Israel's Education Council Ignoring Sexual Harassment Watchdog

State Comptroller directed that handling sexual harrassment complaints at all institutions should be the responsibility of the Council for Higher Education.

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The Council for Higher Education is ignoring the state comptroller’s demand that it take responsibility for handling sexual harassment complaints on campus, according to a document obtained by Haaretz. The document was compiled by the team appointed to respond to the comptroller’s directive.

In his report last May, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira stated that the council should “routinely receive statistics about complaints from the institutions [of higher learning] and examine all regulations set by the institutions and the manner in which they handle sexual harassment complaints.”

But the council apparently declined to take on the job. Its draft document explicitly states, “it isn’t possible to assert that the CHE and its Planning and Budgeting Committee are responsible for routinely receiving data on complaints received by the institutions or for examining the regulations set by the institutions and the manner in which they handle sexual harassment complaints.”

According to the council, “In most of the deficiencies cited in the [comptroller's] report, there are no grounds for distinguishing between institutions of higher education as employers and other employers … The team believes that it’s enough to assure that institutions of higher education continue to operate in accordance with the law and the general regulations [governing sexual harassment at workplaces], and there are no grounds for recommending uniform, special regulations for institutions of higher education.” If there are grounds for special rules, the document states, it is the justice minister’s job to issue them.

Nor did the council see any reason for institutions to routinely collect and publish data about sexual harassment complaints on campus, as the comptroller requested, unless “institutions are asked to do so by Knesset committees or other government officials.” The only institution so far to publish detailed data about sexual harassment complaints is Tel Aviv University.

Based on this document, the council seems to be ignoring the fact that colleges and universities are not like other employers, because there exists a unique relationship of authority between the academic and administrative staff and female students, who are generally young and dependent on them for their academic and career progress. A survey taken by the National Union of Israeli Students this year showed that 17.9 percent of students reported having been sexually harassed by a lecturer, staff assistant or another student, but only 5 percent complained to the person responsible for receiving such complaints at their institutions.

The council's document also ignores instructions issued by the Knesset Education Committee and the Committee on the Status of Women, both of which called on the council to issue rules on handling sexual harassment complaints that would obligate all academic institutions.

The Council for Higher Education responded by saying that the recommendations by the team, which included a student observer, “were approved unanimously and sent to the relevant entities, including the academic institutions and the student union.” After receiving their comments, the issue will be debated further by a council subcommittee and then the full council, it said.

A student demonstration at Tel Aviv University against handling of sexual harassment complaints.Credit: Alon Ron

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