Israeli journalist Ari Shavit’s fall from grace was sudden and hard.
A few days ago he was a leading columnist for Haaretz, a noted television commentator and one of the most popular Israeli speakers on the U.S. campus circuit, a literary rock star for his important message that one can be both a fervent Zionist and critic of Israeli policy.
But after being semi-called out by Jewish Journal reporter Danielle Berrin for what she called a case of “sexual assault” in 2014 — she described him but didn’t name him — he has become persona non grata here and in Israel. (See story on page 26.)
Shavit, the author of a highly praised Zionist memoir, “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” owned up to his misdeeds. He resigned from Haaretz and his television post, and Hillel International canceled his U.S. speaking tour. Shavit’s letter of resignation noted that only now was he “beginning to understand” that he has 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.”
Berrin, who expressed gratitude for Shavit’s “powerful, honest statement,” said she was motivated to write of her experience now in light of accusations of sexual harassment and assault against Donald Trump. She noted that she was less interested in calling out Shavit than in encouraging other women to speak up about being mistreated sexually. Her original essay prompted a young woman
It is important for victims of sexual harassment to be heard, and for our society to be increasingly sensitized to the lasting impact these experiences can have. Zero tolerance for acts of sexual impropriety is in order. That does not mean there is no forgiveness for those who have misbehaved, though. Judaism is grounded in man’s imperfection, a subject the Torah does not shy away from. Each of our biblical heroes has his or her flaws noted, from Abraham’s claiming Sarah was his sister to Moses hitting the rock. Admission of one’s misdeeds is the first step on the long road to teshuva.
We hope the sad example of Ari Shavit will spur positive conversation about societal norms and remind us of the need to treat others with dignity and respect.