When high ranking political figures commit sexual assaults and harassment is there additional harm or meaning to the tale?
Some dispatches from two countries grappling with these questions, Israel and Italy. In Israel, as you can see from the Kraft article linked below, many commentators draw a link between a military and macho culture, and the assault and harassment of women. The conviction of Katsav was treated as a “watershed”. But in Italy? There, women claim that Berlusconi’s behaviour has demeaned the “dignity” of all Italian women. What next?
BBC News – Italian women hold anti-Berlusconi demonstrations
“We are asking all women to defend the value of our dignity, and we are asking men, if not now, when?” organisers said on the protest website.
Marching through Naples, the mayor of the southern Italian city, Rosa Russo Iervolino, said: “The importance of this rally is in the common participation of men and women, young and old, intellectuals and workers.”
One woman at a protest in Milan said Italian women had “become a joke to the rest of the world” because of the allegations surrounding Mr Berlusconi.
In Israel, the 8th President, Moshe Katsav was convicted of rape, sexual assault and harassment on December 30, 2010. Journalist Dina Kraft wrote:
Many Israelis say the conviction represents a watershed moment in Israel’s transition to a new set of societal rules about what is considered acceptable — and legal — behavior when it comes to relations between men and women, particularly in the workplace.
Moshe Negbi, a legal analyst for Israel Radio, said the verdict may come to symbolize “a mortal blow to the macho culture that turns women into an object of despicable sexual exploitation.”
The transition took hold years ago. In 1998, the Knesset passed a groundbreaking sexual harassment law. An important test case soon followed when Yitzhak Mordechai, a former general and defense minister who ran for prime minister, was forced to resign from government in 2001 after being convicted of sexual assault and harassment against several women who had worked for him.
Then came the case of Haim Ramon, at the time the justice minister, who was indicted in 2006 for indecent conduct and in 2007 was found guilty of kissing a female soldier against her will. Most recently Uri Bar-Lev, a major general in the police force and a top contender for the job of Israel’s next national police commissioner, dropped out of the running for the post last fall after being accused of sexual assault.
“In the past there was this conception that we should not damage the respect given to officers or any man in a powerful position, and if [sexual harassment] happened to a woman it was probably her fault — it was a great way to hush everything up,” said Efrat Nachmany Bar, a colonel in the Israeli army reserves who until her retirement four years ago served as the army’s representative to the Knesset on issues of sexual harassment.
As one feminist journalist wrote after his conviction
…one of the text messages I got said: “Lots of men need to change their agendas, because rape is forbidden.” That’s the big news, and at least at the moment it allows us to go around with heads held high, as human beings.
That journalist, prominent Israeli feminist Merav Michaeli. also published this interview with former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, who argues that Katsav should be pardoned. It’s a bit tricky to read, because the questions/responses aren’t indicated. It took me a while to realise it was a dialogue, but it is really interesting – here’s a taste:
[Michaeli] You said yesterday that, as Israelis, we don’t deserve to see our president in prison. I don’t really understand what is so difficult about seeing a president who systematically raped a number of women in jail.
[Beilin] For me – as an Israeli patriot, a leftist and a dove – seeing a president in prison gives me the chills. For me, that is something awful. True, what he did is also awful, but he is not a prime minister or a minister – he is the president of the state, a symbol of the country. There is only one person who is a symbol of the state, and that is the president.