Opinion

As America Grapples With Sexual Abuse, Israel Still Lags Far Behind. Here's Why

Israel, trailing behind in gender equality, still a captive of its founding chauvinistic ethos, isn't yet ready or willing to learn the lessons America is slowly absorbing from a year of #MeToo. But here, as in the U.S., women are finding their voice

President Donald Trump, on board Air Force One, speaks to the press after watching a live TV broadcast of the Senate confirmation vote of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Oct. 6, 2018
Pablo Martinez Monsivais,AP

I’m a news editor. I was at work on the day that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford stood in front of the Senate Judicial Committee, with a shaking voice that even managed to quip some jokes, and recounted her testimony against then-nominee, now confirmed, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. To try to prevent the nomination of a man who, according to her and several other women, has no respect for women and had repeatedly sexually harassed and/or assaulted them.  

But I’m not just a news editor, who like many others, stopped in their tracks - I in Israel - to watch the gut-wrenching hearing.

A demonstrator holds a "We Believe Christine Blasey Ford" sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S. Sept. 24, 2018
Bloomberg

I am also a healed, happy, healthy, but very aware female survivor of sexual abuse. And as such, I could not help but wonder while I watched: will America learn its lesson this time around?

Kavanaugh’s confirmation seemed to indicate no. But I don’t believe, or don’t want to believe, that’s the end of the story.

Two years ago today, the Washington Post dropped a bombshell that rocked the presidential election campaign in the United States: the Access Hollywood tape, which exposed then-presidential candidate Donald Trump's so-called "locker room-talk."

Trump spoke of his attempt to seduce a married woman. "I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

The whole world was stunned by Trump’s controversial comment. But "people are crazy and times are strange," as the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s song go, and Trump proved that he could indeed do anything he wanted – and ride on to become leader of the free world.

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A year later, large parts of America were still grieving the surrealistic turn that their country had taken when sexual misconduct allegations emerged and proliferated against the renowned Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, giving birth to the #MeToo movement, exactly one year ago.

The movement, which began behind computer screens but took on a life of its own, is a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps this force helped guide Dr. Ford when she emerged from her anonymity. After all, the Internet has allowed social revolutions, which once took years if not decades to foment real change, to accelerate into mass movements in a matter of days, not decades.

Men and women of my age group, dubbed "Generation Y," are increasingly accused of being an innately narcissistic generation, lacking an agenda or a cause. Some jokingly call us ‘"Generation Me," as in, me, myself and I (and nothing more). Perhaps they are right. But Generation Me can also be accredited for bringing #MeToo to the fore. And we're not interested in waiting decades for change.

In the weeks leading up to Judge Kavanaugh’s hearing, as President Trump made a laughing stock of Dr. Ford’s explanation of why she hadn’t reported her alleged assault and continued to unabashedly endorse his nominee, many people decided that they'd had enough. Enough of leaders, politicians, Supreme Court judges, neighbors, parents, teachers, friends thinking they can inflict unbearable pain on others and stay unscathed.

They used one of the few weapons they have left – their keyboards – to try and speak up against sexual predators. Americans understood they could not remain silent.

#WhyIDidntReport, the younger sister of #MeToo, if you will, has made it crystal clear that many Americans are no longer willing to be stifled by the weight of its own political correctness.  

In a world where Donald "Grab Them By the Pussy" Trump is president, Judge Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment has been secured. But that confirmation process has exposed the naked truth to vast swathes of the U.S. public: Blaming the victim won’t work as an answer to accusations of abuse.

As an Israeli, I will sadly admit that I doubt my relatively young country is ready for the lesson America is now learning the hard way. Israel wants to think of itself as the “light unto the nations,” but is still trailing behind when it comes to equal rights between men and women.

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A chronically tardy nation, only now has Israel caught up with the viral, online #WhyIDidntReport conversation in which victims detail their reasons for failing to report their aggressors.

America has had far more years to try and fail, whereas 70-year-old Israel is still held captive by the chauvinistic ethos upon which it was founded.

We are a nation that lives for its army - where officers get demoted or fined at best for harassing their female deputies.

Where the spokesperson for the premier (Netanyahu’s long-time aide David Keyes) can just go on leave to avoid the controversy sparked by at least 14 different women's accusations against him of sexual misconduct.

Where an esteemed journalist such as the world-renowned former Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit can claim that he "did not realize he was in a position of power" in response to several allegations that he sexually harassed an American journalist and his daughter’s former partner.

I can only hope that my country will respond to this wake up call sooner rather than later.

When I ask myself why I didn’t report the man who sexually and mentally abused me for over a year, I have several answers. One of them is that I was a 14-year-old girl who didn’t have the confidence and wherewithal to speak up.

Another is that I lacked the necessary sense of self-preservation, the gut instincts that only came to me later in life, the ones that make the mental alarm bells go off in my head when I find myself in a situation from which I should immediately extricate myself.

Yet another reason is that I live in a country where the voices of women are still not as resonant as those of men, a country where one of three women will go through sexual harassment and/or assault in her lifetime - and many don’t report their experiences.

#MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport are important tools the Me Generation has harnessed to combat sexual violence. The problem isn’t just in the U.S. or in Israel. The testimonies that were given a platform by these campaigns make its global scale very evident. But every country has specific dynamics and social norms that both encourage and deter abuse and calling it out.

The battle is far from won. The scales don’t seem to have tipped much. Public figures accused of assault have been exiled, but very few charged. Kavanaugh's confirmation, which amounts to another sweeping victory for an America in Trump’s image, is deeply disappointing.

Madison Square Park, New York: #WhyIDidntReport poster, October 2018
Twitter

But perhaps #WhyIDidntReport is a necessary stage - a period of truth-telling and solidarity - in a wider sea change. Maybe the question shouldn’t be confined to why I, or other victims, didn’t report their aggressors. Maybe the dialogue should now focus on how we can move forward from these painful transgressions to create a healthier society where men and women can look each other in the eye, treat and be treated equally.

The ruling establishment, both in the U.S. and Israel, has failed to present a worthy solution. All it did was vindictively stick a finger in the eye of advocates of equal rights, declare them paid activists spreading smears, and turn the issue of sexual abuse into a partisan, zero-sum political game.

Two years have passed since Trump made his foul remarks and took the helm in Washington. Two years since Shavit, one month since Keyes and Kavanaugh.

But my generation has just begun to utter what so many generations before had wanted to say - but were unable to. We may have been scared to report before. We may have been silenced, or discouraged by the lack of an appropriate response or support.

We didn’t report - but we are now. And we’re not going to stop.

Joy Bernard is a writer and editor based in Tel Aviv and an editor at Haaretz