2017-10-25 / Home

Israeli women have been saying ‘Me Too’ for years

By ANDREW TOBIN JTA


Israeli activists marching at the annual SlutWalk march through central Jerusalem, June 2, 2017. JTA photo by Gali 
Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images. Israeli activists marching at the annual SlutWalk march through central Jerusalem, June 2, 2017. JTA photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images. TEL AVIV—

International fashion model Maayan Keret said she was raped at the age of 12. Since then, Keret said, she has been harassed or assaulted so many times she “stopped counting.”

Yael Arad, a silver medalist in judo at the 1992 Summer Olympics, said that despite her “image and physical abilities,” men have tried to “take advantage of or harass” her three times.

Knesset member Merav Ben-Ari said male soldiers on her army base verbally harassed her and touched her inappropriately.

These are just a few of the many accounts of sexual harassment and assault shared by high-profile Israeli women in recent days in response to the #metoo campaign launched on Twitter by the American actress Alyssa Milano. A response to the sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, the phenomenon spread quickly—in the first 24 hours, there were more than 12 million Facebook posts, reactions and comments about it.

Here, in addition to scores of high-profile Israelis, thousands of ordinary women have added their voices to the accounts of sexual harassment and assault from women around the world.

The Israeli media have highlighted the campaign and the issue of sexual assault. Yediot Acharonot, one of Israel’s most widely read newspapers, splashed the sexual harassment and assault accounts of six prominent Israeli women—Arad and Ben-Ari among them—across its front page under the headline “Also Us.”

As it happens, however, this is far from the first time that Israeli women have said “Me Too”—or “Gam Ani” in Hebrew: A Facebook page called “One Out of One,” launched in 2013, has collected nearly 2,500 such testimonies in recent years, the vast majority of them anonymously.

Gal Shargill, a 33-year-old attorney in Rosh Pina, started the page along with feminist activist Shlomit Havron. Their goal was to raise awareness about how widespread sexual harassment and assault are in Israel. The name, much like “Me Too,” is a reference to the notion that nearly every Israeli woman has a story to tell.

“We don’t want to be victims anymore. We don’t want to have to say ‘Me Too,’ but this is the situation,” Shargill told JTA. “We have to say it to make it real, so we all know that we are all sexual harassment and assault survivors.”

One Out of One quickly drew national attention. The Facebook page now has more than 40,000 followers and is well known in Israel. Shargill and Havron also run a nonprofit organization of the same name that provides guidance and legal counsel to victims, as well as shares memes commenting on sexual harassment and assault.

Orit Sulitzeanu, the executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers of Israel, credited One Out of One with helping to “pave the way” for the #metoo campaign, which began in the wake of a New York Times story in which dozens of women alleged that Weinstein had sexually harassed or assaulted them.

“Sharing testimonies was not something that took place on Facebook, and they made it possible,” Sulitzeanu said. “#Metoo just took what they did one step further with women saying ‘here, this is my name, this is my identity, and I’m talking.’”

Some of the first stories Shargill and Havron shared were their own. Shargill said she was raped once and at work was sexually harassed repeatedly.

The two women have also participated in the #metoo campaign, posting supportive messages on the One Out of One Facebook page and working through the surge of testimonials they have received in recent days. Whereas they might get 10 to 20 submissions in a typical week, Shargill said, they have received approximately 30 to 40 since #metoo went viral.

Sulitzeanu said sexual harassment and assault are pervasive in Israel, and she put part of the blame on the country’s mandatory military service. Young men in the army learn “they’re entitled to anything,” she said. 

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