Israeli Modeling Agent to Be Investigated for Sex Crimes

Police probe into agent Shai Avital comes after sexual assault complaint and TV reports that said he abused his power to exploit women and girls for years

Ran Shimoni
Ran Shimoni
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Modeling agent Shai Avital in 2004.
Modeling agent Shai Avital in 2004.Credit: Moti Kimche
Ran Shimoni
Ran Shimoni

Police have launched an investigation against modeling agent Shai Avital on suspicion of sex offenses after a woman on Sunday submitted a complaint, claiming that he had sexually assaulted her.

Another woman made a complaint on Monday. On Sunday, both Channel 12 and Channel 13 ran investigative reports into Avital alleging that the 43-year-old had for years sexually harassed or exploited models who worked for him, abusing his status as a well-known agent and a central figure in Israel’s entertainment industry.

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One of Avital’s alleged victims, Lin Pe’er, said on Channel 12’s “Exposure” program that she had met Avital seven years ago, and that he exploited her dream of becoming a model.

“He turned me into his slave, I would do anything he said,” Pe’er said of the alleged abuse. “He would put my mouth between his legs and made me do this for hours, or sleep with him for hours. If I said that I'm tired or that I wanted to stop and rest, he would say, ‘What do you think you’re doing? You have to prove yourself.’” Throughout the show, women claimed that Avital had sexually assaulted them when they were minors. “He promised me the world,” one woman recalled.

After the TV reports aired, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev called on women who had been targeted to file complaints with police. “The police have already begun to examine the issue, but every complaint that’s filed will be significant, and the police will do everything to investigate them exhaustively,” he said.

Following the broadcasts, several models represented by Avital’s agency, Elite Model Israel, dropped the firm, including Neta Alchimister, Coral Simanovich, and Taylor Malkov. Alchimister wrote on her Instagram account: “Real life is much more than business or career, and you have that moment when you have to put everything to the side, even when we’re talking about the person to whom I owe a lot for his devotion, investment and success, and draw a red line. A thick red line, a shiny red line.” Like other models represented by Elite, Alchimister said she had known nothing about Avital’s alleged offenses, “and if I had known, I would not have let it pass.”

At the end of the report on “Exposure,” Avital said he would respond “only in a police station.” He said his industry competitors were trying to incriminate him, and that he hadn't done “one percent” of what has been attributed to him.

Avital’s attorney, Ssasi Gez, stated: “The court decides who is a sex offender. Most of the complaints are anonymous, without being tied to a specific time or place and with no evidence. My client has no way to understand what’s being referred to and to give his version. This is not how an investigation is conducted in the State of Israel and this is not how due process is conducted. We are convinced that after the police examination, things will look different. My client was found to be telling the truth in a polygraph test when he said he had never taken advantage of his position or demanded sexual favors.”

In 2005, Avital was arrested along with Michel Adam, the head of the Paris-based FTV channel, after a model filed a complaint with Tel Aviv police, saying the two had sexually abused her during a party at a Tel Aviv bar.

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