Silvan Shalom Failed to Learn From Disgraced Former Colleagues

After resigning from public office after a string of allegations of sexual harassment, Israel's outgoing interior minister will have plenty of time to reflect on his fall from grace.

Vice Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Silvan Shalom delivers his speech at the Mediterranean Dialogues Conference Forum, in Rome, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015.
AP

Silvan Shalom was the most learned minister in Likud. He spent many years at university, adding degree after degree. He was always proud of his formal education, but there is one thing he seemingly never learned: that over the years, the norms in Israel have changed. The legislators changed the rules, and the spirit of the times is far removed from what it once was.

The media was flooded in recent days with testimonies from women who said Shalom had harassed or assaulted them over the past decade, during which time he served as minister in many capacities. A murky, stomach-churning, disgusting flood.

What began with two testimonies in the initial report by Yaniv Kubovich last week now stands at 10, perhaps 11. Most of the cases reported occurred after the Moshe Katsav and Haim Ramon affairs (Viva la difference), and certainly after the Yitzhak Mordechai affair in the early 2000s. Did that wise and experienced man, a lawyer by trade, not learn from the bitter experience of his colleagues – all found guilty of sexual offenses and all good friends of Shalom’s at various times?

As was written here last Friday, on the eve of the Knesset election earlier this year Shalom – who is among our most veteran politicians and ministers – could not decide whether to come back and run for another term. He escaped by the skin of his teeth from the last sexual harassment episode 18 months ago, because of which he had to drop out of the race for president.

He must have realized that his glory days were far behind him, and that he would return to the office of the finance minister or foreign minister – positions he occupied between 2001 and 2006 – only as a guest. But he decided to run anyway. In retrospect, that was a hasty and disastrous decision. But even if the current round of allegations ends without indictment, like the previous one, look where Shalom is now and where he was a year ago.

He is retiring from political life, after 23 years and an impressive career with quite a few achievements, as a pariah. It may be assumed that he stepped down as a tactical move, like former MK Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beiteinu), to prevent another woman or two from filing a police complaint that would make her another potential witness at a trial.

Over the past week, we also saw the renewed powers of Shalom’s wife, Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes. There is no doubt her conduct over the past few days not only did not help him, but made things worse.

The specific threats she allegedly made on her Twitter account against those who have already been dubbed in the political world “Shalom survivors” became a journalistic item in their own right.

Instead of keeping a low profile, perhaps asking forgiveness of the men and women she hurt and insulted as part of the bullying and merciless machine known as the Shalom-Mozes family, she returned fire in every direction.

In general, the political world stood silently by over the past few days. The scene in the Knesset hall where Shalom was welcomed with hugs by some members of his faction – including the young Sharren Haskel – will be remembered as an enduring disgrace. That was the message Haskel, the new Likud lawmaker, had for women her age and her elders.

The exceptions were a few courageous MKs – first and foremost Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon and her faction members Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg, and of course MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union). The latter has been a personal friend of Shalom’s for 30 years, but as an elected official and woman she did what she had to do, without blinking.

The actions of Galon and Yacimovich, who are in possession of quite a few testimonies from women, certainly encouraged others, who saw people who would stand by them in telling their stories to the media.

Following Shalom’s resignation, Amir Ohana, who is next on the Likud roster, will be sworn in later this week. Ohana is the head of Likud’s gay activists. How ironic, then, that an affair involving alleged repulsive sexual misconduct that we thought a thing of the past brings a representative of the gay community to the Knesset, the symbol of a new and liberal age – even, believe it or not, in Likud.