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Ex-Labor MK recalls ‘difficult memories’ of alleged ’80s sexual assault by Peres

Colette Avital, also a former senior diplomat, describes a ‘lot of harassment from many people’ during that time; second woman says late president assaulted her too

Then-consul general to New York Colette Avital looks on as then-foreign minister Shimon Peres addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, on May 23, 1994, in New York. (AP Photo/David Karp)
Then-consul general to New York Colette Avital looks on as then-foreign minister Shimon Peres addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, on May 23, 1994, in New York. (AP Photo/David Karp)

Colette Avital, a former Labor member of Knesset and a former Israeli consul general to New York, who last week alleged that the late president Shimon Peres sexually assaulted her in the 1980s, said the incident left her with “difficult memories,” but that he never did it again and she has since moved on.

Speaking with Channel 12 news on Saturday evening, Avital said, “We’re talking about a time when people — when men — thought they were allowed to do it,” and suggested that “it wasn’t a norm per se, but it was a type of behavior.”

Channel 12 also aired a short written statement from a second person who accused the late president of sexually harassing her, describing an incident where he pressed her up against a wall and slipped his hand into her shirt without her consent. The woman was said to have been a former senior secretary. It was unclear when the alleged assault took place.

Asked if she had suffered additional incidents of sexual harassment, Avital said, “Of course, there was a lot of harassment from many people, and it wasn’t the only price we paid as women” with careers in these circles.

Sexual harassment was one of the ways “to trip us up as women, through intimidation and minimization,” she said.

Avital said she was “left with very difficult memories from the incident” with Peres and that she “didn’t suddenly remember it, as some have suggested. It’s something that can’t be forgotten, and it was not done for ‘the headline.'”

“I was asked a question and I could not deny it. As someone who has fought against sexual harassment against women, I would not have been serving as a good model by lying, and I thought it was the right time to say it,” she added.

In an interview in the Haaretz newspaper published last Thursday, Avital said she was summoned to Peres’s office, while he was serving as prime minister in 1984. The pair discussed potential jobs she could hold in his administration after her return as a diplomat stationed in Paris.

Colette Avital, in January 2008 when she was a member of the Israeli Knesset.(photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)
Colette Avital, in January 2008, when she was a member of the Knesset. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As she got up to leave, Avital told Haaretz, “He pressed me against the door suddenly and tried to kiss me.” Avital said she pushed him away and left the room, “and my legs were shaking when I left there, it repulsed me.”

The former MK, who worked closely with Peres for many years afterward, said however that for two years following the incident she avoided seeing him.

Avital also alleged that Peres had sexually assaulted her several years before when he was visiting Paris, where she served as a senior diplomat.

According to Avital, she was invited to have breakfast with Peres at the hotel where he was staying. When she arrived, however, she was told they would meet in his room for “security reasons.” Avital said that as she entered the hotel room, Peres was waiting “in pajamas” and shoved her toward the bed, but she resisted and left.

“Young women need to know that they don’t have to remain victims, you don’t have to carry this for years, and you can overcome it,” Avital said on Saturday.

Asked if she’s heard from the Peres family, Avital said that she didn’t intend to hurt them, and that “they didn’t deserve it.” As Israelis, we “owe Peres our security, I really believed in his vision, his optimism, and I appreciated him, so I knew how to separate [things].”

Avital said that since the incident in 1984, he did not attempt another alleged assault and she “moved on.”

In the Haaretz interview, Avital also recalled other alleged incidents of sexual harassment by her superiors while she was working at the Foreign Ministry and denied long-running rumors that she and Peres were romantically involved.

“What bothered me the most was that, God forbid, that they think I’m obligated to him, that’s he my patron and that because of him I’m moving up in life,” she said.

Avital said on Saturday that she had asked Peres to intervene regarding the false reports that the two were having an affair, but that it didn’t help.

Peres, who later served as Israel’s president, died in 2016 at the age of 93.

Over a seven-decade career, the elder statesman of Israeli politics and one of the country’s most admired symbols held virtually every senior political office, including two stints as prime minister and extended terms as foreign, defense and finance minister. He won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in reaching an interim peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Long a divisive personality in politics, Peres finally became one of Israel’s most popular public figures in his later, presidential years.

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