The liberal Israel lobby group J Street has not allowed the Israeli journalist Ari Shavit to speak at its events since 2014, after the prominent writer was accused of sexual misconduct by a J Street staffer at a conference for college students, the Forward has learned.
The revelation comes days after Shavit identified himself as the unnamed Israeli writer accused in a recent article by a Los Angeles Jewish Journal reporter of sexually assaulting her during an interview in February 2014.
J Street’s decision to not invite Shavit is the first sign that some in the Jewish community were aware of a history of troubling misconduct by the high-profile liberal intellectual, who toured widely at college campuses and Jewish venues.
In a response to the Forward, a spokesman for Shavit said that his client had been in contact with J Street since 2014. (For Shavit’s statement on the J Street staffer’s allegations of sexual misconduct, see this related Forward story.) J Street acknowledged that Shavit has met with some activists and has spoken at events co-sponsored by chapters of J Street’s campus organization, but has not been sponsored as a J Street speaker.
“We did not have a ‘ban’ on any engagement with Ari Shavit,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told the Forward. “We did not sponsor him again as a J Street speaker - in terms of payment, making arrangements, etc. We never said to our staff or activists that they could not meet with him or add their chapter as a co-sponsor to an event organized by others.”
After the 2014 incident, J Street extended its sexual harassment policy, which had previously only applied to staff members, to include speakers at J Street events. “We came to the realization from our experience that unfortunately this problem can and does extend well beyond the workplace so we broadened and deepened our commitment to addressing it to include J Street-sponsored speakers,” Ben-Ami said. He added that it was not only the Shavit incident that led to the changes.
Shavit has spoken at 43 college campuses for Hillel International in the past three years, and has spoken frequently for AIPAC, including to its student groups. His 2014 book, “My Promised Land,” was excerpted in the New Yorker and turned him into a marquee name on the American Jewish circuit. AIPAC gave a copy of his book to its student activists.
Jewish groups are now rushing to cancel upcoming engagements with Shavit. AIPAC has cancelled all future Shavit events, including two in California in early November. And Hillel International has canceled an ongoing campus tour featuring Shavit.
In doing so, they join J Street, which has officially not hosted Shavit as a speaker for over two years.
In April 2014, Shavit was a speaker at a Baltimore conference for members of J Street U, the group’s campus arm. After the conference, a female J Street staffer reported an incident of sexual misconduct involving Shavit. (For more information on that incident, see this related story.) J Street staff determined that Shavit would no longer be invited to speak at J Street events.
“We decided since then to never do an official event with him,” said Daniel Kalik, J Street’s chief of staff.
J Street did not report the incident to other national Jewish organizations that host Shavit.
Hillel told the Forward that it was not aware of any allegations of sexual assault made against Shavit during any of his campus visits made on behalf of Hillel.
Berrin, the Jewish Journal reporter, wrote October 19 that she had been propositioned, grabbed and hugged during an interview with an Israeli writer. She described the experience as sexual assault. Shavit later admitted that he was the writer described in the piece.
In his October 27 apology, Shavit portrayed his encounter with Berrin as an unfortunate misunderstanding. “I did not for a moment think it involved any sexual harassment,” Shavit wrote. “But what I saw as flirtation, Berrin saw as inappropriate, even harassing behavior on my part.”
Berrin’s response, published October 28 in the Jewish Journal, called Shavit’s excuse “absurd.” “The only thing I wanted from Ari Shavit was an interview about his book,” Berrin wrote, “No person of sound judgment would have interpreted his advances on me as anything other than unwanted, aggressive sexual contact.”
The editor of Haaretz’s English edition, Noa Landau, announced on Twitter late on October 28 that Shavit had told the paper that he would take a “timeout from his journalistic work.”
Additional reporting by Naomi Zeveloff and Helen Chernikoff
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.