Shavit scandal shines light on Jewish groups’ event policies

Ari Shavit, left, is accused of sexual misconduct; Danielle Berrin has accused him of grabbing and propositioning her.
Ari Shavit, left, is accused of sexual misconduct; Danielle Berrin has accused him of grabbing and propositioning her.

NEW YORK — Hillel International’s swift decision to cancel a campus tour featuring Israeli journalist Ari Shavit after he was accused of sexual assault, has prompted some organizations to consider similar policies on speakers and sexual assault — and others to dump Shavit from their speaker lineups.

Last week, following allegations that Shavit sexually assaulted a female reporter, Hillel nixed a speaking tour featuring Shavit scheduled for later this year.

“We actively oppose rape culture and sexual assault on campus and are committed to supporting survivors,” Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut said in a statement on Oct. 27.

Shavit, a columnist for Ha’aretz, is the author of the lauded “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” and is a popular speaker in the American Jewish community.

The Hillel statement came just hours after Shavit acknowledged his role in the encounter.

This week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee confirmed that it has canceled Shavit’s participation in its events. A planned Nov. 10 event in the San Francisco Bay area was canceled.

In an article published in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Danielle Berrin wrote that while interviewing the Israeli sexual assault prompted by accusations made against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Berrin’s article was followed by a report Sunday in the Forward that a former J Street staffer had accused Shavit of sexual impropriety while acting as his driver during a 2014 stop in Baltimore.

J Street told the Forward that when the staffer reported the incident, the organization stopped sponsoring Shavit events.

According to the Forward, J Street allowed its student chapters, J Street U, to co-sponsor Shavit’s campus talks and lectures, in addition to allowing J Street activists to continue to meet with Shavit. J Street this week came under fire for not telling other Jewish organizations, which regularly host Shavit, and its executive director “dismissed the concerns” in a tweet, according to the Forward.

Last week, the Jewish Federations of North America said that it would have canceled any Shavit events had they been scheduled.

“He would be suspended immediately based on his admission of harassment alone, never mind that the reporter describes it as assault,” its spokesman said in the wake of Berrin’s accusation.

And the JCC Association of North America said that its policy of zero tolerance for sexual assault extends to speakers.

Other Jewish organizations that frequently host or arrange speaking tours acknowledged that they had no defined policies on speakers accused of sexual assault, but said that the Shavit incident would prompt consideration of such a policy.

The Jewish Book Council, which helps arrange speaking tours for authors, said it would discuss a policy following the Shavit allegations.

Meanwhile, Shavit, resigned Sunday from his positions at Ha’aretz and Israel Channel 10 after the second allegation.

“I am ashamed of the mistakes I made with regards to people in general and women in particular,” Shavit said in the statement released later Sunday. “I am embarrassed that I did not behave correctly to my wife and children. I am embarrassed about the consequences of what I did.”

—JTA News and Features

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