Hillel International said late Thursday that it was suspending the upcoming campus tour of prominent Israeli journalist Ari Shavit amid accusations of sexual assault by an American-Jewish reporter.
Danielle Berrin, a senior writer and columnist at the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, published an article last week, titled “My sexual assault and yours: Every woman’s story,” detailing how an unnamed Israeli journalist, whom she described as a husband and father, assaulted her and tried to persuade her to come up to his hotel room during an interview in 2014.
The column set Israeli media circles alight with rumors as to the identity of the accused.
Shavit, a prominent Haaretz columnist and author of the best-selling “My Promised Land,” confirmed the speculations Thursday with a statement carried by the newspaper, in which he apologized for the encounter and said he had “completely misinterpreted the interaction” with Berrin and “didn’t intend to do anything that was unacceptable” to her.
Hours later, Hillel announced that “in keeping with our strong position against sexual assault, Hillel International has suspended Ari Shavit’s campus tour,” adding that it was “not aware of any allegation of sexual assault made against Mr. Shavit during his Hillel visits.”
“Hillel International will be making staff available for any student or Hillel professional interested in discussing these issues privately,” the organization said in a statement.
In his statement earlier Thursday, Shavit said that he “misconstrued the interaction” between himself and Berrin and apologized to her “from the bottom of my heart.”
“Until I read the article she published this week, I felt we had had a friendly meeting that included, among other things, elements of courtship. I did not for a moment believe that this was sexual harassment. But what I saw as courtship, Berrin saw as inappropriate behavior and even harassment on my part,” his statement said.
Shavit added, “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. I did not mean to say anything unwelcome to Berrin, and I certainly never meant to cause her distress or hurt her feelings.”
Berrin declined to name her alleged attacker but peppered her published account with clues to his identity, describing the man as “an accomplished journalist from Israel” with dark eyes and black hair who was on a tour promoting a book he had written that was “having an impact on the Jewish conversation.”
She said that after showing up for the interview at the journalist’s hotel — at 10 p.m. due to his busy schedule — he began asking her probing questions about her personal life and relationship status, and then after she answered one question “in a way that moved him,” he “lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him. ”
Berrin said she protested, pointing out that her assailant was married, to which he responded, “We have an arrangement.”
When she further mentioned his children, he told her, “Yes, and I’m not done yet.”
He then tried to convince her to come up to his room, “just for a minute.” She declined, after which he assured her, “We don’t have to have sex, I just want to give you a hug.”
Berrin wrote that she decided to leave, but the man insisted on walking her to her car and asked for a parting hug.
“I’ll spare you the details of that hug, but suffice it to say, he was undeterred,” she wrote.
After the publication, a second US Jewish journalist, Avital Chizhik, alleged on Twitter that she was sexually assaulted by “another Israeli media personality,” though she did not give details.
— Avital Chizhik (@avitalrachel) October 26, 2016
Berrin wrote that she was bringing up the story to add her voice to those of other women who have been assaulted and now feel compelled and able to speak up in light of the allegations of sexual assault made against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, but indicated she was not considering naming or pressing charges against the man.