Israeli Fashion Group Owner Under Fire Over Sexual Harassment Allegations

At least three women have accused Harel Wiesel, owner and CEO of one of the biggest fashion groups in Israel, 'Fox,' of sexual harassment

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Harel Wiesel, CEO and owner of Fox Group
Harel Wiesel, CEO and owner of Fox GroupCredit: Shuka Cohen

At least three women have accused Harel Wiesel, owner and CEO of one of the biggest fashion groups in Israel 'Fox,' of sexual harassment.

In Tuesday's report by Raviv Drucker for Israeli channel 10's investigative program “Hamakor” (The Source), one woman said that he had tried to convince her to let him perform oral sex on her. Among other accusations, another woman alleged Wiesel had put his hand on her thigh during dinner and had shunned her and prevented her progress in the company once she turned down his attempts.

As part of the fallout from the accusations, Fox shares fell on Friday by 5.7 percent, in a high turnover of about 20 million shekels, 20 times the daily average. The company lost 50 million shekels of its value (nearly 14 million dollars).

>> Opinion: The forced kiss that launched Israel’s #MeToo Movement, sort ofIsraeli high-tech women say sexual harassment plaguing industry

In addition, some Israeli groups have called for a consumer boycott of the apparel and homeware company.

A Fox Home store, IsraelCredit: Rafi Deloya

“Until the strong men understand what weak women truly experience, let’s stop strengthening them,” said Kulan, a feminist NGO whose name means 'all of them' in the feminine form. “Fox, American Eagle, Laline – don’t buy these brands, and certainly not any other brand that enriches Wiese."

The Fox-Wiesel Group has over a dozen brands in Israel, including Fox, Fox Home, American Eagle, Aerie, Billabong, The Children’s Place, Foot Locker, Laline, Mango, Nike, Sack’s, Urban Outfitters and Yanga. Fox also has a presence in ten different countries.

The Israel Women’s Network also bitterly attacked Wiesel after Channel 10's investigative report. “The fact that women have to deal with situations of this kind while they are only interested in a business relationship puts them in a Catch-22: If you don't cooperate or at least remain polite and smile, you won't get business opportunities," the NGO said.

Channel 10's investigative report presented the complainants' testimony.

A Fox store in Israel

A woman known only as A., said that “the first time I met with Harel was when he went abroad. It started at dinner,” she recalled. “Harel needed to go earlier and offered me to join him for the ride to the airport. I didn’t feel so comfortable about it."

A. said she had a strange feeling and noticed the looks of the other workers with him, but she knew there would be a driver in the car, “besides the fact that I really wanted to have this conversation with him and to do business with Fox."

"We started the ride and we really did discuss business for the first two minutes, but it quickly moved to a different type of conversation. Who are you dating, what do you like, what don’t you like?"

“It was a conversation about sex. What kind of guys do you like to date, what do you like about guys, what things do you like to do... and then he suggested that we stop at the side and he would go down on me like no one else has ever done. It shocked and disgusted me, and I told him, ‘Forget about that nonsense, it doesn’t interest me, it doesn’t speak to me. We’re here to talk about something else,’ and I tried to bring the conversation back to business. And that’s it. We arrived at the airport, he left. We agreed that when I come to Israel I would contact him and we would continue to talk. I let it slide. When I arrived in Israel I did in fact contact him, he invited me to come to their offices...

“And the moment we entered his room, he suggested: ‘You want me... to lock the door now? So we can have fun and not only work?’ Something like that, which was unambiguous. And once again I had to say:

‘No, Harel, that doesn’t interest me.’ On several different days during the visit I came to his offices, on some days he tried more – on some he tried less. And one day he simply stopped answering my phone calls. I tried several times... But he simply cut me off – he didn’t answer my phone calls, my emails, and that’s it, that was the end."

The other woman, B., said: “I went abroad with him and his entire entourage. He put his hand on my thigh at dinner. It didn’t seem right, but somehow it was okay. Later, he went with me to my hotel room. We reached the door and he didn’t leave. I told him I was uncomfortable closing the door in his face. He didn’t go. In the end I simply slammed the door in his face. And with that, our relationship ended – he started behaving ugly toward me, ignoring me. They started giving me all kinds of humiliating jobs. Everyone around him suddenly shunned me.” She stressed it was clear to her that the change was because of the incident at the door. “I even told someone there,” she added.

A woman who met A. after that car ride with Wiesel said that after the incident A. was profoundly shocked that nobody outside knows that that’s the situation in the company. She said that A. thought of complaining already then, but in the end didn’t go through with it.

A. passed a polygraph test that she took at the request of Channel 10's investigative show.

The investigative show also published email correspondences A. had exchanged with a friend in real-time about the events. "I spent two days crying because of this idiot, and I really don't want to see him again," she wrote after the incident in the car.

Wiesel, through his attorney Ram Caspi, tried to prevent the broadcast of the investigation by sending threatening letters saying he would sue for millions of shekels.

Fox Group said that “אhe Fox Group has never received any complaint about sexual harassment by any executive, including the CEO, and no complaint about the apparent existence of a sexist atmosphere."

After the revelation of the women’s stories, a former female employee at the company claimed on Thursday that “it’s a real joke to say that nobody knew and that no complaint has ever been filed.” She said that “Fox was not being accurate when it claimed that there have never been complaints about harassment in the company.” Drucker, the host of the "Hamakor" investigative show that exposed the story, publicized her statement as well on the Channel 10 News. According to the employee, “I personally spoke with a senior female employee in the company about the conduct. They didn’t do anything about it."

Wiesel commented after the report that he has always tried to be fair and "to respect the dignity of the tens of thousands of women he has met in his professional and social life."

“I am sorry from the bottom of my heart if I hurt any of them,” he said. “If my words or behavior hurt someone I met – I express my sorrow and deep apology to all of them, and pledge to speak sensitively and behave in a much more controlled manner."

Fox commented that it operates according to law and has mechanisms for dealing with such issues, “including the existence of a director for sexual harassment prevention in the company and a hotline where employees may file anonymous complaints."

Fox added: "In light of another examination that we conducted today with the group’s deputy director for human resources, who also serves as the person in charge of preventing sexual harassment and has served in her position for many years, we once again stress that there has never been any complaint concerning sexual harassment by any of the group’s executives, including the CEO."

Fox also acquired 50 percent of the Shilav Group, which sells baby and pre-school products. The group is expected to open stores of the Anthropologie and Free People chains belonging to Urban Outfitters. Today, the group operates over 450 stores in Israel. Wiesel owns 25 percent of the group’s shares, along with the Fox family, which owns another 24.6 percent. Since its IPO in 2002, Fox has soared by 573 percent, 2.5 the increase in the Tel Aviv 125 Index, and is traded at a value of over 1 billion shekels.

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