Israel Must Learn From the Katsav Affair

Katsav is not the enemy of women. He represents a phenomenon in which bosses impose their authority on a female employee in order to get sexual relations.

Moshe Katsav did not commit rape, a friend said to me. The most he did was to harass. Rape is when someone attacks in the dark in the street. Rape is inside the family. And then she mentioned a rich friend of hers who declared that he would not go into an elevator alone with a woman, lest she extort him for sexual harassment.

Quite a number of women consider Katsav's actions to be typical male behavior and his victims to be manipulative women, the type it is not worthwhile being alone with in an elevator. If, after so many years of media stories about Katsav, the coin has still not dropped and the fact has not yet been internalized that acts of sexual harassment to the extent of rape take place behind the office door, then I attribute this fault to those who manage the public arena: the women's organizations and female Knesset members.

Katsav protest - Moti Milrod - December 2011
Moti Milrod

Take the women's organizations, for example. In the case of the former president, their representatives were quoted as speaking out against Katsav on every occasion. They were in favor of a prison sentence, in favor of this plaintiff or that; they organized demonstrations outside the courthouse, they demonstrated in favor of the rulings they had hoped for. But nevertheless, they failed to inculcate the desired values.

This ties in with the reactions of women's organizations and female MKs to the recently recorded "wisecracks" of IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and the defense establishment, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, about the role of women soldiers. After all, jokes of this kind - that the women soldiers were on a break, singing - could easily also be made among women and with no less malice. The automatic response - to the effect that we have a chief of staff who is sexist and chauvinist, and so on - does not further the cause of women. The opposite is true. It makes the discussion shallow and presents the women as being self-righteous and humorless. Adding a random matter about women simply in the chance of obtaining another headline creates responses of the type that in no way progress appropriate norms and values.

Another example of vigorous action, on the face of it in favor of women, can be found with the fact that women's organizations joined, as "a friend of the court," the woman who was suing Ofer Glazer [the former husband of billionaire Shari Arison] over sexual harassment last month, even though the plaintiff was represented by lawyers [Glazer was convicted in 2007 of sexual harassment and indecent assault]. The women's organizations requested to join the prosecution and voiced the most lofty claims in favor of financial compensation for the victim. Did the plaintiff actually need them or were they merely exploiting her case to win headlines? I want to mention that, in that case, in which the plaintiff was granted the unprecedented sum of NIS 250,000, the court wavered over whether she was an impostor and noted that this was not a case that justified the important assistance given by the centers to victims of sexual assault.

The excitement around the Katsav case, just like the angry responses to the chief of staff's remarks, diminish the importance of the subject. Katsav is not the enemy of women. He represents a phenomenon in which bosses impose their authority on a female employee in order to get sexual relations. Instead of collecting young women to demonstrate against Katsav or to enlist support for the plaintiff against a well-known personality, it would be better for the women's organizations to invest their energies and resources in assisting weak female employees, usually single mothers with very little income, who suffer from exploitative work relations in which the components are much simpler, and less attractive as headlines - the employer, the employee, and sex that is part of working relations. The chances of the women employees remaining at their jobs while stopping the sexual exploitation are negligible. These are the women who need to be accompanied and assisted by the help centers and the women's organizations. The headlines can wait. 

The writer is an attorney who deals with labor laws.