Leon Wiener Dow
Director of Beit Midrash at Kolot, Creator and Host of Pod Drash, Author of National Jewish Book Award Winner "The Going"

Half-baked Apologies, Half-baked Zionism: The Case of Ari Shavit

I’ve lived long enough, and I’ve seen and heard enough stories to know that I should have known better.

I should not, at any level, be surprised to hear stories of men who cannot control their sexual urges – nor should I be surprised by the lengths to which they will go in order to satisfy these urges.

And I should not, at any level, be surprised to hear stories of men who thrust themselves upon women physically, or “merely” put them in the uncomfortable position of having to pull their hand away, or cast their head aside from an uninvited face or tongue advancing in their direction.

And I should not, at any level, be surprised to hear stories of men who claim to have agreements with their wives to be sexually active with other women – whether or not the said agreement actually exists. For where the lust is strong enough, the justification will surely follow.

And I should not, at any level, be surprised to hear stories of men who claim to have simply misunderstood the intentions of the woman upon whom they were forcing themselves.

And I should not, at any level, be surprised to hear stories of men in positions of power who consciously or unconsciously utilize and leverage that status for the sake of their sexual advances. For with bolstered power, I have learned, comes a blunting of sensitivity rather than a heightening of it.

And I should not, at any level, be surprised to hear stories about men of spiritual substance, personal integrity, and moral leadership whose sexual prowess is an entirely separate entity, divorced completely from each and every aspect of their lives that is informed by their value commitments.

And yet, for some inexplicable reason, the news of Ari Shavit’s assaulting sexually Danielle Berrin hit me hard. His “apology” did not help matters, as Ms. Berrin rightly asserted.

To be sure – it did not hit me hard in the same way that it hit Ms. Berrin hard, or that it likely hit hard other women who have undergone that kind of invasive, offensive disregard for their bodies, their space, their autonomy, their desires, their ambitions, their professionalism – indeed their very personhood.

But it hit me hard because it left me with a numbing, gnawing emptiness. For somehow I did not want to put Ari Shavit in the same category as Donald Trump. Or Moshe Katzav. Or Yinon Magal. Or Haim Ramon. Or Anthony Weiner. Or Bill Clinton. Or Mordechai Gafni. Or Moti Elon. Or, or, or, or…(with each name I add, another comes to mind, so I am forced to use elipses.)

And then I remembered the gnawing emptiness with which I was left upon arriving at the conclusion of Shavit’s My Promised Land. I had been deeply moved by his writing, touched by his moral candor and critique, and inspired by his ability to hold fast to his commitment to Zionism despite the moral and human price that it entails. As he wrote: “I see that the choice is stark: either reject Zionism because of Lydda, or accept Zionism with Lydda.” His choice is to affirm his existence and, by extension, the existence of a Zionist enterprise that makes it possible.

But an emptiness plagued me, as I realized that the existence he describes is utterly hollow, one for which he offers no compelling justification. Self-preservation for the sake of continued existence.

It is that same moral vacuum, I fear, that lurks in both places: in his Manhattan hotel room in 2014, and just under the surface of the beautiful narrative in My Promised Land.

Shavit’s fall is a double-warning: to those of us who want to be men of good conscience, conducting ourselves with dignity and sensitivity in a world of rapidly-changing gender roles, and to those of us who still believe that the Zionist enterprise can be the fulfillment of deep, and worthy, Jewish aspiration. I am left worried for both groups.

About the Author
Leon Wiener Dow is the creator and host of Pod Drash and the head of the beit midrash at Kolot. His book The Going: A Meditation on Jewish Law won the 2018 National Jewish Book Award in the area of Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and their five children.
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