I opened Haaretz on Wednesday and was astounded to read the editorial calling for my resignation as president of Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art. The writer didn’t bother to check the facts. With the confidence reserved for people who don’t concern themselves with details, they claimed that my decision had no moral or legal basis. Had they just asked, they would have received the legal opinion that was submitted to me before the decision was made.
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This is not only inaccuracy, it is genuine hypocrisy. Doesn’t Haaretz have legal counsel? Are the editors and owners willing to wake up in the morning and discover in the paper an op-ed, article or picture that exposes them to a lawsuit? Of course not. The only difference is that the public is not aware of the cases when (appropriate) concerns about privacy, human dignity and avoiding personal attacks, in addition to considerations of national security, cause the paper’s editors not to publish something that could hurt it. So where do they come from, this sanctimony and the demand that I act in a way that could expose the institution that I head, and which is very dear to me, to lawsuits? What is the basis for their ludicrous claim that concern for potential financial impact of a lawsuit is inappropriate?
In the six years that I have been the president of Shenkar, thousands of works have been shown in the graduate exhibitions. In only two instances have I been compelled to intervene, to alter a small part of the student’s work. In both cases, the department heads erred by not bringing the matter up for discussion at an earlier point when a proper discussion and appropriate solution could have been found for the dilemma that we faced. In both cases, there was serious concern about personal insult to the subjects of the work. In the first case, the student made changes to the work (and acknowledged his error), but the process took several days and cost Shenkar hundreds of thousands of shekels for legal fees. The current case hasn’t come to that, thankfully.
I must point out that the laws against libel and sexual harassment reflect my personal beliefs. Freedom of expression, like any kind of freedom, should be weighed against other considerations, especially against a personal affront to human dignity. In this context I, unlike others perhaps, believe that public figures should be totally transparent in regard to ideology, administration and finances, but are entitled to protection — perhaps even extra protection — when it comes to personal privacy. That, because the temptation to hurt them is greater. The right to criticize must not be confused with a “right” to hurt. The ease with which public figures are subjected to offensive attacks does not elevate public debate, it doesn’t make it freer or more democratic. Just the opposite. The artificial catharsis that follows insult to a hated figure only releases steam while prevents meaningful movement toward change.
It’s no secret that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and I disagree over the great majority of issues. We’ve never exchanged more than a few sentences. But I know very well what it feels like to be an attractive woman in public life, with the constant whispers behind her back that she must have used her sexuality to get where she is. I believe that Shaked got to where she is today through her skills and her opinions. Portraying her as a sex object is uncalled-for. I would feel the same way about any woman in the forefront of the public arena. Yes, I admit, I had my Ayelet Shaked moment. Without her ever contacting me, I was outraged. And the legal opinion reinforced my feeling that not only was this work in bad taste, it might be a violation of the law.
One of the few human dimensions of political life that still remain, that keeps us from a descent into all-out beastliness, has to do with the ability of public figures to look beyond differences of opinion, to recognize the humanity of others despite their divergent views. I experienced such moments in my political life and I appreciated them. With the press intent on inflaming personal animus, someone has to be a mensch.