Conspiracy of Silence Surrounding Sexual Assaults Shields Powerful Israelis From Justice

In a violent and macho society like ours, a woman who confronts men in high circles has to deal with fallout.

Israeli Interior Minister Silvan Shalom.
Tomer Appelbaum

About a year-and-a-half ago, when Silvan Shalom was getting ready to run for the post of president of Israel, a woman who had worked with him in the late 1990s complained to the police that he had demanded she perform a sexual act on him.

Although it was clear to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein that the complaint was outside the statute of limitations and would not result in an indictment, he decided to investigate for one purpose: To check whether it was a case of serial behavior, as had been the case with former minister Yitzhak Mordechai and former president Moshe Katsav.

The police then received information about another woman, who had told friends that Shalom touched her intimately against her will when she was working for him. She told a police investigator that the alleged incidents occurred in the minister’s office, his official vehicle and in hotels.

The investigator urged her to file a complaint, but she eventually decided not to cooperate, apparently remembering the smear campaigns against other women who dared cross the line of fire in the case of Katsav.

She might also have heard of what happened to the woman whose complaint of an indecent act led to Mordechai’s conviction – how her life changed, how she was ostracized and how her husband’s business suffered.

In a violent and macho-istic society like ours, a woman who confronts men in powerful circles has to deal with fallout. Influential men will stand with the accused and orchestrate a campaign against the complainant, often including information about her sexual past and the interests she ostensibly serves in an effort to destroy the career of a senior official.

Ofer Vaknin

I have met a number of women over the years who said they were sexually attacked by strong men. They all wanted the men to pay a price, but none wanted to pay the price of complaining against the high and mighty in Israel. Some said they were afraid no one would hire them if they dared file a complaint; that rumors would fly and their reputations would be blackened on social media. Some agonized over the fact that they had not slapped the man’s face or slammed the door the first time the line was crossed.

The confidence of victims of sexual assault in law enforcement will certainly have been shaken over the past two years, as information has emerged of the culture of sexual exploitation and harrassment among the police brass.

The conspiracy of silence has rescued more than a few men in positions of power. At least one female Knesset member, who was subject to sexual harassment by a well-known individual, refused to come out against him publicly and was struck by amnesia when she was asked about the incident shortly after it happened. It takes only one victim of sexual harassment to come out and file a police complaint, for other women to be empowered.

That said, it is intolerable that a man serving in government has such a black cloud hanging over his head. Silvan Shalom does not deserve it and neither do we.

Shalom responded to the reports that he had committed repeated indecent acts on former female employees by saying: “The issue has been checked in depth by law enforcement agencies. In keeping with the decisions of the attorney general and with the agreement of the prosecution and the police, the case was closed.”

The truth is that the woman, like other women who worked under Shalom, refused to complain, despite being urged to do so by the attorney general.

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav outside of prison, 2012.
Moti Milrod

One reason Weinstein and the prosecution were so interested in getting the woman to file a complaint against Shalom was the time that had lapsed between the first alleged incident, at the Hyatt Hotel 15 years ago, and the investigation. Weinstein said at the time that he found truth in the woman’s testimony and that it was only the statute of limitations that led to the closure of the case.

Now the Shalom affair is back on the attorney general’s desk. He might wish for Shalom to do a Yinon Magal and leave public life, even if no official complaints are filed against him. But that is unlikely.

Shalom was at the Knesset this week, conveying business as usual; his friends in the Likud embraced him. The prime minister didn’t utter a peep. He is said to be waiting for the storm to subside and for the women interviewed on Channel 2 and Channel 10 to decide not to file complaint. The attorney general and the prosecution know they will not be able to do anything under those circumstances.

However, in contrast to the Yinon Magal affair and like the Kastav and Mordechai cases, the complainants’ narratives and that of the minister clash so starkly that they require another comprehensive effort by law enforcement to thoroughly clarify the facts and reach the truth.