Opinion |

Israel’s Olympic Joy Was Hijacked by a Powerful Man Embroiled in a Sexual Harassment Scandal

Israeli athletes received their medals from media tycoon Alex Gilady, the Israeli representative to the International Olympic Committee, who is also the star of one of the first Israeli #MeToo affairs

Shira Makin
Shira Makin
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Israeli media tycoon Alex Gilady standing in front of the The five-ringed symbol of the Olympic Games.
Israeli media tycoon Alex Gilady standing in front of the The five-ringed symbol of the Olympic Games.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Shira Makin
Shira Makin

What fun it was to wake up on a Saturday morning to Linoy Ashram’s gold medal. These Olympics have managed to melt the cynical Tel Aviv façade that I adopted with such great effort, and that’s how I found myself furtively wiping away the tears of excitement at the sight of this wonderful young athlete, who withstood pressure that I’m unable to even imagine, and brought Israel the gold medal in individual, all-around rhythmic gymnastics.

It’s lucky that all through the nerve-wracking competition, the two female broadcasters of the Sports Channel, Miri Nevo and Neta Rivkin, held my hand. It was a pleasure to listen to them analyzing what was happening in the hall, explaining why a certain exercise is considered more difficult than another, providing details on the history of accomplishments of the competitors, and filling up the dead moments with intelligent, informative discussion.

Along with the impressive achievement of Nicol Zelikman – seventh place among the world’s best – the event was a presentation of female power of a type that is so rare to find on Israeli television. One can only imagine all the young Israeli women inspired by it.

Alex Gilady, left, presents Israeli Olympic champion Linoy Ashram her gold medal, this week at the Tokyo Olympic games.

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But then Alex Gilady entered the frame and shattered the feminist fantasy. Here is the sight that I totally hope not a single young woman saw: the Israeli representative to the International Olympic Committee, who is also the star of one of the first Israeli #MeToo affairs, gave Ashram her historic medal.

In 2017, journalist Oshrat Kotler described in a live broadcast how in 1994 Gilady, then her boss’ boss at Keshet, tried to convince her to meet with him, and explained to her “how to get ahead in Hollywood.” After her came Haaretz columnist Neri Livneh, who told how Gilady exposed himself in front of her during a business meeting in his home, and even told her the phrase that has since been made into a cult: “You’re invited to speak into the microphone.”

Alex Gilady. In 2019 Gilady withdrew his defamation lawsuit against two accusers. Credit: Nir Keidar

After these two brave stories, which came out against one of the most powerful people in the Israeli media, another two appeared – even harder to stomach – from the two women who told Haaretz’s Noa Shpigel that Gilady raped them in the 1970s and 1990s. They told a story similar to the others: that Gilady invited them to his house on the pretext of official business and then forced himself on them.

Gilady vehemently denied all the accusations. He temporarily left his position as the president of Keshet, but in 2018 filed a defamation lawsuit against Kotler and Livneh – which in some places is called a “SLAPP lawsuit” – for 2 million shekels ($650,000). “Gilady understood the influence in his hands and the power in his media standing [and he] took advantage of it aggressively,” wrote Livneh in her defense brief.

Israeli journalist Oshrat Kotler in 2016.Credit: Eyal Toueg

In 2019, Gilady withdrew his lawsuit. In interviews, he said the parties had reached an agreement through mediation, but Kotler and Livneh said this was not at all true, asserting that he withdrew the suit because they refused to retract their testimony, and because Gilady had already admitted that Livneh was telling the truth. Gilady, for his part, continues to portray himself as the victim in the affair, and in an interview before the Olympics on the ONE sports website, he lamented the difficult years he had gone through because of the affair and said he had been tarred and feathered.

Alex Gilady in 2011.Credit: David Bachar

But none of this interested the International Olympic Committee. Not the accusations of rape, not the lawsuit to intimidate the women, and not that Gilady has never taken responsibility or offered an explanation for the striking similarities in the stories of four different women. It seems the IOC simply doesn’t care that this is the sweaty, horny face that Israel presents to the world. The sports media heaps it on even more, after accepting Gilady and giving him a warm welcome. Gilady had lowered his profile until a year ago, and none of the journalists and broadcasters dared ask him about the accusations against him.

This is how Gilady forced himself into one of Israel’s most historic sports moments, too. Maybe it’s impossible to blame him. He is someone whose power isn’t limited to Israel’s borders, a true media tycoon. So we will go on waiting until one brave person stands up and points at him and shouts that the emperor has no clothes. Or, in Gilady’s case, that he is wrapped in a silk robe.

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