Israeli Interior Minister's Alleged Sexual Harassment Must Be Investigated Immediately

Handling the affair properly will reflect the public’s disgust with sexual offenses in general and the prevalent practice of abusing power to carry them out in particular.

Vice Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Silvan Shalom delivers his speech at the Mediterranean Dialogues Conference Forum, in Rome, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015.
AP

Recently published statements alleging that Interior Minister Silvan Shalom coerced female employees into sexual contact, oblige Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to order an immediate police investigation.

It is regrettable that the employees have refrained from submitting official police complaints, but it is also expected and understandable. They are clearly concerned about an insensitive police probe, a prolonged legal procedure and public exposure that could breach their privacy.

However, the absence of a complaint does not lessen the clear obligation to open an investigation. The law stipulates explicitly that when suspected wrongdoing comes to the police’s attention, they must investigate it.

The police have investigated suspicions against Shalom in the past, but the statements published in recent days – first in Haaretz and later in other media – strengthen the suspicion that sexual harassment took place, involving abuse of authority and even coercion. Such offenses, if proved, carry a penalty of two to seven years in prison.

It is incumbent on the police to summon the minister for questioning and confront him with the details of the statements that have been made.

Handling the affair properly will reflect the public’s disgust with sexual offenses in general and the prevalent practice of abusing power to carry them out in particular.

As in the cases of former minister Yitzhak Mordechai and former president Moshe Katsav, the publication of one testimony casting suspicion on Shalom gave other women the courage to come forward with their own complaints.

Getting to the bottom of the case and ensuring that justice is done should not be limited to the criminal sphere. The statements that have been published require the attorney general to consider, in addition to whether there is an evidentiary basis for a criminal indictment, whether Shalom must resign or at least be suspended from the cabinet.

Over 20 years ago, the High Court of Justice established the principle that a minister must not only be eligible and qualified for the position, but also worthy and ethical – and that the prime minister must fire him if, because of the acts attributed to him, he cannot “convey integrity and virtuousness.”

It is imperative therefore that the testimonies against Shalom be corroborated or refuted by an urgent investigation, after which the attorney general can give his opinion on whether the prime minister should dismiss him.