Last week, I wrote an article about a sexual assault I suffered in February 2014 at the hands of a prominent Israeli journalist. After intense speculation and pressure applied by the Israeli and Jewish media, that journalist, Ari Shavit, outed himself.
He admitted his attempts to sexually pursue me during what should have been a professional interview and did not dispute a single fact that I reported in my article.
I chose not to name Shavit myself, because my intention was not to make this about one person, but instead, to focus on the issue of sexual assault. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that women should not be afraid to talk about their experiences of this inexcusable behavior. For two and a half years, I had no expectation that I would ever share my story publicly, which points to the fact that too many women live with sexual harassment and assault as part of our work climate. Encountering and dealing with sexual misconduct is a condition of being female.
Yesterday, Ari Shavit offered an apology — to no one in particular — for “misconstruing the interaction between us,” which he says he understood as “flirtation.”
His claim is absurd. The only thing I wanted from Ari Shavit was an interview about his book. No person of sound judgment would have interpreted his advances on me as anything other than unwanted, aggressive sexual contact.
As recounted in my article, he engaged in physically aggressive behavior — grabbing the back of my head, lurching at me for a kiss, pulling and pawing at me, and pressuring me to enter his hotel room — “We don’t have to have sex,” he told me. “I just want to give you a hug.” Except, he also implied he wanted to impregnate me and suggested I become his mistress. Throughout our interaction, he touched me in ways I did not want to be touched and he caused me to fear for my safety.
None of this was flirtation; this was an assault on my dignity and professionalism that frightened and disturbed me. According to the United States Department of Justice, the definition of sexual assault is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” That Shavit would claim it was “flirtation” is not only misguided, it suggests I was participating in his scheme when, indeed, I was the victim; I was afraid he’d further assault me if I did not escape.
Many aspects of that night remain clear in my mind — the discomfort I felt, the sense of violation, the feeling of being trapped. But also, I remember how excited I was to interview the author of “My Promised Land,” a book of astonishing insight and self-reflection. It is mystifying to me how someone so deeply attuned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be so obtuse when it comes to human relationships.
I am glad Ari Shavit has at least acknowledged an encounter took place. As a committed Jew, I am always open to the possibility of forgiveness and redemption.
But Ari Shavit has yet to apologize for what he actually did; he did not apologize for committing sexual assault.