In the last few weeks we witnessed extensive protests in the social media against the decision to award the Landau award, by the national lottery association, to the writer Yitzhak Laor. Although he was never charged, it appears that over the years he had sexually assaulted and harassed numerous women. In response to the outcry, the board of the Landau Foundation decided to withdraw the prize for poetry from Laor.
It could have ended differently, In 1991 president George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Anita Hill, was an attorney-adviser to Clarence Thomas who was then the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. After a report of a private interview with her by the FBI was leaked to the press, she was called to testify at the hearings. At the time we lived in the US and I remember how she described in great details the sexual harassment which she had suffered from Clarence Thomas, her boss.
Yet, in spite of her testimony, the Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Clarence Thomas as associate justice of the Supreme Court.
At that time it was still possible to dismiss serious accusations like those of Anita Hill, as merely her word against his, and to cover up sexual misconduct. But today thanks to social media such as Facebook and Twitter, women are no longer alone, they have a community and are not afraid to speak up. It happened recently on Twitter with the accusations against Bill Cosby and here in Israel in the case against Yitzhak Laor. In contrast, during the Clarence Thomas hearings, four female witnesses waited in the wings to reportedly support Hill’s credibility, but they were not called to testify and their voice was not heard.
During the course of the debate concerning Laor, some people, especially men, claimed that he should be judged for his art and not for his character or his conduct. They argued that we should make a distinction between the man and his art. I feel that this is no longer possible.
As long as we knew nothing about our artists we were content to merely judge their work. However, at the age of information it’s getting harder to cover up misconduct. Thus when an artist is about to get a prestigious award, it makes sense to assure that he is an upstanding person who could bring credit to those who nominated him/her.
There is no going back, in Ha’aretz today the writer Michal Zamir complained that being politically correct ruins all the fun. She is right, it is not hard to imagine the Facebook outrage if we heard a declaration such as “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” today.
Richard Wagner was banned and his music has not been performed in Israel not because he was an inferior composer, but since he was an Anti-Semite. Paul de Man lost all his standing when it transpired that he was a Nazi collaborator. So why should we make allowances when it comes to crimes against women?