Knesset hearing on Arab sexual harassment sparks controversy

Social Equality and Distributive Justice committee hearing on sexual harassment by Arabs degenerates into shouting match.

Mordechai Sones ,

Hearing on harassment
Hearing on harassment
Hezki Baruch

A Knesset committee hearing on sexual harassment in Israel was nearly derailed Monday when a shouting match erupted between participants.

Social Equality and Distributive Justice Committee Chairman MK Miki Zohar (Likud) opened Monday’s discussion on sexual harassment in suburban areas, explaining that the hearing would not shy away from difficult questions regarding the problem of harassment, including the disproportionate involvement of Israeli Arab men in harassment cases.

Some members of the Israeli left and the predominantly Arab Joint List party objected to the hearing, as well as to the participation by members of anti-assimilation organizations like Lehava and Yad L’Achim.

"There’s a certain mentality that exists in the Arab sector that makes it difficult for many [within the Arab community] to understand what sexual harassment is, and what it is not. I don't understand the Arab Knesset members’ anger regarding this discussion," Zohar said.

Zohar defended his decision to invite the representatives of the Lehava and Yad L'Achim anti-assimilation organizations.

"[The left] turned these organizations into enemies of Israel. And I have to ask myself, if in the State of Israel we allow freedom of expression for [far-left] organizations like Breaking the Silence, B'Tselem and Adalah, can it be that organizations like Yad L'Achim and Lehavah are prevented from speaking? The right side of the map has no right of expression?"

Later, Zohar explained why he requested that Lehava's director not personally participate in the discussion. "Bentzi Gopstein was invited as part of the invitation to Lehava. It came to my attention that if Gopstein participates in this discussion, it would derail the hearing. The question was whether to hold the discussion without him or not. And so I asked Lehava to send another representative. Lehava is not a one-man organization, so I don't understand the anger."

MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beytenu), who recently initiated a hearing on harassment of women, girls, and boys in mixed cities and near Arab villages in the Committee on the Status of Women, a discussion that was disrupted by members of the Arab Joint List, said that the situation is quite serious.

"In order to deal with the problem, one must first recognize it. In Arab Muslim culture, there is an idea that to harass a woman is a source of pride, and if you deny that, you live in an ivory tower," she said. "It's no secret that this is what happens in areas where there's friction."

Malinovsky described the situation facing Jews in Jerusalem living in neighborhoods bordering Arab neighborhoods, where young girls cannot leave school unaccompanied.

"There’s a reason why they assigned two police patrols there [around eastern Jerusalem Jewish schools] permanently." Malinovsky also noted that in Nazareth Illit the municipality has begun fining offenders in an attempt to eradicate the phenomenon.

At one point a storm broke out in the hearing after a representative of the Rape Crisis Support Center claimed that this was not a separate phenomenon from the general sexual harassment problem.

The shouting exchanges in the committee threatened to shut down the discussion, and only after a protracted time did the committee chairman manage to impose order and enable the discussion to continue.