The first decision the new commissioner for capital markets, insurance and savings, Moshe Bareket, made on his first day on the job was to replace the female driver of his predecessor, Dorit Salinger, with a man. Bareket explained to journalist Sharon Shpurer, who broke the story on the Hebrew website The Hottest Place in Hell (ha-makom.co.il), that he had done so out of caution.
“I have always acted very respectfully to women and no one can claim otherwise. I have high regard for women, but in this case, it involves an intimate space, and I prefer to be cautious, because someone could accuse me falsely. For the same reason, you wouldn’t find me alone with a woman in a room” with the door closed, Bareket said.
The decision sparked two kinds of reactions. People who agreed with him saw it as a reaction to the #MeToo movement. But detractors described it as discrimination against women, saying it violated the right freedom of occupation and was a paranoid response to a genuine social problem that addresses concrete offenses and is not the result of baseless claims.
Bareket isn’t alone. Last month, it was reported that the commander of the army’s Golan Division, Col. Avinoam Emunah, had demanded that a military spokeswoman be replaced by a man. Emunah is an observant Jew. Bareket’s decision was based not on religious reasons, but on personal conclusions he drew from #MeToo.
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There are several disturbing aspects to Bareket’s decision, and it’s reasonable to assume they will surface in other contexts as well. The first is his concern that someone could falsely accuse him of misconduct. Anyone in a public managerial position and in a position of power is by the very nature of the job subject to confrontations and friction with various individuals.
In the final months of her term, Salinger faced unusually harsh criticism for someone in a public position. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accused her of bombarding the insurance companies with hundreds of directives, many of them unnecessary.
Knesset members also attacked her in a way that made it clear that Salinger wasn’t afraid of taking on the most powerful players in the industry, including the heads of the insurance companies, insurance agents, lawyers, appraisers and private investigators.
Bareket may have concluded from this that because he would be dealing with hard customers in his new job, he must make sure not to leave himself open to extortion.
But in replacing his female driver, Bareket sent a disturbing message. Men still control much of Israel’s private and public sector, but much has changed over the past two decades. Three of the five biggest banks (Leumi, Israel Discount Bank and First International Bank) have female CEOs. Women also head the Bank of Israel, its banking division and the boards of the Israel Securities Authority and the Antitrust Commission — not to mention Salinger. Would Bareket avoid sitting in a room alone with them?
Women serve as deputy division heads in the Finance Ministry, and many of then probably seek promotion. When the capital markets commissioner says “you won’t find me in a closed room with a woman,” he sends his male staff the message that their biggest occupational hazard is the presence of women. With that attitude, one must wonder whether he will avoid promoting women in order to prevent libelous claims against him.
Bareket’s position gives him responsibility for managing 1.6 trillion shekels ($440 billion) of the public’s funds. The are complex responsibilities of the job include the highest level of risk assessment. Bareket’s education and former position as head of the Israel Securities Authority made him an expert in the field.
As capital markets supervisor, he must learn all of the risks for which he has oversight and which it is his job to minimize. It’s quite surprising, then, that the first risk he identified acted upon had to do with #MeToo.
Bareket should have explained his views on women to the search committee; they should have been among the factors its members took into consideration.