Page 27, on the Side

The media storm surrounding Prof. Eyal Ben-Ari for harassment and alleged rape of his students is now all over.

One would have needed a particularly sharp eye to have noticed a tiny article in the Hebrew edition of this paper one day last week, on page 27, on the side: "No charges will be filed against Prof. Eyal Ben-Ari."

About two months ago it would have been impossible not to notice the flood of headlines shouting about the monstrous anthropologist from Jerusalem: rape, forced sexual relations, threats, reign of terror in the department, "the professor who used, extorted and had sex with female doctoral candidates."

"He raped two of us a few times... if we don't agree to go to bed with him then we won't get scholarships," an anonymous female student told a Jerusalem weekly.

And there were stories of doctoral theses that were approved in bed, electrical appliances given in exchange for sex, and steamy nights with the horny professor in luxury hotels abroad underwritten by the university. The Committee on Gender Affairs of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem resigned in the wake of the headlines, and the hypocritical university rushed to issue a total ban on intimate relations between faculty members and students, including consensual relations. A grand time was had by all.

Two months later, and it's all over. Ben-Ari's passport was returned to him, he left for his scheduled sabbatical abroad and no charges were issued. The police, in an attempt to rescue its lost honor, says it is "continuing to investigate," but it's clear that the story if finished. No official complaints, no evidence. It is hard to accept the police claim that the students are afraid to testify, because why should they be?

What we have here is one more frame-up that began with rape, continued with stories of sexual harassment and ended in a whimper. The explanation of the police, according to which it spread false rumors in order to persuade students to come forward with their complaints, does not absolve it of responsibility for impugning the honor of an innocent man. The media, which in their sensationalistic coverage magnified the suspicions created by the police, also played a role, collaborating with its characteristic and automatic gaiety.

I do not know Ben-Ari personally. I have no idea what went on in the bedroom of the anthropologist who has studied Japanese culture and our own army reserve duty, and it's none of my business anyway. Maybe he is avaricious, maybe he is the perfect family man. Maybe he is a charming, well-liked teacher, maybe not. What does it matter? His life has been ruined by a few baseless headlines. The bottom line is worrisome and should provoke a deep moral reckoning: slander.

In Sweden, the names of suspects are not made public until they are convicted. It would be better not to adopt such an extreme approach, but if such blood libels continue to occur then perhaps there will be no choice. Active sexual relations, including ones that are illegal under current law, occur in universities and other institutions. Any man who exploits a dependent for sexual purposes must be denounced. Every sex offender must be pursued and brought to justice.

It's good that the days of "What do you mean when you say 'no'?" in the words of the old song, are gone, replaced by a reality in which men are finally beginning to be cautious, even with their speech. But a baseless witch hunt? Ben-Ari's lost honor cries to the heavens now, from the tiny item on page 27, on the side.