A Country for Men

Why is R. refusing to testify? There are a number of possible answers to this question.

One might have thought we had grown accustomed to envisioning unpleasant scenes, especially after the trial of former President Moshe Katsav. Nevertheless, it is nauseating to imagine the head of the Prime Minister's Bureau - an elderly Jew who wears a skullcap and, according to his acquaintances, is also a very likable person - as he allegedly bent over to take lewd pictures of R., a young woman who works there. That is so even though this was in no way a rape, and even though it was decided not to transfer the case to the police.

But despite this, R., the only person who was harmed in this affair, is refusing to complain or give testimony against Natan Eshel, even though in the past, she divulged details about the harassment she suffered to several people.

Why is R. refusing to testify? There are a number of possible answers to this question. If we ignore the possibility that nothing happened and that it is "all just gossip," as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at first, the obvious answer is that this is the lesson quite a few of the 165,000 women who were harassed at their work place over the past year (according to a survey by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry ) learned from the Katsav trial and similar incidents. According to that same survey, only 7.6 percent of the harassed women complained to the person in charge of the issue at the office where they worked; the remainder were afraid to do so.

R., under this assumption, does not want to be the focus of a case of this kind, in which it is reasonable to expect the other side's lawyers, if there are such, to make harsh accusations against her, examine every detail of her life and do everything possible to besmirch her name.

Another possibility is that R. is ashamed. Even though all the workers in the Prime Minister's Bureau know her name, as do quite a few journalists, R. shares the view that a woman is guilty if men harass her, since she is seductive and arouses evil inclinations. That is the basic assumption made by everyone who wants to exclude women, or who first and foremost consider women to be sex objects. And instead of learning to control their urges, they want to get rid of the temptation.

It's not just the ultra-Orthodox. Secular men, and even secular women, especially those who have learned to function well in masculine frameworks, are also affected by this point of view. Like former adviser to the prime minister Yossi Levy and political analyst Hanan Kristal, who participated in a radio show in which the program's host, Ayala Hasson, related how an attractive young woman was removed from another important office so that a senior male official would no longer continue to harass her - whereupon both men declared that they supported this way of handling the matter. Or like writer Irit Linor, who called a young woman who complained about sexual harassment a "whore" because the offender was a married man.

A third possibility is that R. feels she cooperated with her harasser by opting to try to avoid him rather than confronting him (as do 92.4 percent of women who are sexually harassed, according to that survey ). And therefore, in her own eyes, she is no less guilty than he.

There is also a fourth possibility: R. is afraid of losing her job - especially in view of the fact that Eshel, according to media reports, was the one who supported her continued employment despite the opposition of the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu.

Every one of these reasons says a great deal more about us as a society than it does about R. Even though in the case of Eshel and R., it was two men, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser and National Information Director Yoaz Hendel, who decided to deal with the problem, and even though there are other men who, like them, loathe any kind of harassment or coercion of women, the Israel of 2012 is still primarily a country for men - and not necessarily those of the right sort.

Read this article in Hebrew