A Milestone for #MeToo and Israel: Iconic Actor Charged With Sexual Assault

The indictment comes more than two years after the film, TV and theater star was first accused by women on theater and film sets – before the launching of the #MeToo movement

Moshe Ivgy, right, appearing in the 2016 film 'The 90 Minute War.'
Daniel Kedem

Marking a milestone for the #MeToo movement in Israel, international film and theater star Moshe Ivgy has been indicted on suspicions of sexual harassment and indecent acts against four women.

The charges come more than two years after the 64-year-old’s name first hit the headlines amid such allegations. The indictment issued by a Haifa court late last week detailed the behavior that allegedly took place in 2012 and 2013.

Ivgy’s lawyer says his client will fight to clear his name, while the trial will take place behind closed doors to protect the accusers’ identities.

The first accuser, who worked with Ivgy on a film set, said the actor put his hand up the back of her shirt and stroked her back, saying her outfit “invited” it. She said that on another occasion Ivgy hugged her tightly while crudely telling her he wanted to have sex with her.

His second accuser said she was also working on a film with Ivgy when he reached under her shirt and bra and cupped her breast. The third accuser, who worked with Ivgy in the theater, said he grabbed her breast and thrust his face into her chest, while insisting that the much-younger woman invite him to her apartment.

In the fourth case, a woman who had no prior acquaintance with Ivgy said she was approached by the actor at a falafel shop, where he made sexually explicit comments to her.

At first, the allegations of misconduct were met with skepticism by many of the actor’s friends, colleagues and fans. Many found it hard to believe that such a celebrated artist was capable of such behavior.

Ivgy’s face has dominated Israeli movies and television for decades; the actor has won Israel’s equivalent of the Oscar several times and graced red carpets at festivals around the world. Considered one of the most gifted Israeli leading men of his generation, Ivgy was also tapped by international directors for smaller roles – Steven Spielberg cast him in “Munich.”

It was in March 2016, long before the Harvey Weinstein affair and the #MeToo movement, that Ivgy was first arrested and questioned on accusations of sexual harassment and indecent acts after a former employee of the Haifa Theater filed a criminal complaint and told her story to the media. The woman had first complained about Ivgy two years earlier to the theater and was unhappy with the theater’s response, which had Ivgy apologize for the “misunderstanding” and the woman transferred to work on a different play.

Following the publicity of this case, five other women came forward with stories of mistreatment by Ivgy – of the six, four chose to cooperate with the police.

Three months later, in May 2016, the police transferred their findings to state prosecutors and recommended that charges be filed. The police said there was sufficient evidence that Ivgy abused his status and sexually molested and harassed women to warrant an indictment.  

The scandal was reignited the following October after the Haifa International Film Festival chose Ivgy as best actor for his work in the film “The 90 Minute War.” Although the actor had announced that he would take a break from his theatrical work until he cleared his name, he accepted the award.

Months passed with no announcement by prosecutors regarding an indictment, and last June, more than a year after the scandal broke, press reports said the Ivgy case could be closed.

In November, as the Weinstein scandal launched the #MeToo movement, it was reported that Ivgy and prosecutors might have agreed for the actor to sign a deal in which he would admit to offenses but have his case closed without an indictment.

Whether because prosecutors now have a stronger case – or because of the changed atmosphere in the #MeToo era – Ivgy now faces a challenge that women’s-rights advocates are hailing as a “better late than never” victory.

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel praised the decision to issue the indictment, saying that protests against closing the case had clearly been heard. “We hope that the decision to indict represents and understanding on the part of prosecutors that the automatic closing of such cases will no longer escape criticism,” the organization said in a statement.

Referring to the indictment, Ivgy’s attorney Zion Amir said “it is a shame that such a dramatic decision is taking place 26 months after the initial incident.” He said Ivgy’s defense team had believed that the evidence gathered over that time was insufficient to indict him.

But “from the moment that this decision was made, Ivgy has been determined to mount a full legal struggle to clear his name,” Amir added.  

In 2016, when Ivgy last spoke publicly on the matter, he said in a statement: “I have respect for every human being because he is a human being, for every man and woman I’ve worked with in the past or in the present. I’ve never intentionally tried to hurt anyone.”