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Ari Shavit (right) stands with former Ambassador Dan Shapiro (center) and Julie Fisher (left) at the U.S. Embassy in Israel in 2015.
by Jacob Plitman
IN EARLY OCTOBER 2016, Ari Shavit -- Israeli journalist and author of My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel -- seemed to have secured himself a lofty place in the liberal Zionist conversation, including a then-planned HBO documentary based on his work. Then, a female journalist posted a chilling account of sexual assault from an unnamed “accomplished journalist from Israel,” who, “lurched at me like a barnyard animal” in a private meeting. Days later, an unnamed staffer at liberal pro-Israel group J Street came forward and named Shavit in another incident of misconduct. Shavit’s fall was rapid. He released a weak apology, and then another, and then resigned from both his jobs at Israeli outlets Haaretz and Channel 10. HBO is silent on the status of his documentary, but it has yet to materialize.
Now, Shavit, 60, faces fresh allegations of sexual misconduct just four months before he is set to reemerge into public life with an event at Manhattan’s prestigious 92nd Street Y to promote a new book. Two women told Jewish Currents that Shavit nonconsensually kissed and “rubbed” them in 2015 and 2014. The women -- who said they were 22 and 20 at the time of the alleged incidents -- say they came forward after learning of the upcoming New York event.
On Friday, Shavit said he planned to cancel the event hours after Jewish Currents reached out for comment on the accusations. In an emailed statement, he did not deny the women’s accounts, but said he “left the public arena” more than a year ago to “begin a deep process of reckoning and self-reflection.”
“I continue to take responsibility for my actions,” he wrote in an email on Friday. “I’ve asked forgiveness from those whom I hurt and I am profoundly sorry for the pain I have caused.”
The allegations come amid a wave of revelations of sexual misconduct by powerful journalists, politicians and Hollywood executives, including NBC host Matt Lauer, Minnesota Senator Al Franken and mega producer Harvey Weinstein. The allegations against Shavit echo those made against New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, who was accused in a Vox article of having a “history bad judgment around young women.” Some have argued that this publicity has brought a new era of accountability to the nationwide issue of sexual misconduct and violence.
THE FIRST NEW ALLEGATION involving Shavit occurred on October 22, 2015, as Shavit toured the U.S. to promote My Promised Land. At that time, Amna Farooqi was a 22-year-old senior at the University of Maryland at College Park, and served as president of the national student board of J Street U, the student organizing arm of J Street. According to Farooqi, Shavit approached her before the speaking event and asked to meet and discuss opportunities with J Street U. “Perfect, I thought,” she said, “I’d been meaning to meet with him for the same reason.” They met in the office of their Hillel, a Jewish campus organization. “Everything about the conversation was normal, we talked about the American Jewish community, Israel and politics.” Shavit’s statement includes, “I am honored to have worked collaboratively with Amna for quite a while.”
Farooqi continued, “At the end of the conversation, we stood up, and while shaking hands, he leaned towards my face, I turned my head, and he was kissing the side of my mouth. I said nothing. I felt weird. I didn’t feel assaulted, I just kept thinking, ‘that was weird.’” Leaving the Hillel building after the event, Amna said she encountered student Samuel Koralnik, with whom she discussed the story. In a phone call with Jewish Currents, Koralnik confirmed her account.
“She felt really weird, she said [Shavit] was inappropriate with her, and I left that conversation feeling really upset about what happened.”
The second new allegation about Shavit occurred in January 2014, and comes from Catriona Stewart, a former student and current Deputy Director of J Street U. Stewart was 20 years old at the time, a student leader in her campus chapter of J Street U at Brandeis. Shavit had stopped there on a speaking tour, and after the event he came up to a group of students to take a photograph. “I was excited to take a picture with him, he had signed my book, and as I stood next to him for the picture he started to move his hand, rubbing me along my lower back [...] it was touchier than I’d ever experienced from an adult I didn’t know. I refused to be in the next photograph.” I asked Stewart to look at the picture and tell me what else she remembered. “I felt special because he stood next to me. I thought ‘maybe he thinks I sounded smart in the meeting,’ but he took standing next to me to mean that he could touch me like that. I remember his hand felt very large.”
Stewart told me she saw Shavit speak again in April of that year at a large event. “When I saw him I remember he came up, looked at me and said, ‘I remember you.’ And I was freaked out.”
Jewish Currents approached J Street about these allegations. In a statement, Jessica Smith, Chief Operating Officer said that the organization, “fully supports Amna and Catie in their decisions to bring forward additional evidence of Ari Shavit’s sexual misconduct, just as we did our staff member who made the second public claim against him last year.”
Farooqi and Stewart expressed that it is Shavit’s attempt to return to public life that has prompted them to speak out for the first time. Pending cancellation, Shavit is scheduled to headline an event at the 92nd Street Y in April of 2018 called “Israel at 70.” While the event description does not mention any of these issues, in his statement Shavit said, “When I express my voice again, I will do so with an utmost commitment to advancing gender equality and the boundaries that need to exist in professional settings. I will try to do everything I can to ensure that the world we live in is more just and enlightened.”
Both Farooqi and Stewart questioned Shavit’s motives. “Why isn’t the event about his own conduct?” Farooqi asked, “He should have to answer for what he’s done. If he’s coming back he’s going to again have power and access, and I’m very uncomfortable with men getting away with actions like this.” Stewart agreed. “This is a pattern of behavior from [Shavit] and men in general in this country, you don’t just get to come back and have everyone forget and have everything be fine.” I asked her about the the “process” Shavit said he underwent: “Then why is he coming back to speak about Israel, and not his own actions?”
Spokespeople for the 92nd Street Y did not respond to two emails and three voicemails.
Jacob Plitman is an associate editor of Jewish Currents.