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The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court yesterday convicted former Bar-Ilan University spokesman David Weinberg of sexual harassment and indecent assault. Judge Ziva Hadasi-Herman handed him a suspended sentence of three months, payment of NIS 10,000 in damages to the victim and a fine of NIS 1,000.
The plaintiff in the case had worked for Weinberg, 42, as assistant to the Hebrew language spokesperson. In June 1998 the defendant had asked to make use of the shower in the home of a female colleague so that his employees could get ready for a yearly ceremony for the board of trustees of the university. After the plaintiff had taken a shower and dressed, the defendant approached her and placed his hands around her body, and complimented her on her appearance. On another occasion, in his office, in May 2000, the defendant stuffed a crumpled a piece of paper inside the plaintiff's shirt. In addition, between the years 1996 and 2000 the accused made several remarks of a sexual nature to the plaintiff.
Following the university's disciplinary hearing, Weinberg was demoted to a more junior position. Recently, during the court's concluding sessions, the defendant's attorney said Weinberg had been fired from the university.
Prosecutor Hadas Forer-Gafni requested a punishment based on public service and a suspended sentence, a fine and the payment of significant damages to the plaintiff.
The judge stated in the verdict that sexual harassment is a violation of human dignity and freedom.
The violation is all the more serious when the offender is in a position of power, which he uses to gain sexual benefits at the expense of a subordinate. The low fine of NIS 1,000 took into consideration the defendant's position as the breadwinner for six children, the judge explained.
Regarding "Three months' probation and a fine," Haaretz Magazine, December 10
What I said in this article was meant to address the fundamental aspects of ways of implementing the law for the prevention of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, the impression was given that my position implies some kind of criticism or accusation against the victims of sexual harassment. This is not true.
On the contrary: I emphasized that the law did well to provide a variety of appropriate means and mechanisms for the immediate protection of women and men from harassment, and did not confine itself to the criminal plane, which by its nature necessitates long and complex processes. Unlike a disciplinary process, a criminal process cannot use "inappropriate behavior" as a sufficient cause to take action against the harasser and to penalize him. The criminal process requires an investigation, a complex examination of the evidence, a determination of the criminal intention in the perpetration of the act and other such qualifying and cautious measures - and in many cases it also requires full exposure of the victim before the accused.
Feminist-legal writing from the past decades has led to the recognition that the criminal process is often experienced by victims of sexual assault as yet a further assault. In light of this, Israeli law, like that in all enlightened countries, saw the need to strengthen the internal mechanisms and to leave the criminal process for those cases for which it is suited.
The experience accumulated since the legislation of this important law, including my personal experience in dealing with this harmful phenomenon, shows that ombudsmen, disciplinary committees and administrative processes have produced worthy results in protecting victims and punishing harassers, as long as they took firm and immediate action. Resolute disciplinary committees have brought about the firings and denunciations of harassers with justified effects on their status and salaries.
In my opinion, the legislature would do well to give more authorities to these mechanisms and to place greater responsibility on employers and the heads of institutions in uprooting this phenomenon. At the same time, I believe that the criminal handling of sexual harassment violations should be left intact, due to the profound seriousness of such crimes as set in the law and as an effective means of deterrence.
With the experience accumulated since this important law was enacted in 1998, its consequences should now be examined with the resolute intention of improving the ways of fighting this harmful behavior and uprooting it. And it would certainly behoove Haaretz Magazine to address this issue in depth.
The brief paragraph dealing with my testimony at David Weinberg's trial is not false, but it gives a misleading impression in two ways. First, the phrase, "She stood by Weinberg," is correct, but only in a narrow sense: I testified as a "witness for the defense of Weinberg" because of my experience working with him. I testified that his behavior was always proper, respectful and in keeping with acceptable norms, and I continue to firmly believe that. At the same time, I in no way can express an opinion on the incident under discussion and either "stand by" or "stand against" Weinberg with respect to it.
Secondly, saying that I "could not be reached for comment" gives the impression that there was some sort of evasion on my part - perhaps out of "fear" or apprehension about making a "public statement," as the article described in connection with other female lecturers, and that is not the case. I presume that the reporter tried to reach me for comment sometime between December 2-5, when I was abroad.
I was stunned to read the assertion of Prof. Jaffa Zilbershats, dean of the law faculty at Bar-Ilan University, that women play a part in sexual harassment. Blaming the victim is one of the sick evils of the society in which we live. The man absolves himself of responsibility and uses the woman's "immodest" (in his eyes!) attire to legitimize the act of sexual harassment. Such an attitude has no place in the 21st century. An adult is responsible for his actions, unless proved otherwise by mental health experts.
In the interview, Zilbershats speaks with great pride about another incident of sexual harassment at the university. It's hard not to notice the stark difference between the swift and efficient handling of that incident of sexual harassment on the part of a university employee, "an older maintenance worker," and the long and exhausting progress of the disciplinary committee in the case of sexual harassment on the part of a university employee who also happens to be the university spokesman and the university president's right-hand man.
I congratulate the complainant for her determination and hope that women (and men!) who suffer harassment will draw the strength from her to insist on their rights.
Convicted of sexual harrassment, David Weinberg, the spokesman for Bar-Ilan University and the university president's right-hand man, left his job this week. Remaining on campus are the ostracized complainant and a dean who is not sure that justice has been served.
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