Majority of female Israeli MPs faced sexual harassment – survey

A general view shows the plenum during a session at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem © Ronen Zvulun
At least 28 out the Israeli parliament’s 32 female members have experienced sexual harassment or assault, and at least two of the cases took place in the Knesset building, a recent survey has found.

The survey carried out by Israeli Channel 2 encouraged the lawmakers to speak openly about the challenges they have faced in their everyday life and at work.

Two of the women, Michal Biran of the center-left alliance Zionist Union, and Merav Ben Ari of the centrist Kulanu party, reported that they had been sexually harassed just recently, during their current term in Parliament.

“Even today, the fact that I’m a single woman in the Knesset puts me in unpleasant situations. Sometimes people make comments … I don’t want to elaborate, but there was a situation recently in the Knesset and I took care of it,” Ben Ari said. She was also harassed when she served in the army, Haaretz reported.

Rachel Azaria of Kulanu shared her experience as a member of a Jerusalem City Council.

“There was an incident that repeated itself in the planning and building committee, of which I was a member. Another city councilor would make remarks of a sexual nature regarding things that I said, and the whole room would burst out laughing. I consulted with the legal adviser and other officials, and they all said there was nothing to be done. It interfered with my ability to function and I was very distressed,” she said.

Others recalled abuse that happened to them as teenagers or even children.

“There was a period when I could hardly go out into the street because of the harassment. Sometimes they would touch my hair and come at me with sexual suggestions. At a certain point I dyed my hair brown so they’d stop touching me, so I’d stand out less. It was a combination of chauvinism and racism,” Ksenia Svetlova of the Zionist Union said in describing her first years in Israel after immigrating.

Sharren Haskel of Likud disclosed that she had been sexually assaulted by an adult whom she knew and trusted when she was a child.

“It happened when I was very young,” Haskel said. When she realized that such experiences happened to other people, “it broke a silence of many years, and the first feeling was that of tremendous guilt… It was hard for me to accept that I could have saved other women from the terrible experience that I went through, and I didn’t do that,” Haskel admitted.

The survey was conducted by Channel 2 as part of a special project aimed at raising awareness of sexual harassment in Israel.

The data comes following the resignation of Israel’s Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, who was forced to step down in December after being accused of sexual harassment by eleven women.