Opinion

The Forced Kiss That Launched Israel’s #MeToo Movement, Sort Of

The severity of the punishment is determined not by the gravity of the act but by the social capital of the group that sues and judges

Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon in 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

When former Justice Minister Haim Ramon arrives at Tel Aviv University to lecture in the political science department, he’ll encounter a large number of criminals. Violators of international law. Unlike him, they won’t be prosecuted. Their crimes are considered a source of pride and a way to advance their careers – not like inserting your tongue into the mouth of a woman 35 years your junior against her will.

Oops! Ramon not only inserted his tongue forcibly back in 2006. In late 1995, when he was interior minister, Israel, in other words the Interior Ministry, embarked on the policy of quiet transfer: the revocation and threat of revocation of the residency status of Palestinians in Jerusalem via particularly draconian and wicked criteria. In short: a way to expel an occupied population. The policy didn’t fully achieve its aim, but it is embittering the lives of Palestinians even more than in the past.

There’s nothing special about Tel Aviv University; violators of international law can be found in abundance at other universities too, and outside them. This is a criminal species very common in Israel, as plentiful as sand on the beach. These are commanders who ordered the bombing of houses with all their civilian inhabitants still inside, pilots who bombed, officers who evicted people from their homes, legal experts who are declaring these abominations kosher, architects who planned and are planning settlements and apartheid highways, and the settlers themselves.

Tel Aviv University is mentioned here because the members of its feminist cell oppose the idea that Ramon will lecture for “Power without responsibility, responsibility without power.” Long before the #MeToo era, 11 years ago, Ramon was convicted of committing an indecent act when he kissed that female soldier against her will, a kiss “that has all the elements of a sex crime,” the judges ruled.

In the shadow of war

The crime was committed on the eve of the Second Lebanon War, when Ramon was justice minister. The judges also criticized Ramon’s attempt to slander the soldier. He served his sentence (120 hours of community service and monetary compensation to the victim). His part in the cabinet decisions that enabled a mass attack on Lebanese civilians, including the use of cluster bombs, isn’t considered a crime in Israel.

Thanks to a long and persistent feminist struggle, there has been a decline in the value of the stock of objectifying women and verbal and physical abuse against them as proof of masculinity and personal power (not enough of a decline, you’ll rightly say). Despite long and persistent civic struggles, the value of the stock of abusing Palestinians as a nation and individuals has only increased in Israel, and the abusers are the salt of the earth. Those who objectify women and those who abuse them are also the salt of the earth.

#MeToo and the phenomena that preceded it – the public tribunals conducted in the media and on social media against famous men who assaulted women, and the feminist battles to raise awareness of the gravity of the attacks against women – have achieved three main goals.

They helped women dare to speak out, turning them into a group instead of individuals. They revealed the deficiencies and the lacunae in the law and justice system, which was created and developed in a reality of male hegemony, and therefore found it difficult to define attacks against women as a crime. And they clamped behavioral restrictions on violent sexists, with the hope that with time these restrictions would be internalized as obvious values.

We’re in the course of the process; the behavioral restrictions are also being posited in aggressive ways, such as shaming and boycotts, not only in public discussions and consciousness-raising. Still, it’s easier to prosecute Harvey Weinstein than to achieve (and even demand) an equal wage for women. But that’s no reason to stop exposing Weinsteins in order to help the judicial system punish them, deter others and educate future generations.

Serving one’s sentence

The public battle against specific violent men is skipping over two logical and just principles in legislation and the judicial system: ranking the gravity of crimes and an expiration date for punishment based on the gravity of the crime. (Let’s forget implementation for a moment.) In every country, as in every hierarchical institution, the courts are influenced by class, status and ethnic origin – and certainly in Israel, in our Judea-Samarian ethnocracy that’s continuing to expel the Palestinians from their homeland and their homes.

After all, one forced kiss isn’t like repeated acts of rape. And when a person has served his sentence, he shouldn’t be punished forever, so that the punishment won’t turn into revenge. The women conducting the public tribunals achieved some success; some men have been brought to a standard trial, some have resigned and some have been ostracized.

And so it turns out that the severity of the punishment is determined not by the gravity of the act but by the importance and social capital of the group that sues and judges, relative to the importance and power of the accused.

This can be explained as a stage in the very long process of liberation from male domination, under whose aegis men, and economic and institutional systems, let themselves repress women. But there’s also a feminist obligation to understand the injustice of unlimited revenge, and to put an end to it.

As a tongue pusher, Ramon has served his sentence. Leave him alone. Don’t waste on him the social capital that the movement to prevent the assault of women has accumulated. But let’s remember: As someone who evicted Palestinians from their city, Jerusalem, Ramon isn’t considered a criminal in Israel. On the contrary, he’s considered a thinker.