Orly Innes
Orly Innes, whose complaint of sexual harassment ended one candidate’s chances of being appointed police commissioner. Photo by Tali Mayer
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The number of sexual harassment cases among civil service employees rose 40 percent last year, according to the annual report released by the Civil Service Commission's disciplinary division.

Over the year, 125 sexual harassment files were opened compared with 90 the year before. As recently as three years ago, the annual figure was 65. Of the 125 cases filed last year, 20 were filed with the disciplinary court for civil service employees.

The executive director general of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, Michal Rozin, said highly publicized cases encourage victims of sexual harassment to file complaints. Such cases include the allegations of sexual misconduct against police commissioner candidate Uri Bar-Lev, and the trial and conviction of former President Moshe Katsav on rape and other charges.

"We have seen this reflected in a substantial way in the flood of phone calls to rape crisis centers and to our emergency hotlines beginning on Thursday morning when the verdict in the Katsav case was announced," Rozin said. "We have just been swamped with calls in the past several days."

Some observers say more complainants came forward in 2010 after Orly Innes' complaint filed with the Civil Service Commission. Innes said she was sexually harassed by the outgoing director general of the Public Security Ministry, Hagai Peleg.

The report from the Civil Service Commission, which was recently provided to the Justice Ministry, shows that the Education Ministry suffered the largest number of complaints in 2010. That year, 26 files were opened, compared with 12 the year before.

The Health Ministry had the second largest number of complaints, 23, followed by the Israel Postal Company and the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which each had eight.

Agencies with smaller numbers of complaints included the court administration, the Nuclear Research Center and educational television, with one each. The Prime Minister's Office was the source of two complaints.

Rozin said high-profile sexual misconduct cases such as the Katsav case or the case involving former minister Haim Ramon's kissing of a female soldier revive painful memories among victims. Many of these victims then feel the need to talk about what they went through.

Rozin said the Katsav case had a major impact. She said that a survey conducted in 2010 showed that 40 percent of women experience sexual harassment at the workplace.

Attorney Rachel Toren, who represented Innes, agreed that media coverage of sexual misconduct cases encourages other victims to come forward. She cautioned, however, that not every complaint is well-founded.

Innes not only filed a complaint against Peleg, but also went public with allegations against Uri Bar-Lev, who withdrew his candidacy as police commissioner following allegations of sexual misconduct by Innes and another women.

Tziona Koenig-Yair, who heads the equal employment opportunity commission at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, said publicized cases involving sexual harassment cause an increase in the number of complaints filed. But some people dispute this, she said.

"The message that has come from labor courts over the past year and from the judicial system as a whole is a message encouraging women to file sexual harassment complaints," she said.