The Jerusalem Post
Ari Shavit, Mel Gibson and the notion of rehabilitation
Should disgraced public figures be able to make a comeback?
For more than two months, the world has been watching as a series of powerful men in media, entertainment and politics have been accused of repeated and persistent sexual misconduct.
While the revelations are still echoing – and more are certain to come – the idea of punishment, and proportional reactions to their behavior, has taken on increased relevance this week.
Most of those accused have lost their jobs one by one – Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and many more. But what comes next? Are they banished from public life forever? Can they, and should they, ever return to work?
It is possible that Weinstein may still face prison time, as police in New York, Los Angeles and London have said they are investigating his behavior. But it is unlikely that Lauer, or Rose, or other accused predators like Bill O’Reilly and Mark Halperin will face criminal charges. So will we ever see them return to television? Should they be given a second chance? How long does it take to do penance?
This question came into focus over the past week, when The Jerusalem Post reported that disgraced Israeli journalist and writer Ari Shavit was slated to speak at the 92nd Street Y next year. After the story was made public, two more women came forward to accuse Shavit of sexual harassment, adding their voices to the two women who spoke up last year. Shavit then pulled out of the event and the listing was removed from the 92Y website, though the organization still refuses to comment.
Now, more than a year after the first allegations against Shavit, the media and the Israeli community are in some ways seeking to answer the question: Can infamous public figures be given a second chance?
The question of rehabilitation isn’t exactly new. If you walk into any movie theater right now, you’ll see it plastered with posters for the feel-good comedy Daddy’s Home 2 – featuring none other than Mel Gibson. Gibson, you may remember, was a critical darling in Hollywood, until his drunk antisemitic ranting was followed by his pleading guilty to battery of an ex-girlfriend. After a long period of time out of the spotlight, Gibson – who did make some half-hearted apologies – is back. He’s back on red carpets, he’s back on talk shows, and he’s back being treated like a movie star.
Despite the criticism actor Matt Damon has received for this comments over the weekend, there is room for nuance and delineation in exploring these behaviors. Not all men accused of inappropriate behavior are created equal. In an interview last week that has drawn ire, the actor noted a “spectrum of behavior” by the men in question: “You know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?”
Damon could have phrased things differently – and the ABC News show could have brought on a woman to discuss the issue – but he isn’t entirely wrong. Shavit is not a Weinstein-level monster. And the idea of a second chance is one worth considering.
But let’s be realistic about this story.
Four women – Danielle Berrin, Amna Farooqi, Catriona Stewart and a fourth woman who confirmed her anonymous account to the Post – have all testified that Shavit treated them like sex objects in a professional setting. These are not decades-old accusations, but stories from the past few years. In his original apology, Shavit called his interaction with his first accuser, Danielle Berrin, a “misunderstanding.” He later said that he was “ashamed of the mistakes I made with regards to people in general and women in particular,” and he stepped down from his jobs at Haaretz and Channel 10. In his statement to the Post last week, Shavit spoke only about himself and his actions, without a word for the victims of his behavior.
Is that a man to whom we should be listening and treating with respect?
Shavit – and the 92nd Street Y – obviously thought so. Just over a year after the allegations first surfaced, he either pursued or agreed to a speaking engagement at a prominent New York community center to mark Israeli Independence Day. On Friday, after Jewish Currents magazine published the two further accusations, Shavit said he planned to cancel the event, and did not deny his actions.
I don’t believe Shavit needs to be banished to Siberia for the rest of his days. Taking the leap to assume his apology and self-reflection are sincere, he is certainly entitled to work, to find a job, to join a think tank, write book reviews or edit journals.
But Shavit doesn’t just want to work. He wants to return to his glory days, to the years in which college students fawned over him, and his colleagues praised his brilliant thinking. He wants to be once again given a platform for his views and his thinking. And he doesn’t deserve it. Though these newest accusations are dated to before the beginning of his reckoning, they expose a pattern of behavior, a series of incidents that were halted only by his public outing.
But it is not Shavit whose behavior over the past week is the most at fault. Instead it is that of the 92nd Street Y, a more-than-100-year-old organization that couldn’t seem to find anyone more suitable for its Israeli Independence Day event. The organization passed over every other possible speaker, including many qualified and talented women, to extend an invitation to an accused and admitted sexual predator.
On Sunday, the Committee on Ethics in Jewish Leadership called for the immediate firing of the 92nd Street Y officials responsible for inviting Shavit to speak. The decision, it said, “demonstrates either a stunning lack of awareness, professional incompetence, or denial of the seriousness of the problem of sexual harassment and abuse.”
Just like it’s hard to fault Gibson for seeking a return to the job he once held with such ease, it’s hard to fault Shavit for pursuing the same. But the organizations that wanted to return to them that fame and respect? The casting directors that chose Gibson to play a comedic meddling dad and grandfather? They should have known better.
Shavit deserves a right to live his life and provide for his family. But he doesn’t deserve the right to return to a position of respect and authority when there are so many others more worthy.