Kissing Her Grandmothers’ Feminism Goodbye


By Noga Tarnopolsky

Published February 09, 2007, issue of February 09, 2007.
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Conjure the image of a colleague you do not particularly like, one hierarchically superior to you. We all have one of them, and we all put up with them. We have no choice. We say hello, we peck them on the cheek and, in private, we groan when obliged to waste an entire evening on them.

Now imagine this individual grabbing your face and forcing his tongue down your throat.

Not a pleasant thought, eh? Shocking, actually. One feels an overwhelming urge to cleanse one’s mouth of the indecency, possibly with alcohol.

Over the next few days, you mention this incident to a few friends. One friend urges you to sue the bastard, while another says, forget about it, it was just a kiss, and anyway, maybe he thought you liked him, too.

Both these hypothetical friends are understandable, but it can be revelatory indeed to discover who they are. Israelis following the guilty verdict against Haim Ramon — the 56-year-old Knesset powerhouse who forced a French kiss upon a stunned 21-year-old soldier serving as secretary to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s military adviser, Major General Gadi Shamni — for indecent behavior have been riveted observing who falls into which camp.

Let us start with Shamni. At 47 a life-long army man and father of four, he all but ordered his soldier to file a legal complaint against the prowling parliamentarian. Who’d have thunk it: a middle-aged male commander insisting on proper accounting rather than indulging in the droit du seigneur natural to his métier (just ask Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Mordechai).

Opposite on this surprising spectrum we have the left-wing icon and grandmother of Israeli feminism, Shulamit Aloni, 78. A lawyer-legislator, she is enshrined for the sexual harassment laws she enacted during long years in the Knesset.

But in several bitter, somewhat baffling post-verdict interviews, Aloni has stated that this verdict is not what she had in mind when fighting for equal rights for women. Her tone has veered toward the proprietarily un-democratic, as if these laws were hers, and toward the marginal, in her court-defying insistence that “Haim Ramon is not a sexual criminal.”

Aloni has also expressed alarm about the “pressure” Shamni used to convince his soldier, “H.,” as she is known here, to file charges. Listening to Aloni, it is unclear if the wrongdoing took place when Ramon encountered the soldier, or when Shamni did.

When feminism was still feminism, bosses were praised for supporting an employee trapped in as miserable a situation as H. faced in the last days of her service, when asking a few political celebrities to pose for pictures with her. Ramon decided the click was his cue to pounce.

In the police-sponsored exchange Ramon later had with H., Ramon pleads for H. to agree that she did not push back, “which means I couldn’t understand that you were resisting.”

“I was in shock,” replied H.

Quite. In interviews following the verdict, H. said, “there is no way I could ever be attracted to a guy like Ramon! Ever. He is 8 years older than my dad!”

But Ramon was also in shock, for facing a woman who so clearly didn’t want him — and his shock is as real as hers. Ramon is a tall, middle-aged man, jowly, heavy in the middle, but he has deep blue eyes and a quick smile, and, well, he is Haimke, the pretty boy of the Labor Party, friend to all, a man for 15 years on his way to becoming prime minister. Perhaps only in the Israel of Shimon Peres could a man of 56 still be considered a young tiger, but here we are, and after Ramon’s conviction, that great old man of humanism and equal rights said that “now, Haim is the victim.”

Yael Dayan, 68, daughter of the predatory Moshe and a renowned feminist who also authored anti-harassment legislation, said that Ramon’s case did not stem from coercion and indecent behavior, as the judges determined, but from “misunderstanding.” The verdict Dayan calls “a pity because it overshadows genuinely criminal cases and may deter women from filing necessary complaints.”

Genuinely criminal? Necessary complaints? Genuinely criminal like those of Moshe Katsav and Yitzhak Mordechai, Sephardic men who rose thanks to their own work and wiles, neither blue-eyed nor of Labor, and both, by all accounts, rapists?

It would appear that Aloni, Dayan, et al., are in a bind. One of the reasons Ramon believes a woman’s desire for him is immaterial, as the judges wrote, is that for decades these political partners were cheerfully blind to his eyelash-batting transgressions, like a mother blind to the misdeeds of a favorite son.

This odd chorus is also eccentrically insistenting that a kiss is not rape. Well yes, we knew that. But rape is an absurd standard for sexual misbehavior, as if we decided that assault short of murder — broken ribs, or a lost eye — was mere misunderstanding unworthy of legal action.

Now, three clear-eyed Israeli judges reminded the lawmakers of their laws, even when assault is packaged like a kiss. And a 21-year-old woman gave her elders a lesson in growing up.

Noga Tarnopolsky is a cultural correspondent living in Israel.

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