Almost Every Female Israeli Lawmaker Has Been Victim of Sexual Harassment or Assault

MKs from across the political spectrum go on TV to relay their experiences; two say they continue to face harassment even after entering the Knesset.

Outside the Knesset building.
Daniel Bar-On

Twenty-eight of the 32 current female MKs said they had been victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault at some point in their lives, according to a Channel 2 survey.

Two MKs, Michal Biran (Zionist Union) and Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), said the harassment continued even after they had entered the Knesset.

Rachel Azaria of Kulanu told of harassment she suffered when she was a Jerusalem City Council member. “There was an incident that repeated itself in the planning and building committee, of which I was a member,” she said. “Another city councilor would make remarks of a sexual nature regarding things that I said, and the whole room would burst out laughing. I consulted with the legal adviser and other officials, and they all said there was nothing to be done. It interfered with my ability to function and I was very distressed.”

Senior Citizen Affairs Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) spoke of harassment on buses. “During my military service I traveled by bus, and I would fall asleep,” she said. “One time on the road, I felt something prodding me. I tried to move, and I saw a hand under my seat. I simply froze. To this day I’m sorry I didn’t complain, because I could have prevented other incidents.”

Ben Ari described harassment she experienced in the military, but also more recent instances. She said harassment occurs even in the Knesset building. “Even today, the fact that I’m a single woman in the Knesset puts me in unpleasant situations,” she said. “Sometimes people make comments I don’t want to elaborate, but there was a situation recently in the Knesset and I took care of it.”

Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) related that after immigrating to Israel, as a teenager “there was a period when I could hardly go out into the street because of the harassment. Sometimes they would touch my hair and come at me with sexual suggestions. At a certain point I dyed my hair brown so they’d stop touching me, so I’d stand out less. It was a combination of chauvinism and racism.”

Sharren Haskel of Likud said she had been sexually assaulted by an adult whom she trusted. “It happened when I was very young,” she said. When she realized that such experiences happened to other people, “it broke a silence of many years, and the first feeling was that of tremendous guilt It was hard for me to accept that I could have saved other women from the terrible experience that I went through, and I didn’t do that.”