In Israel, Coronavirus Could Set #MeToo Back by Five Years

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Harel Wiesel during a conference in Tel Aviv, May 28, 2018.

Two years ago, Channel 13’s “Hamakor” program reported five women’s accusations of troubling behavior, to say the least, by one of Israel’s most powerful businessmen – Harel Wiesel, owner of the Fox fashion chain (which, among other things, imports the Nike, Disney, Billabong and Urban Outfitters brands to Israel).

The accusations ranged from indecent proposals, to one woman escaping from his office after a physical struggle, another who struggled with him on a train, and a third saying he thrust her hand into his pants.

Four of the five women underwent polygraph tests and were found to be telling the truth. Some of their stories had real-time confirmation by other people.

Wiesel fought this investigative report. He sent threats and exerted leverage. He denied most of the allegations, then disappeared from the public stage.

Chances then became slim that any of the women would muster the courage to come out against him. The police were initially serious about the accusations but eventually, they also lost interest, and the whole affair subsided.

Then coronavirus came, and Wiesel sought to reinvent himself as the Robin Hood of small businesses. He fought in the television studios with heartfelt cries. Then it all blew up in his face, when it turned out that the Fox group was distributing a dividend of 49 million shekels ($14 million) on the basis of its 2019 profits. Wiesel was the main beneficiary of this dividend.

Not only that - Fox also received a grant from the state of between 13 and 18 million shekels due to its losses from the coronavirus. But if it can afford to pay out millions in lavish dividends, why did it need the grant?

Seeking purification, Wiesel gave an interview to daily Yedioth Ahronoth, which reserved for him the kind of VIP treatment only that paper knows how to give. The dividends were his obligation to shareholders, Wiesel said. He was thinking of them, not himself. The problem was one of “appearances,” interviewer and interviewee agreed. But due to public criticism, Robin Hood announced he would return the loot to the sheriff's coffers.

According to Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu's former media advisor, who worked for Yedioth for around 20 years, on Noah Mozes Street, where Yedioth’s main office is located, “there’s a gate that you enter, and it slowly closes behind you. Then... you go inside, you find a place where the law consists of a single sentence: ‘Noni’s will,’"  referring to the daily’s publisher, Arnon Mozes.

Columnist Nahum Barnea “knows how to discern it,” Hefetz continued, and so does columnist Sima Kadmon. “They all know how to discern it, without ... that’s it, you don’t have to tell them anything.” Mozes, in recorded conversations with Netanyahu, denied that he has any ability to influence senior journalists like Barnea and Kadmon. Netanyahu allegedly offered Mozes favors in return for positive media coverage, leading to both men being indicted, in what is known as Case 2000.

Hefetz has since turned state's evidence against the prime minister. His stunning insider testimony explains why leading businesspeople paid Yedioth astronomical prices for advertising space.

“In this legal code, all the leading businessmen – Shaul Elovitch, Nochi [Dankner], really all the big advertisers – knew very well that there’s something, I’ll call it momentum, that you have to give Yedioth Ahronoth in terms of price so that that guy [Mozes] won’t go nuts," Hefetz says.

Writing background on their conversation with Wiesel, Yedioth interviewers, wearing their hat of omniscient narrators, wrote that “in October 2018, Wiesel was cleared of allegations of sexually harassing female employees by former Judge Ornit Agassi, who conducted an external inquiry into the issue.” Hefetz would undoubtedly have an interesting interpretation for those words.

Agassi’s inquiry wasn’t external; she was hired and paid by Fox. She couldn’t clear anyone, because she never heard any testimony. Some of the complainants wanted to tell her their stories, but she rushed to close the inquiry without speaking to any of them.

Incidentally, the interviewers could have asked Wiesel about that. But they opted not to ask. Was it actually their choice?

Wiesel, Yedioth, a fawning interview – it’s as if #MeToo were just a faded memory, and Case 2000 was becoming less and less influential. For one brief moment, a chilling thought arises, about another coronavirus symptom. It will send us five years backwards.

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