Israel Bar Association chair resigns following accusation of sexual abuse

Avi Himi heeds growing calls for him to step aside but says indecent act was consensual, accuses ‘desperate politicians’ of trying to silence anyone with a different opinion

File: Israel Bar Association chairman Avi Himi arrives for a court hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, April 20, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Israel Bar Association chairman Avi Himi arrives for a court hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, April 20, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The head of the Israel Bar Association submitted his resignation on Tuesday after a report accused him of performing an indecent act during a video chat with a young female lawyer.

Avi Himi, one of the loudest opposition voices against the government’s plan to radically overhaul the judicial system, allegedly exposed himself during the video conversation and touched himself onscreen, Channel 13 reported Monday evening.

The report said the incident took place during a call with a lawyer who had asked Himi to support her appointment as a judge. After notifying her that he had sent a letter recommending her promotion, the senior lawyer allegedly took his pants off and started pleasuring himself in front of her without her consent.

Himi did not immediately deny the report but said that the act was consensual. In the hours after it aired, he accused “the poisonous machine of those seeking to promote the judicial overhaul” of targeting him because he opposes it.

“Once again we witness how desperate politicians work tirelessly to trample anyone with a different opinion than theirs,” he said.

“I considered the possibility that instead of trying to deal with my position, they would try to harm me on a personal level and that’s a price I’m gladly willing to pay,” he added earlier Tuesday, initially holding off on a resignation announcement.

Israel Bar Association chairman Avi Himi speaks during a protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, in Tel Aviv, on January 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

But uproar extended beyond the ruling coalition that Himi has criticized.

Merav Michaeli, chairwoman of the opposition Labor party, who is well known for her feminist activism, also urged Himi to resign.

“Avi Himi seemingly hasn’t denied carrying out sexual acts with a woman whose professional future was in his hands,” she said. “Even if it was ‘consensual’ and he only ‘suggested’ something, that is sexual abuse and the wrongful use of his authority and position,” she charged.

Hagit Pe’er, chairwoman of the women’s rights organization Na’amat, also called on Himi to resign immediately.

“A person who heads an organization that represents lawyers and Israel can’t be a person who allegedly took advantage of his position… Such offenses must not become political issues between those who support or oppose the government – public officials must serve as an example,” she said.

Then Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, September 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Hours later, Himi succumbed to the pressure and submitted his resignation letter.

Himi announced last month that he would not run for another term as head of the IBA in protest of the government’s proposal.

Sources in the Israel Bar Association told the Walla news site that the forum will hold expedited elections to elect a temporary chief until a permanent director is elected in June.

Tobias Siegal contributed to this report. 

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