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January 7, 2011

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 7, 2011 rape con 1202 Roni Schutzer/Flash90/JTA Women demonstrating outside the Tel Aviv courtroom where former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was convicted of rape and other sex crimes, Dec. 30, 2010. Yossi Zeliger/Flash90/JTA Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, with gray hair at center, outside a Tel Aviv court after his convictions for rape and sexual assault, Dec. 30, 2010. By Dina Kraft TELAVIV(JTA)--For years it was considered an open secret in Israeli political and media circles that Moshe Katsav had a habit of sexually harassing women who worked for him. In a nation at arms with a decidedly machismo bent, sexual encounters between powerful male politicians and military officers and their female staff often were seen as a perk of the job and such behavior quietly was ac- cepted as part of the culture, if unhappily by many women. But then came the recent "earthquake," as Israeli news- papers described it: Katsav, Israel's president from 2000 to 2007, was convicted of rape, sexual assault and ha- rassment. Walking out of the crowded Tel Aviv courtroom where Kat- sav had just been convicted on Dec. 30, Merav Michaeli, a leading Israeli feminist and well-known television personality, hailed what she said she hoped signaled a cultural shift. "I wish I could tell you this will change the face of Israeli society, but even if it does not it is another step, a sign of change," she said."Thejudges believed the women and un- derstood and recognized the impossible position women are often placed in when work- ing for such powerful men." Katsav's conviction, hand- ed down in a scathing ruling by a panel of three judges who called the former president a liar and expressly stated that when a woman says "no" she means it, was hailed as a historic day for women's rights and even for Israeli democracy. Many Israelis say the con- viction represents awatershed moment in Israel's transition to a new set of societal rules about what is considered ac- ceptable-and legal--behav- ior when it comes to relations between men and women, particularly in the workplace. Moshe Negbi, a legal analyst for Israel Radio, said the ver- dict may come to symbolize "a mortal blow to the macho culture that turns women into an object of despicable sexual exploitation." The transition took hold years ago. In 1998, the Knes- set passed a groundbreaking sexual harassment law. An important test case soon followed when Yitzhak Mor- dechai, a former general and defense minister who ran for prime minister, was forced to resign from government in 2001 after being convicted of sexual assaultand harassment against several women who had worked for him. Then came the case of Haim Ramon, atthe time the justice minister, who was indicted in 2006 for indecent conduct and in 2007 was found guilty of kissing a female soldier against herwill. Most recently Uri Bar-Lev, a major general in the police force and a top contender for the job of Israel's next national police commis- sioner, dropped out of the running for the post last fall after being accused of sexual assault. "In the past there was this conception thatwe should not damage the respect given to officers or any man in a pow- erful position, and if [sexual harassment] happened to a woman it was probably her fault--it was a great way to hush everything up," said Efrat Nachmany Bar, a colonel in the Israeli army reserves who until her retirement four years ago served as the army's representative to the Knesset on issues of sexual harassment. In her current position as deputy director of the Israeli Institute for Dignity, she lec- tures on the topic throughout the country. About Katsav, Nachmany Bar said, "Everyone knew and everyone was quiet. But now it has become not just his personal business but a societal issue. "The Israeli public is now saying, 'Let's not be quiet anymore, but let's talk. And let's also talk about why we did not talk before,' "she said. Nachmany Bar credits the army for being ahead of the curve of Israeli civil society when it comes to confront- ing sexual harassment. She held workshops and lectures, and ran help lines for soldiers and officers for 16 years. She also sat on the committee that disciplined sexual harassment cases. That era coincided with women increasingly taking on combat support roles in the army. Israel's existence as a mili- tary society often gets the blame for forging a male- dominated culture, Nach- many Bar said, but "the issue goes beyond the army. I think a militaristic culture is not one borne from security risks alone, although that strength- ens it, but of patriarchy itself." As part of the context for understanding the Israeli culture, she and other ex- perts cited Israel's history as a country forged on the image of the new Jew--the strong, muscular contrast to notions of the Diaspora Jew as pale, stooped and decidedly unmanly. "Part of the Zionist project was to prove that Israeli men are the real Jewish men," Nachmany Bar said. "The image of the Israeli man as soldier is part of this." Using the Hebrew term "gever gever,' slang for a"real man," she said, "Part of being this real man is to be in control all the time--the idea being that if we are to be a real man in regard to awoman, the man needs to lead and the woman needs to follow." A national survey done this year by the Ministry of Trade and Industry found that 40 percent of women reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment on the job. Avigail Moor, who heads the women's studies depart- ment at Tel Chai College, said her research found that the figure for actual harassment, reported or not, appears to be higher: some 60 percent of the Israeli female workforce. The figure is similar to other Western countries, she said. Sexual assault and rape hotlines have been overloaded in the aftermath of the Katsav conviction with calls coming in from across the country. Moor, a psychologist, said the question now is how much Israeli men will internalize the message handed down by the court. "If this is the beginning of a new era, it could have a spectacular effect," Moor said. "If women come forward in large numbers it could also trigger a backlash. Any social revolution, and this is what it is, has its ups and downs." --By Marcy Oster (JTA)--When the original U.N. anti-racism conference, held in Durban, South Africa in 2001, devolved into an anti- Israel hate fest, Jewish groups around the world were caught unaware. So when the Durban Re- view Conference was called for Geneva in 2009, Jewish activists started their fight early, convincing numerous countries to boycott the conference, dubbed Durban II, effectively blocking it from becoming a repeat of Durban I. Now, with the recent U.N. vote to authorize Durban III--a U.N. General Assembly session planned for Septem- ber 2011 to commemorate the original Durban confer- ence--the battle lines again are being drawn. "The vote of the U.N. General Assembly, while not unexpected, sets the stage for a celebration of the outra- geous events that took place during Durban I, which were permeated by manifestations of bigotry and hatred," said a statement from the leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "The event is scheduled to be held shortly after the 10th anniversary Michael J. Jordan Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva on April 20, 2009 prompted walkouts by numerous European countries. commemoration of Sept. 11. It is hard to imagine a more insensitive action, recalling that the attack on the World Trade Center that killed thousands was carried out by those influenced by the same hateful ideologieS that Durban I came to represent." The first plans to boycott Durban III already are taking shape. Canada announced in November that it would boycott the September 2011 session on "Combating racism and follow-up of the Durban Program of Action." "Canadawill not participate in this charade," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said at a Nov. 25 news conference. "Canada is clearly committed to the fight against racism, but the Durban process com- memorates an agenda that actually promotes racism rather than combats it." Both:the United States and Israel have warned about Durban III turning into an- other occasion for gratuitous Israel-bashing. When the matter came to a vote Dec. 24, the vote was 104-22 in favor of the special General Assembly session; 33 countries abstained. "We voted 'no' because the Durban Declaration process has included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism, and we do not want to see that com- memorated," said a statement by the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice. "The United States is fully committed to uphold- ing the human rights of all individuals and to combat- ing racial discrimination, intolerance and bigotry. We stand ready to work with all partners to uphold hu- man rights and fight racism around the world." Israel's Foreign Ministry issued a statement announc- ing its intention to skip the session. "Under the present cir- cumstances, as long as the meeting is defined as part of the infamous 'Durban process,' Israel will not par- ticipate in the meeting," the statement said. "Israel expects the participants to deal appropriately with the serious manifestations of racism throughout the world, and to reject attempts to once again divert world attention from this dangerous phe- nomenon by means of cheap politicization." Condemnation of the U.N. vote by Jewish groups was fast and furious. "The original Durban conference attempted to validate the perverse theory that Zionism is racism," the B'nai B'rith International ex- ecutive vice president, Daniel Mariaschin, said. "Durban's legacy of hate, intolerance and double standards should never be forgotten, and should certainly never be celebrated." The Anti-Defamation League called for a boycott of Durban III. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said the anti-racism agenda has been misappropriated. "The global campaign against racism has been hijacked by countries that have little regard for human rights and whose primary goal is to advance highly political agendas," Harris said. "To bring this traveling show of hatred to New York is scandalous and will not advance the noble U.N. mission of defending and protecting human rights." At the original U.N. con- ference against racism in Durban, the United States and Israel walked out when it became clear that it had devolved into little more than an opportunity for vitriolic Israel-bashing that many said bordered on anti-Semitism. The conference's final docu- ment singled out Israel for special condemnation. In Geneva in 2009, several European and North Ameri- can countries announced ahead of time that they would not attend the conference out of concern that its special focus on Israel would make a mockery of the issue of fight- ing racism, and several more walked out of the conference when Iranian President Mah- moud Ahmadinejad used the occasion to bash Israel. The countries that voted two weeks ago against the Durban III session were Aus- tralia, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Marshall Islands, Microne- sia, the Netherlands, Palau, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United 'Kingdom and the United States. Among the countries abstaining were Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary and Spain.