An investigative report by Channel 2 news, aired Sunday, found that 28 out of 32 — nearly 90 percent — female members of Knesset have experienced sexual harassment or assault.
The project, designed to raise awareness of sexual violence, included a series of filmed interviews with female MKs, who spoke candidly of their experiences.
“I was 13 or 14 years old, rollerskating down the street,” Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin from the Zionist Union party said. “An older man called over to me and pulled me into an adjacent stairway, where he looked down my shirt while saying he was looking for pretty girls. It took me years to understand, and to this day I haven’t told my mother.”
Nahmias-Verbin said she feels that men who have not been sexually harassed themselves would not understand a woman’s frustration when, instead of listening to her while talking, people stare at “other body parts.”
Her fellow Zionist Union lawmakers Michal Biran and Ksenia Svetlova also described incidents of unwanted touching.
“As I was speaking with a work colleague he reached down and pinched me behind the knee,” Biran told Channel 2. “I consider myself to be a strong woman, [but] I was completely shocked, it was a surreal situation.
Svetlova said there was a period of time, after she came to Israel from the former Soviet Union, when she avoided leaving the house as much as possible for fear of being harassed.
“Sometimes people would come up to me, touch my hair and suggest sexual encounters even though I was a student at a religious high school at the time,” Svetlova said. “At a certain point I dyed my hair brown to avoid being touched. “[The harassment] was the result of a combination of chauvinism and racism.”
Rachel Azaria from the Kulanu party spoke of a recurring incident from her time at the Jerusalem municipality planning and building committee. “There was another member of the committee who, whenever I spoke up at meetings, replied with comments of a sexual nature, causing the whole room to burst out laughing. I spoke with the legal adviser and she said there was nothing she could do about it. It was very disturbing and it interfered with my ability to work properly,” said Azaria.
Merav Ben-Ari, also from Kulanu, told the interviewer that sexual harassment is something she still deals with within the Knesset. “The fact that I’m a single woman in the Knesset sometimes puts me in an uncomfortable situation,” she said. “There was a situation [with someone] at the Knesset just recently, and I resolved it. I don’t want to divulge the name [of the harasser] because then everyone will know.”
Gila Gamliel from Likud said she was harassed as a teenager on a public bus. “An old man sat next to me when I was 16, on the way to Tel Aviv from Ramat Gan. He held a jacket in one hand and lay his second hand on my leg. I scooted close to the window and was simply in shock.”
Zionist Union’s Revital Swid, who is also a criminal defense lawyer, said sexual harassment must be stopped. “There’s not one woman who hasn’t been attacked sexually, and not just once either. In the beginning it paralyzes and shocks — it’s amazing, you just don’t know how to deal with it. It happened to me often at the beginning of my career, when police officers thought they could come on to me. But I put a stop to it immediately.”
“When it happens, it’s embarrassing, it’s a fight for survival. Sexual harassment has to be stopped right away. The attacker must be put to shame and the act must be recognized for what it is.”