Women's Groups to Tamir: Prevent Sexual Exploitation at Universities

With a Hebrew University professor under investigation for allegedly exploiting his position to force female students into sexual relations, 22 women's organizations appealed to Education Minister Yuli Tamir this week, calling on her to establish guidelines prohibiting sexual relations between lecturers and students.

In a letter, the organizations claimed that the institutions of higher learning are complicit the sexual exploitation of female students, by not setting limits on what relationships are permitted.

"In their silence, the institutions of higher learning are abandoning the students, who are subordinate to senior faculty, and are not affording them any defense from sexual harassment and violence - as opposed to institutions of higher learning elsewhere in the world. Clear regulations are needed to define what is permitted and what is forbidden in such relations, how to report violations and what institutional protection complainants and witnesses will be afforded," the groups stated to Tamir.

Signatories included Kolech, The Israel Women's Network, The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel and University Without Harassment. "The aim is to compel the university heads to establish an ethical code prohibiting all intimate relations between lecturers and students," said Dorit Abramovitz, who helped organize the appeal. A Hebrew University communications graduate students association joined the appeal, in order to protest the administration's conduct in the affair. "We have no connection to the incident and we do not feel harassed. We are calling upon academia to break the conspiracy of silence," said one group member. "No one has brought together the students and the faculty to discuss the phenomenon."

Last week, Hebrew University issued a statement saying the vice rector had notified the University of Hong Kong, where accused Professor Eyal Ben-Ari is slated to teach next semester, of the investigation. The vice rector said Hong Kong University was contacted anonymously about the suspicions about a year ago, but was told at that time that there were no concrete complaints.

The Hebrew University stated in response it "accepts the spirit of the letter and supports the complainants, and calls upon anyone who has been hurt by sexual harassment to contact the sexual harassment ombudswoman. The university takes a grave view of all incidences of sexual harassment and does not forgive teachers' breach of students' trust."

Tamir's bureau responded: "We are examining the issue and we believe every institution of higher learning should have an address for cases like this."