J Street has banned Shavit from speaking at its events since the staffer made her allegation in 2014.)
In addition, the Jewish Federations of North America told JTA that it would have canceled any Shavit events had they been scheduled.
“He would be suspended immediately based on his admission of harassment alone, never mind that the reporter describes it as assault,” the spokesman said.
The JCC Association of North America told JTA that its policy of zero tolerance for sexual assault extends to speakers.
The Jewish Book Council, which helps arrange speaking tours for authors, said it would discuss a policy following the Shavit allegations.
Other Jewish organizations that frequently host or arrange speaking tours told JTA that they did not have defined policies on speakers accused of sexual assault, but that the Shavit incident would prompt consideration of such a policy.
Berrin said that she decided to write the essay in light of the national “conversation” on sexual assault prompted by accusations made against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“But my story is not unique,” she wrote. “Every woman — probably every single woman in this world — knows the feeling I felt walking to my car at night with a man who couldn’t keep his hands to himself.”
Hillel’s announcement came just hours after Shavit acknowledged that he was the unnamed journalist described in Berrin’s essay. In a statement Thursday, Shavit, author of the widely lauded 2013 book “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” apologized for his actions and said he “misconstrued” the situation as “a friendly conversation that included some courtship.”
“I did not for a moment think it involved any sexual harassment,” he said. “But what I saw as courtship, Berrin saw as inappropriate, even harassing behavior on my part.”
(Berrin slammed Shavit’s original statement, writing: “That Shavit would claim it was ‘flirtation’ is not only misguided, it suggests I was participating in his scheme when, indeed, I was the victim; I was afraid he’d further assault me if I did not escape.”)
But after the second allegation became public on Sunday, Shavit resigned from Haaretz and Channel 10, issuing a revised apology.
“I am ashamed of the mistakes I made with regards to people in general and women in particular. I am embarrassed that I did not behave correctly to my wife and children. I am embarrassed about the consequences of what I did.”
He also said: “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.”
He added that he would “devote more time to being with my wife and children, who are most valuable to me, and to make personal amends.”
“I understand that it is not a quick process and I am committed to doing it truly. I will do everything in my power to ensure that I will never again be embarrassed by my actions,” he said.
The Forward reported that the 29-year-old J Street staffer had been assigned to take Shavit to deliver a lecture sponsored by the organization at Johns Hopkins University. On the way she said he asked to stop for coffee and then took her hand and rubbed it in a suggestive way. He said he would like to meet with her, “alone” and not with one of her tour groups, in Israel, she said. She said Shavit later called her on her cell phone, on a number provided by J Street.
On Sunday Berrin, The Jewish Journal reporter, praised Shavit for his new statement, tweeting:
“I’m grateful for Ari Shavit’s powerful, honest statement. His resolution to do ‘heshbon hanefesh’ — an accounting of the soul — is admirable.”
A day later, another Jewish-American journalist, Avital Chizhik, a contributor to Haaretz, The New York Times and Tablet magazine, revealed on Twitter that she had an almost identical experience to the one described by Berrin with another Israeli journalist, whom she did not name.
The Hillel statement came just hours after Shavit acknowledged his role in the encounter.
“In light of recent circumstances, and in keeping with our strong position against sexual assault, Hillel International has suspended Ari Shavit’s campus tour,” Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut explained in the statement. “Hillel International is not aware of any allegation of sexual assault made against Mr. Shavit during his Hillel visits. Hillel International will be making staff available for any student or Hillel professional interested in discussing these issues privately,” he wrote.
A spokesman for Hillel said the organization’s swift public condemnation of Shavit stems from a strong commitment to fight rape and sexual assault on campus. In August, two Hillel students were named to the White House Student Advisory Committee “It’s On Us,” an initiative to combat sexual assault on campus.
“As individuals, we may not have all the tools to eliminate the scourge of sexual assault on campus, but as a community, we have the responsibility to educate ourselves and others in order to increase campus safety, and to support survivors when they share their stories,” Sheila Katz, Hillel International’s vice president of social entrepreneurship, wrote in an op-ed this month in New Voices magazine.
In her essay, Berrin wrote that while interviewing the Israeli author in 2014, Shavit “lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him.” Berrin wrote that Shavit continued to harass her until she ended the encounter.
Jewish Week deputy managing editor Amy Sara Clark combined several JTA articles and added some writing to create this story.