A new investigative report in the Hebrew-language version of Yediot Ahronot provides an account of what it says is Bar-Ilan University’s attempt to hide recent charges of sexual harassment.
Last year, “Gila,” who has worked at the Ramat-Gan, Israel-based university for 20 years and had a glowing record until that point, reported to the university that her boss there had sexually harassed her. Instead of separating the boss from the complainer as Bar-Ilan regulations require, the university gave Gila a “long vacation,” while they claimed to be finding her a different job placement (for her, not for her boss). When she returned to work three, she found herself demoted and her old job taken over by someone else.
In the months that followed, Gila — a religious wife and mother — went on to file a second sexual harassment claim against her boss, who has denied the allegations. It became a matter of he said–she said, but the committee investigating the claims decided that “nothing happened,” and insisted that Gila return to work, alongside the boss she was accusing.
The woman eventually hired her own lawyer. “Gila felt like she got herself into something that’s bigger than her,” her attorney, Itai Chasid, told Yediot in an investigative report that was published last week. He said that Gila was treated like an outcast in the workplace.
The university management did take a different form of action. They decided to pay Gila 75,000 NIS (about $20,000) — the payment explained, in accompanying letter from Bar-Ilan CEO Chaim Glick, as a way “to restore domestic peace” and to cover all of the accuser’s out-of-pocket costs.
Gila has now turned to the Israel Women’s Network, which has taken on her case. In the coming weeks there is expected to be charges filed against the university, the accused boss and the regional labor court, since sexual harassment is to be treated as a criminal offense.
This story, which continues to unfold, reflects a growing awareness in the religious community about the problem of sexual abuse, and an increasing refusal to stay silent. Bar-Ilan University, which is the only expressly religious university in Israel, is the latest organization to confront this issue. The case follows much publicized accusations of sexual abuse against religious Zionist icon Rabbi Motti Elon, as well as the recent dismissal of sexual harassment charges against Rabbi Shlomo Aviner. Religious women’s groups such as Kolech,JOFA, the Center for Women’s Justice and others, have come out very strongly against sexual violence in the religious community. It remains to be seen how this growing awareness and accountability will help Gila and others like her.
When Workplace Sexual Harassment Charges Are Ignored
Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is an award-winning author and feminist researcher, educator and activist. She is currently studying to become a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, and is blogging about her journey at www.jewfem.com