(warning: includes hair-raising obscenities-- in Hebrew)
How wrong could I have been?
I'll get to that in a minute.
But while I was searching YouTube in vain to find a clip of President Katzav's
extraordinary outburst vigorous speech of self-defence last Tuesday, I came across this brilliantly executed semi-fantasy take on one of the most ....er.... unbuttoned... moments of his hour long diatribe speech. He responded in mid-flow to an interruption from Gadi Sukenik, an Israeli equivalent of Jeremy Paxman, who fronts a major national news show on Israel's popular Channel 2, by launching into this attack on him :
You have talked for six months, and now it's my turn! No, you won't talk here! If you don't like it, you can get out! I was silent for six months, and now you don't want to hear the truth! Channel Two - yes, Channel Two, the same station that has been spilling my blood for six months!The YouTube flash movie clip brilliantly takes some of the actual opening words from Katzav's speech then morphs the shouting exchange into something altogether more explicit, mainly centering on the relative sizes of their strategic equipment and the professions and equipment of their mothers, before they both turn on the hapless female anchor in the studio and slap a sexual insult on her.
I'm stunned and appalled by the mountain of accusations of sexual crimes that have accumulated against President Katzav, but I'm also aware that behind the as yet unproven accusations stands a still deeply embedded culture which tolerates and even celebrates the sexual objectification and harassment of women, particularly when it comes to the self-abrograted prerogatives of men in power positions. Whether the clip intended to or not, it encapsulates that point neatly and tellingly.
Imshin wryly looks at the eagerness of one Israeli male she's close to to use the Katzav scandal as an excuse to slaver over some Israeli starlet who's spotted a great opportunity to get publicity for herself.
Both she and Karen Alkalay-Gut have written several posts about their own stories of past experience of sexual harassment seeming to have been a routine feature of life for attractive women in Israeli public institutions.
Not, of course, that this is uniquely a feature of Israel. The paradigm case of the sexually predatory male-in-power was of course John F Kennedy, who was covered up for by everyone from journalists to staffers and the FBI.
So, back to how wrong could I be?
When Moshe Katzav was originally elected President of Israel, I was actually really pleased. It was mainly because I thought it was great that an immigrant from Iran who grew up in a development town became head of state in preference to Shimon Peres, who seemed at the time to think he was entitled to the post, as a sort of consolation prize for no longer being Prime Minister.
I also saw it as positive that for the first time, someone who appeared to be either religiously observant, or at least very sympathetic to Jewish and Muslim religious culture, had got to be head of the Israeli state. Yes, I'm aware that his appointment was a result of the shennanigans of the notorious Likud Central Committee , but then the whole success of the post-1979 Likud project was based on politically empowering the Mizrachi Sephardi majority traditionally sidelined by the left-wing Ashkenazi elite.
My own awareness of that particular elite grew long years after being startled at the age of eighteen by my experience of living with my beloved Tel-Aviv cousins. They seemed like more or less an ordinary family-- they ran a custom lighting business. But it was still a home where government ministers, generals and the business and professional elite of the day might drop by any day, and the then president's sister was a regular visitor. Bit of a contrast to my own experience of growing up in the back streets of Stepney, where the nearest I got to our own British power elite was seeing the then Princess Elizabeth sweep past in a limousine in the year of her wedding when I was just three.
There you are. And I have to say at one time, quite a few years ago, I thought Chaim Ramon might offer hope for a new, less bureaucratic and self-satisfied direction to the Israeli Labour Party. Where is he now? Disgraced former Minister of Justice in the Kadima government, after accusations of sexual harrassment of a young woman, that he's fighting as hard as Katzav. At least he had the grace to resign.
And here's irony for you. Just at the moment when the Katzav speech is making headlines comes this little news story:
A 50-year-old female civilian employee of the IDF has been accused of sexually harassing four male officers and enlisted soldiers in an armory base in central Israel..
And as I'm going about my business yesterday, I find myself hearing an interesting BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour report about the eighth century Chinese Empress Wu, who in her seventies was still making young men of her entourage her lovers, seeing this role for them as not justpart of her prerogative but a way of retaining her strength and power .