Trick question: What is significant about these names: Amnon, Ron, Yoav, David, Dalya, Yair, Rafik, Benny, Menashe, Moshe, Yaakov?
Veteran Israelis will spot these as the monikers of the lineup of Israel Broadcast Authority news broadcasters who starred on Mabat — Israel’s primetime nightly news show — back in the day. The list is pulled from an article (Hebrew) touting someone’s cool idea of bringing back these dinosaurs for the month of December to celebrate 48 years of Mabat. And if anyone is yearning for days gone by, it would be those employees still hanging on at the decrepit IBA, whose flagship news show is mired in the swampy shallows of 6% ratings.
A glaring absence from the lineup of old-timers was Haim Yavin, Israel’s Mr. Television (think Walter Cronkite). Upon retiring in 2008, Yavin volcanically spewed forth four decades worth of pent-up opinions, which presumably disqualifies him from going within a five-mile radius of a news studio.
This past weekend, the 84-year-old Israel Prize laureate managed to put his foot down his throat by voluntarily bringing up the little matter of sexual harassment in the days of yore. “Back then, the atmosphere was much freer,” Yavin told Yediot Aharonot (Hebrew), apparently letting words tumble from his mouth willy nilly (but more willy). “If you’d say something, or tap or hug or even kiss, it was semi-legitimate. Today we’d all be accused of harassment. But I preferred the way women reacted back then. If you pinched a woman’s ass, she’d slap you. Today, they go running to a lawyer. I’m for giving a slap and just getting the thing over with.”
It should be noted that Yavin was firing on all cylinders for the interview, taking swings at settlers (“Amona Shmamona”), religious Jews (“primitive”) and mizrahim (“tzimmes”), even before ejaculating his slap-happy punchline. Having sent out the equivalent of an engraved invitation to any and all former targets of his semi-legitimate taps, hugs, kisses and pinches, women publicly recollected what they recollected, and the current affairs programs addressed not-so-current affairs with the usual questions.
“Is it right to open this case in light of how much time has gone by?” asked Rafi Reshef, veteran male newscaster on Channel 10 News. “As far as I can tell….there’s nothing criminal here. The guy is 84, 85, I ask you honestly, with all due sympathy…, don’t we need to just leave him be at this point?”
While Reshef got worked up over poor old Haim Yavin’s tarnished legacy, Channel 10 female reporter Chen Lieberman, having interviewed women who worked at IBA in Yavin’s heyday, reported there was a “cumulative picture that shows that the IBA was a very unpleasant workplace for women.”
“Unpleasant” is when the air conditioner is on the fritz.
Let me break it down for you. I worked part time at the IBA English TV news when it started in the early nineties. I was on the periphery of the Mabat vortex, so I experienced far less “unpleasantness” than others, and yet:
There was the job interview for English TV news, when IBA news chief Yoseph Barel found it hilarious that I handed him my résumé and a demo video of my work. “You Americans with your CVs!” he said, and advised me to grow my hair long and smile more.
There was the well-known veteran newsman who answered my earnest question about how to navigate the IBA’s byzantine hierarchy with the question he’d “been meaning to ask” me: “When are you going to sleep with me?”
There was the other well-known veteran newsman who, during a wartime period of 18-hour workdays, offered me a ride and then trapped me in the car with him using the electric door locks. A sharp elbow to his ribs resolved the immediate problem, but didn’t prevent him from getting my phone number and calling me at crazy hours of the night.
Report it? Complain? Not a chance. The backbiting atmosphere that pervaded made change near impossible. The rot emanated from the head and the rot was really rotten. Reducing it all to a long ago ass-pinch misrepresents both the severity of what was going on, and the scope of the damage it wrought.
The immediate price was paid by women who didn’t get jobs they should have gotten. Back to the trick question above, about that all-star list. The real answer is that they’re all men. Except Dalya Mazor. She was the designated dame that proved the rule. She looked perfect every night on set, played smooth to Yavin’s gruff, and provided the voiceover for fashion features. If you were female and didn’t have the looks or the inclination for that role, the prime-time news team offered few role models, (though you could catch Carmit Guy, Sari Raz, Anat Sharan and Geula Even anchoring at less prime hours).
Eventually Geula Even moved from the morning show to the evening news. Muckraking political affairs reporter Ayala Hasson burst onto the scene and others followed. Things improved. These days — yes, the days when women go running to a lawyer instead of giving a slap — are better. We can’t ever really know what we lost by running things as they were run, but we have a pretty good clue in Carmela Menashe, military correspondent for the IBA’s Reshet Bet radio news. Menashe stands as a testament to the difference an X chromosome can make. She’s been reporting on army operations, wars and weaponry for 26 years. But she also stretched the beat — earning herself, in the process, the nickname “Mother of the Soldiers” — to cover formerly taboo issues like suicide, medical neglect, hazing, and, yes, sexual harassment in the army. It took Menashe’s sense and sensibility as a woman to notice these stories and find them worthy of our attention. We are left to try and imagine all the other stories we never got to hear.