Once upon a time, sexuality was regarded as no bad thing

Roy Isacowitz on the disgrace of prominent Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit

Prominent Israeli journalist Ari Shavit resigned from the highbrow daily Haaretz on Sunday after two American women alleged publicly that he had sexually assaulted them on book tours in the United States.

Shavit was acclaimed – and lionized by the American Jewish community – for his recent book, “My Promised Land,” which presents the liberal-Zionist approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“It hurts us more than it hurts them”) with cloying smugness.

For those of us who can’t stomach Shavit’s nauseating pomposity and preaching, not to mention his solipsistic approach to the Palestinians, his demise is no great loss. Not having to read about how Ari Shavit came up with the two-state solution or laid the groundwork for the Oslo Accords (among his many claims to greatness) could only make life a little more pleasant.

But the manner of his leaving should give us all pause for concern.

The “sexual assault” described by the first woman, Jewish Journal writer Danielle Berrin, consisted of Shavit having “a lecherous look on his face,” asking a series of personal questions, attempting to kiss her (“he lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him. I turned my face to the left and bowed my head to avoid his mouth,”) inviting her up to his room and “continu[ing] to pull and paw at me,” though no details were provided.

In the second incident, as described to The Forward by an unnamed staff member of the America-Israeli lobby group J Street, Shavit held onto her hand after a handshake and fondled it (“Shavit’s hand seemed to grow limp. He began rubbing her hand with his in a style she called ‘hand groping,’”) said he would like to see her again and called her later that night on her cellphone, saying “he wished we had more time together or something.”

Both women said that they were intimidated by Shavit’s status and terrified by his behavior.

There’s no doubt that Shavit’s behavior was coarse and oafish; characteristic of men who believe that influence and power endow them with the right of conquest. But it was not sexual assault – and to describe it as such does a gross disservice to all those women who suffer true sexual assault, rape and worse.

What is comes down to is that Shavit was hounded out of journalism not only because he was a narcissistic, self-satisfied boor who thought that the adulation of womanhood in general was no less than his due. Had it been only that, he would have got what he deserved.

But Shavit also had incredibly bad timing. Had he been practicing his craft – he called it “flirtation” – 30 or 40 years ago, he would have been received with such utter disdain and contempt (and perhaps a kick in the balls, depending on the type of woman he was dealing with) that he would have slunk home with his ego battered but his career intact. Women in those days knew how to deal with creeps.

He had the misfortune of peaking at a time when every man is a potential sexual aggressor and any expression of male sexuality is regarded with utmost suspicion. Men are no longer supposed to expose themselves as sexual beings. The nanny state and its morality squads have ordained that sexual advances – if they are to exist at all – are the exclusive domain of women. A sexual advance by a man, however well-intended, is by default aggression.

(Full disclosure: At the advanced age of 65, I am now barely capable of much of the stuff I am discussing here. But a bloke is entitled to his opinions, isn't he? Even if he is a decrepit old fart.)

There was a time – I know, because I was around then – when both men and women took sexuality as a given. When it was OK to show sexual interest in someone and no-one took it amiss. In fact, the opposite was often the case. A show of interest was often expected and usually appreciated, even if it went no further. It didn’t have to be reciprocated, of course. People could, and often did, say no. 

And if the pest persisted (it was usually a male; most women are sensitive enough to get the message quickly) women knew how to put him down. How to send his testes scuttling back into his bowels with a deprecating reference to his manhood and his attractiveness to women. And if it took a slap or a scream, that too was OK. But that was where it ended. Both went on to new adventures, sexual or otherwise.

There was none of the current wailing and gnashing of teeth; none of the quivering and shaking, the cries of trauma and the purifying newspaper articles (or tweets) in which all the pain comes pouring out. When there was aggression in those days – and it came from both sides, though men were predominant – it was because the person was an asshole, not a sexual predator. Because the person was a self-obsessed, oblivious Ari Shavit. 

Yes, there was definitely rape and sexual assault in those days – and it was taken as seriously as it is today. But we knew how to differentiate between assault and non-violent, if brutish, sexuality, even if the latter was unwanted and even obnoxious. And we knew how to deal with unwelcome advances without resorting to extravagant allegations (“hand groping”) or pouring our hearts out on social media.

How, you ask? We laughed it off. We got rid of the asshole and moved on to someone we liked better. No-one got PTSD from being sexually attractive.

Sex is part of life, especially when you’re young, and being a sexual being means being open to sexual adventure and taking the bad with the good; the Shavit with the Adonis. You’re not always going to find yourself in a cosy corner getting friendly with Mr. Perfect or Miss World. (That’s men for you; it’s always physical.) Sometimes you find yourself with you-know-who. Deal with it.

The current sterile, neo-Victorian anti-sex environment, in which every loose word or stray hand could be a career-ender or lead to an indictment, is unhealthy for both women and men. It denies what is natural in us and buries the sexual joy that should be the salt and pepper of life. It turns us into Orwellian automatons, terrified of getting on the wrong side of a politically correct Big Brother.

Sexual attraction is positive, even when it is not shared by one of the parties involved and a put-down is required. That’s OK. We are sensual beings with the right to choose our partners. Being desired is great, for God’s sake, why deprive ourselves of it?