- Haim Yavin, Israel’s veteran Channel 1 newscaster, known to Americans as “Israel’s Walter Cronkite,” has been accused of sexual harassment by several women who worked with him.
The women accused 83-year-old Yavin after the retired television anchor’s comments in an interview in which he appeared to be lamenting the loss of a culture of impunity around workplace sexual harassment and assault 40 years ago.
“Once there was a much freer atmosphere,” he said in an interview that appeared in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot’s weekend supplement. “If you said something, or patted or hugged or even kissed, it was semi-legitimate. Today, we would have all been accused of harassment. But l was fonder of women’s reactions back then. If you grabbed a woman’s behind, she would slap you in the face. Today, they run to a lawyer. I’m in favor of being slapped and getting it over with.”
Following the publication of his comments, two women, both former employees at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which owns Channel 1, said that Yavin had touched them against their will. Yavin denied both accounts.
One woman told Israel’s Walla news site that Yavin, a one-time Israel Prize winner who retired in 2008, groped her 15 years ago.
“One day I met with Haim at work and he suddenly touched my bra,” the woman said. “He took my breasts in his hands against my will. I pushed his hands away and said, ‘Put your hands back where they belong; stop this immediately!’”
Another one, a former makeup artist at IBA, said that Yavin “caressed my buttocks as I was making him up,” according to Ynet, the web site of Yediot Aharonot. “I jumped backwards and said, ‘Get your hand away.’”
A third former IBA employee said that “there wasn’t a [woman] who didn’t get a comment or a touch from him. He would caress women’s buttocks, and one said to him that he should be careful or she would complain.” Yavin also denied this.
“It’s very good that things have changed since then,” he told Ynet, seeking to clarify his comments from the earlier interview. “I live and respect and support full equality between women and men with all rights. If I hurt any man or any woman, I apologize.”
According to Haaretz, this was not the first time that Yavin faced accusations of sexual harassment. In a 2000 investigative report in the IBA by Kol Ha’ir, a Jerusalem weekly, a female employee said that Yavin sexually harassed her.
He downplayed it as an “exchange of jokes in a totally open area,” but admitted that his comments were in poor taste. He reportedly apologized to the woman.
Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.