Monday, August 3, 2020 -
Print Edition

Shavit’s trial by online media

Ari Shavit at a conference in Beverly Hills, May 5, 2015. (Jason Kempin/Getty)

Ari Shavit at a conference in Beverly Hills, May 5, 2015. (Jason Kempin/Getty)

In the age of social media innocent until proven guilty is totally out the window. Vanished. Poof. Once an allegation is made and accepted by the social media masses, there’s really no hope for the alleged perpetrator. Guilty as not-even-yet charged. Forget about he said, she said. Forget about evidence. Forget about a trial. It’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s the way it is.

The issue, however, is that journalists and newspapers, which are by nature supposed to be objective and provide — now needed more than ever — thoughtful analysis, are jumping on this bandwagon, too. We’re living in the age of innuendo and hyperbole, where clicks and traffic rule all.

What brings this to mind is the case of Ari Shavit, a well-respected writer who within a matter of 10 days was totally disgraced. It started with a first-person account published Oct. 19 by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal that accused an unnamed Israeli journalist of sexual assault. On Oct. 27, Shavit said he was the person although he denied some of the details of the account. The following day, another female writer accused Shavit of similar behavior.

Here’s our beef: On Oct. 28, JTA — the premier Jewish newswire — published a piece entitled “Why Ari Shavit’s fall from grace stings for so many Jews.” At this point, Shavit had not conclusively fallen from grace, though by now he most definitely has. Also, included in the article was the following curious line: “If Berrin’s account is true — and there’s no reason at this point to think it isn’t, since Shavit did not deny any of her allegations…” Is lack of denial now equal to guilty as charged? Where is the skepticism that’s supposed to be inherent to good journalism? Where’s the research? The verification? Have we become so enamored of scandal that we just accept allegations at face value because they make for good copy?

One the one hand, it’s excellent and so important that sexual harassment and assault are taken so seriously today. (We’ve thankfully moved on from tacitly accepting the behavior of the likes of Bill Clinton.)

One the other hand, Shavit was a lauded Haaretz journalist whose 2013 book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel has been the stuff of learning groups in synagogues and JCCs across the country. Did he deserve a bit more time before judgment was so decisively cast?

It’s a difficult one to answer, as by now it’s more than clear that these allegations are very likely true. In a very disturbing twist, the Forward reports that J Street knew of Shavit’s apparent proclivity for sexual harassment and had stopped inviting him to their events. The organization is now under fire for not sharing this information with other organizations working with Shavit. In our opinion, it’s not about “sharing information with other organizations.” If someone commits a crime, and sexual harassment is a crime, the police should be notified, plain and simple.

The case of J Street shows how scared some people can be to tarnish the image of their model, so they can choose to protect instead of expose. When will that finally end?

Leave a Reply