The #MeToo social media campaign against sexual harassment has gone global. Israel is no exception.
The most prominent Israeli celebrity named by the #MeToo campaign is Alex Gilady, president of the Keshet TV station, a member of the International Olympic Committee, and former Vice President of NBC. Gilady has suspended himself while he fights the allegations against him by four women including one claim of rape. Also in hot water is TV talk show host Gabi Gazit, who is accused by four women of touching them inappropriately without consent.
Elah Alkalay, chairperson of NIF grantee Israel Women’s Network (IWN) and a member of NIF’s Board of Directors said, “As disturbing as it might be to hear the stories and discover what men who have been leaders allowed themselves to do to their colleagues, it is an extremely important process. I hope that the process of eliminating such practices will contribute not only to the safety of our society but also to its democratization by removing an additional layer of paternalism that was hidden from view and impacted the willingness and ability of women to build careers.”
IWN’s Hotline for Women in the Workforce, which focuses on women’s rights and fights gender-based discrimination, has seen a massive spike in calls since the #MeToo campaign began. “Coincidentally, IWN had established a new line aimed at Haredi women in the workforce and initiated an ad campaign to raise awareness about the hotline’s services just before #MeToo was launched, so we were already identifying a considerable increase in the number of calls to the hotline. We have probably received hundreds of calls this last month but only a few reported sexual abuse.”
The hotline’s expert team of advocates provides legal assistance and legal representation leading to specific gains in precedent-setting cases. In 2017, IWN won two precedent-setting cases on the gender wage gap – one against the Jerusalem municipality and one against the Ashdod Port Authority. IWN‘s hotline, along with several other Israeli organizations, also handle cases of sexual assault in the workplace.
“Women who have been victims have always felt alone. Today, social media enables them to open up, tell their story and receive the support of thousands. This great wave of women’s testimonies, coming from diverse parts of Israeli society, strengthens our democracy by allowing the silent voices to be heard, challenging our traditional, patriarchal social structure,” Alkalay says.
Alkalay added that in IWN’s view, “an important development of the campaign is that society’s tolerance for paternalism is eroding. Whether it’s sexual in nature, or just plain harassment or discrimination, our ability to say ‘no we will not accept this’ is improving.”
Alkalay stresses that while sexual harassment is not the core of IWN’s work, this campaign, alongside other recent events in Israel, has brought together activists and feminist organizations. This has created a much stronger sense of solidarity and improved their ability to cooperate on central issues alongside their day-to-day work.