Ari Shavit, maybe the most influential Israeli journalist in the United States in recent years, has been shunned by major Jewish institutions in recent days following his coming forward as the previously-unidentified author who “groped, grabbed and pulled” American journalist Danielle Berrin in 2014.
Hillel International announced yesterday it had canceled an upcoming speaking tour for Shavit, explaining the decision with particularly harsh terms.
“In light of recent circumstances, and in keeping with our strong position against sexual assault, Hillel International has suspended Ari Shavit’s campus tour,” the group said in a statement. “At Hillel International, we engage with hundreds of thousands of college students at more than 500 campuses across the country every year. We actively oppose rape culture and sexual assault on campus and are committed to supporting survivors.”
Hillel serves as an umbrella for Jewish interest and Israel advocacy groups across U.S. colleges and organized a 28 university tour last spring for Shavit.
Similarly, today the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) announced it too was breaking ties with Shavit, nixing a November 10th event scheduled in northern California.
If the past two days are any indication of what is to come, Shavit’s fall appears as dramatic as his rise to acclaim, with tumbling humiliation undoing the respect he once garnered in synagogues and Jewish spaces and the New Yorker magazine as Israel’s moral voice from the liberal Zionist camp.
Shavit is an important reporter and commentator. He made his career as a columnist for Haaretz and shot to attention in the U.S. with his 2013 best seller, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, an evergreen on Israel’s journey from the British mandate period to present day that draws, in part, from the colonial travelogues of his great-grandfathers.
His book was regarded as having historical value because it documented the Nakba in the pages of the New Yorker: an excerpt on the Lydda massacre of 1948, which was followed by ethnic cleansing, a new take for Americans on a topic that otherwise had long since saturated the market. Shavit’s work stood out for its analytical force that praised Israel’s secular Jewish culture while at the same time was reflective of crimes carried out by the state’s founders against Palestinians. He posed further criticism of rising religious fervor amongst settlers over the green line.
His analysis was not without detractors. Critics challenged him as too forgiving of the dispossessions of Palestinians by Zionist militias in the pages of Mondoweiss and the outlets at the center of this scandal, Haaretz and the Jewish Journal, among others. Advocates for Palestinian refugees were disturbed by Shavit’s dismissal of their plight: “the Jewish State cannot let them return. Israel has a right to live, and if Israel is to live it cannot resolve the Lydda issue.”
No one doubted Shavit’s influence.
Both President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were have said to read the book, and discussed it together, reported the JTA. Thomas Friedman wrote in a column that he looked to Shavit for insider knowledge of the underground scenes in Israel since the 1980s. “Shavit celebrates the Zionist man-made miracle — from its start-ups to its gay bars — while remaining affectionate, critical, realistic and morally anchored,” Friedman said after the book was published, recommending everyone read it and talk about it. Shavit was attended on Charlie Rose and at the 92d Street Y by New Yorker editor David Remnick, who discovered him for American readers.
Yet when Berrin attempted to join the conversation by clinching an interview with Shavit while he was promoting the book in 2014 in Los Angeles, her encounter as penned in the Jewish Journal last week depicts an amoral aggressor who propositioned her to become his mistress, and intimated he desired to impregnate her.
In this account, Shavit was no moral giant. And, consistent with victims of sexual assault, Berrin recalled key details of the environment—“I remember staring at his scotch glass. The swirling, caramel-colored liquid caught the dim light of the hotel lobby, reflected it back to me.”
“He lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him.”
Initially in the account, Shavit was a mystery man. Berrin said her alleged assaulter was an “accomplished journalist from Israel.” She explained, she hoped to bring attention to sexual assault in general and not harp on the celebrity of the assaulter. “Most women—and even some men—have stories of sexual harassment, abuse or exploitation over the course of their lifetime,” she wrote.
The bulk of her essay did not relate the details of that night with Shavit in a hotel lobby. Rather, Berrin used her personal experience as a jumping off point to explore the wave of discourses surrounding sexual assault detonated by presidential candidate Donald Trump’s brags about sexual assault in a 2005 hot-mic tape.
Berrin urged other women to come forward with their stories. Yet, the intrigue and media follow-up focused on the unnamed assailant. Reporters were in a race to name Shavit, and then to explore the disservice the story will do to liberal Zionism.
Israel’s News 1 first named Shavit as the likely alleged culprit in a Hebrew language article earlier this week. The report said that his bosses had considered severing employment. And some have called on Haaretz to take action against Shavit.
English-speaking news outlets initially did not name Shavit, although commenters writing below the articles identified him, resulting in a few days of there being an open secret that Shavit was the man.
After a few days, Shavit came forward in an apology published by Haartez Thursday in which he corroborated Berrin’s version of the events with one stark difference. In Shavit’s eyes, no assault took place. The same events that caused Berrin to fear for safety, he saw as a “flirtation,” adding “I sadly understand that I misconstrued the interaction between us during that meeting.”
In response, Berrin dissected Shavit’s mea culpa yesterday, again in the pages of the Jewish Journal.
“His claim is absurd. The only thing I wanted from Ari Shavit was an interview about his book. No person of sound judgment would have interpreted his advances on me as anything other than unwanted, aggressive sexual contact.”
She added later, “I am glad Ari Shavit has at least acknowledged an encounter took place. As a committed Jew, I am always open to the possibility of forgiveness and redemption.”
“But Ari Shavit has yet to apologize for what he actually did; he did not apologize for committing sexual assault,” Berrin said.