Con­fronting buried demons

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONTLINES - By AMY SPIRO

At a me­mo­rial last month for Re­havam “Gandhi” Ze’evi, held on the 16th an­niver­sary of his as­sas­si­na­tion by Pales­tinian ter­ror­ists, just 34 MKs – only four from the op­po­si­tion – showed up.

While events like this are not nec­es­sar­ily well at­tended gen­er­ally, many of the MKs who skipped the me­mo­rial said they did so be­cause of the mul­ti­ple women who ac­cused Ze’evi of rape and sex­ual as­sault in a news pro­gram last year. As a re­sult of the al­le­ga­tions, some law­mak­ers have tried to can­cel the state-spon­sored cer­e­monies in his honor.

In his speech at the me­mo­rial last month, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said the al­le­ga­tions “hurt his fam­ily, be­cause Gandhi is un­able to have his say .... This is a clear at­tempt to blur or erase his mer­its and his le­gacy, but it won’t hap­pen.”

Op­po­si­tion leader Isaac Her­zog, mean­while, said the ac­cu­sa­tions can­not be ig­nored: “Ob­vi­ously, if the al­le­ga­tions were brought up when Gandhi was still alive, he would have had the right and the op­por­tu­nity to re­spond and re­act to them. This will re­main an un­fin­ished chap­ter, in which the dead can­not clear their names.”

Many were shocked when the women’s claims sur­faced last year, sul­ly­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of a revered though com­plex man.

Ze’evi is far from the first man to be ac­cused of such things after his death. In 1998, four years after the death of Rabbi Shlomo Car­lebach, Lilith mag­a­zine pub­lished an ex­posé on the beloved has­sidic singer and his re­peated mo­lesta­tion of young women.

Over the past month, women and men around the globe have been speak­ing out about as­sault and ha­rass­ment they suf­fered in the past. Some have brought up events from decades ago, in­clud­ing about men who have been dead for years.

When an al­le­ga­tion of this kind is made about some­body no longer liv­ing, how should we re­act? Crim­i­nal charges can’t be brought, they can’t lose their job – and they can’t de­fend their own name.

And how should me­dia out­lets re­port on sto­ries when the sub­ject can’t com­ment?

Last week, a vet­eran Is­raeli jour­nal­ist, Sylvie Keshet, claimed that Tommy Lapid tried to rape her in Lon­don in 1963. Keshet made her claims in a Face­book post, where she shared de­tails of the evening in ques­tion and how, she said, Lapid knocked her on the ground and ripped her dress.

Lapid, who at the time was a jour­nal­ist and later be­came an MK and then min­is­ter, died in 2008.

Asked to com­ment the day of the ac­cu­sa­tion, Lapid’s son, Yair, a for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter and head of Yesh Atid, had just one sen­tence to say: “There is no way to re­act to a story from 54 years ago” – the year, in fact, that Yair him­self was born.

He later elab­o­rated, in an in­ter­view with Chan­nel 2 News, that Keshet’s story was sad and painful and he “has noth­ing in­tel­li­gent to say about it.”

“I can’t ask my fa­ther; he’s been dead for nine years,” Lapid said. “I’m sure he would have some­thing to say.”

Separately, an ac­cu­sa­tion of an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing Elie Wiesel sur­faced sev­eral weeks ago. In an on­line post, one woman ac­cused the Holo­caust sur­vivor and No­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate of grab­bing her rear at an event in 1989. Un­like with Lapid, news or­ga­ni­za­tions were very slow to pick up those claims.

In a col­umn ti­tled “Why we waited be­fore pub­lish­ing that story about Elie Wiesel,” An­drew Sil­low-Car­roll, the ed­i­tor-in-chief of JTA, said the news­room grap­pled with “the wide chasm be­tween Wiesel’s pub­lic per­sona and ac­com­plish­ments and the sor­did na­ture of the al­leged act.”

Those con­sid­er­a­tions, how­ever, were not what made JTA wait, said Sil­low-Car­roll. In­stead, amid “heated de­bate,” it was the need to meet its own jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards – the same ones JTA would ap­ply to any story. When the story ad­vanced – and the Elie Wiesel Foun­da­tion de­nied its ve­rac­ity – JTA went ahead.

“On a purely prac­ti­cal level, at least in the United States, you can­not li­bel the dead,” said Alan Abbey, a for­mer jour­nal­ist who lec­tures on me­dia ethics. “They don’t have a rep­u­ta­tion that can be harmed.”

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you don’t still need to look care­fully into any al­le­ga­tion and “put it through the con­text of how they were in the rest of their lives,” said Abbey, the me­dia di­rec­tor for the Shalom Hart­man In­sti­tute, who pre­vi­ously worked for The Jerusalem Post and Ynet.

“Should we not ever say any­thing bad about Elie Wiesel be­cause of who he is and his le­gacy – I think a lot of peo­ple would say yes,” said Abbey. “If that was the case, the first book of the Bi­ble would be very, very short. There isn’t a pa­tri­arch or even a ma­tri­arch who has an un­sul­lied rep­u­ta­tion.

For Sue Fishkoff, the ed­i­tor of J. The Jewish News of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, there are clear stan­dards that need to be met for pub­li­ca­tion.

“It’s not a mat­ter of be­liev­ing the woman or not be­liev­ing the woman,” she said. “From a jour­nal­is­tic point of view, it should be: Is this a story and how does this ad­vance the con­ver­sa­tion? If it’s a pub­lic fig­ure, then the rules are a lit­tle more lax than if it’s a pri­vate fig­ure.”

For ac­cu­sa­tions to be wor­thy of pub­li­ca­tion, said Fishkoff, who pre­vi­ously worked for JTA and the Post, there needs to be “ei­ther in­ten­tional phys­i­cal as­sault or a pat­tern of ha­rass­ment that in­volves a power re­la­tion­ship.”

When it came to Car­lebach, she said, “mul­ti­ple women made ac­cu­sa­tions that showed a pat­tern of on­go­ing ha­rass­ment that in­volved a power re­la­tion­ship. He was their rabbi, he was an adult and they were a child – those were power re­la­tion­ships.”

In the case of Wiesel, how­ever, “I would not have pub­lished it,” said Fishkoff, a board mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Jewish Press As­so­ci­a­tion. “Not be­cause I don’t be­lieve it hap­pened, but be­cause it is one case that had come for­ward, that to me did not demon­strate ei­ther in­ten­tional as­sault or a man abus­ing a power re­la­tion­ship – be­cause they had no re­la­tion­ship.”

And in a case where “the ac­cusee can­not re­spond, be­cause he or she is dead,” she said, “we have to hold the story to an even higher level of scru­tiny.”

Abbey said that “in this day and age of so­cial me­dia, where the story can rocket around the world in min­utes... it hasn’t changed the need for strong jour­nal­is­tic val­ues.”

The Wiesel story, he said, “played it­self out in a way that caught a lot of peo­ple by sur­prise,” said Abbey. And Jewish news or­ga­ni­za­tions strug­gled with how to han­dle it – with The For­ward pub­lish­ing a story and then delet­ing it.

“It’s less im­por­tant in a story like that,” he said, to rush to pub­li­ca­tion. “Es­pe­cially such a revered fig­ure – it’s bet­ter to be right than to be first.”

When it came to Lapid, he said, he un­der­stood the rapid cov­er­age, not just be­cause he sees Is­raeli me­dia as “looser with check­ing and at­tri­bu­tion.”

“I don’t think a main­stream Is­raeli news out­let has the lux­ury of ig­nor­ing the story,” he said. “Tommy Lapid still casts a very large shadow in to­day’s pol­i­tics, not just through his son but through the val­ues he ar­tic­u­lated that are is­sues of de­bate in this day and age.”

Both Fishkoff and Abbey agreed that ev­ery case needs to be separately, care­fully and in­de­pen­dently weighed. And they both saw a need for nu­ance in dis­cussing such al­le­ga­tions as so many women con­tinue to come for­ward.

“What’s go­ing on now to me is a flat­ten­ing of the con­ver­sa­tion,” said Fishkoff. “We’re say­ing now sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault in one phrase – as if com­pli­ment­ing some­one on their eyes is the same as at­tempt­ing rape. For that alone I think we need to be very, very care­ful.”


RE­HAVAM ZE’EVI (left) in 1967 and Tommy Lapid at the Eich­man trial in 1961. When an al­le­ga­tion is made about some­body no longer liv­ing, how should we re­act?

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