J Street’s Questionable Actions Surrounding Ari Shavit
The political Left loves the truth. Especially when it gives the impression of coming at great cost to the truth-teller.
No empty rhetoric is as sacrosanct to the American Left as the empty rhetoric of “speaking truth to power,” “telling our friends hard truths,” “standing up for our values” and “refusing to remain silent.” And no group more excellently uses this self-reverential puffery than J Street, the progressive organization that pressures US policymakers to force Israel to act in contravention of the will of its citizens.
These values are easy to live by when the target of your truth-telling is a political opponent. It’s when the bad guy is one of your own, however, that the world gets to see what you’re truly made of.
And now we know what J Street is made of.
Last week, prominent left-wing Israeli commentator Ari Shavit was accused by an American journalist of making inappropriate, unwanted sexual advances during her attempt to interview him. Then, this weekend, a female staff member at J Street came forward with her own story of inappropriate and, frankly, creepy behavior by Shavit. The incident revealed by the second accuser took place a few years ago, meaning these probably aren’t the only two women with such stories to tell. Kudos to both of them for their bravery in coming forward. Shavit has now resigned from Israel’s Channel 10 and the Israeli daily Haaretz.
According to its statement, J Street was immediately notified by the victim (Shavit has admitted to his behavior, so I think we can dispense with the “alleged”), and took steps to protect its staffers from Shavit and others like him. Shavit hasn’t been invited to speak at J Street events since then. The organization instituted a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment for all speakers, and imposed a written policy for all future speakers to abide by. It protected itself and its staff. But looking out for yourself isn’t the generally accepted standard for such things, and certainly doesn’t jibe with the Left’s ethos of communal responsibility for absolutely everything.
There is no evidence that J Street told anyone else about Shavit’s behavior. Nor does it claim to have done so. Of course, the organization couldn’t go public with its staffer’s story without her consent. But it certainly could have spread the word privately among the close-knit Jewish world, or even just Shavit’s most likely audience on the Jewish Left. Though Shavit hasn’t been welcome at J Street since the recently revealed incident, he’s had plenty of other speaking gigs.
When confronted with the story of Shavit’s sexually predatory behavior, J Street had a choice: to do nothing, to protect itself or to protect future female victims. It chose to allow other organizations and audiences to continue serving up women for Shavit to slobber on. Why?
It’s important to understand Shavit’s status on the Jewish Left. He is the scion of a founding Israeli family, served with distinction as a paratrooper commander in the Israeli army and has been an ardent and erudite Zionist. Unlike with regard to some other leftist figures, very few on the Israeli Right questioned Shavit’s patriotism. But he is also a self-described “anti-occupation peacenik,” and is well-known for his leftist writings and criticisms of Israel’s right-wing politicians. When his book, My Promised Land, came out in late 2013, it was a huge, immediate hit among the international political/press/NGO crowd, whose approval the American-Jewish Left craves. Shavit became a rock star.
He was, apparently, also a predator. J Street knew it back in 2014. Here was a great opportunity to “tell hard truths.” Here was a chance to “speak truth to power.” J Street could have refused “to remain silent” and declare that unwanted sexual advances would not be tolerated on the Jewish Left, which would only mean sacrificing Shavit. Instead, it remained silent. In doing so, the group gave Shavit nearly three more years of access to potential victims.
When presented with the option to sacrificially speak truth to power, J Street passed. It could have stopped him. But that would have deprived its cause of a particularly effective mouthpiece. And to those deeply convinced of the moral necessity of J Street’s work, the cause is always more important than the pawns occupying the world it aims to heal.
Jonathan Greenberg is an ordained Reform rabbi and the Senior Vice President of the news and public policy group, Haym Salomon Center. An expert in Middle East policy and former staffer at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, you can follow him @JGreenbergSez. This article was originally published by The Spectator.