The fallout is coming quickly for Ari Shavit.
On Thursday, the author and Ha’aretz columnist admitte
In a statement issued Thursday, Shavit admitted that he is the journalist in Berrin’s article, but said that he didn’t believe his behavior amounted to sexual harassment. In her story, Berrin claimed that the unnamed journalist pressured her into coming up to his hotel room, and made her feel so unsafe that she didn’t want him accompanying her to her car, or even to the entrance of the hotel where their meeting took place. While Shavit doesn’t deny that he is the journalist Berrin writes about in her story, or even offer an alternative account of events, he has a different interpretation of the would-be interview, recalling “a friendly meeting that included, among other things, elements of courtship.” Shavit’s statement includes an apology that admits to no actual wrongdoing on his part. The writer “did not for a moment believe” his behavior “was sexual harassment.” It’s clear Shavit is mostly sorry for how his behavior was perceived: “As someone who respects every woman and every person, and is disgusted by sexual harassment, I apologize from the bottom of my heart for this misunderstanding.”
Shavit has the highest international profile of just about any Israeli journalist. He’s a contributor to prestigious American outlets—a chapter of his book My Promised Land was adapted for the print edition of The New Yorker in October of 2013. The book itself enjoyed a favorable review in The New York Times, and was received in America as if it were a definitive account of Israel’s past and present dilemmas, written from the perspective of someone capable of being equally admiring and critical of his country. My Promised Land became a New York Times bestseller, and HBO planned on developing a documentary based on the book.
Not everyone was impressed with My Promised Land, and a group of prominent historians challenged one of the the book’s most headline-grabbing factual claims. In the chapter excerpted in The New Yorker, Shavit describes a Palmach unit’s hitherto-undocumented massacre of 200 Arab civilians in Lydda, a town roughly halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Writing in Mosaic, the Shalem Center’s Martin Kramer examined oral histories from the same former Palmach soldiers whom Shavit had spoken to for his Lydda chapter. Kramer found that Shavit, in characterizing events in Lydda as a wanton “massacre,” had “taken one side in an Israeli debate and formulated it in the most extreme way—although his American readers would never know it.” Scholars Ephriam Karsh and Benny Morris echoed Kramer in casting doubt on Shavit’s characterization of the battle in Lydda.
Even so, Shavit’s ability to embody the tensions inherent in his country’s existence—or at least to embody them for an American audience—turned him into an important voice in Jewish affairs. He became a regular on the synagogue and college campus speaking circuit in the U.S. Now, it’s unclear how much farther Shavit may fall, or whether he will be able to keep his various jobs in Israeli media.