Bill goes after sexual harassment by spiritual leaders
MK Orlev, who initiated bill, says: From now on, rabbis will not be able to shirk their responsibility and maintain limitations on preventing sexual harassment. Orlev careful to deny any connection between timing of bill and Rabbi Mordechai Elon harassment affair
The Knesset plenum on Wednesday passed two similar bills in a preliminary reading stipulating that offers or treatment of a sexual nature suggested by religious or spiritual instructors to their students be considered sexual harassment. This also would apply if the recipient does not expressly decline the offer.
The explanation of the bill initiated by Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) expounded, "The bill for preventing sexual harassment defines the circumstances in which sexual offers or treatment focusing on the sexuality of the person be within the bounds of sexual harassment, even if the victim does not display to the harasser that he is not interested in the offers or treatment being put forth by the harasser.
"This refers to circumstances in which there is a relationship of authority or dependence between the harasser and the victim: in the framework of an educational framework (when referring to a minor or helpless person), attendant-patient relations, employer-employee relations, or service providers.
"It is being suggested to add to this list circumstances in which a person seeking spiritual or religious guidance and thus puts his faith in a spiritual or religious guide, who exploits the relationship of dependence and sexually harasses. Such circumstances are likely to prevent the victim from expressing his opposition to the harassment because of the dependency or authority relationship created between him and the guide to whom he ascribes spiritual or religious authority."
According to MK Orlev, "From now, real or fake spiritual leaders as well as rabbis will not be able to shirk their responsibility to maintain the limitations of preventing sexual harassment. This was a loophole worthy of closing."
Regarding claims that the bill is connected to the sexual harassment complaints filed against Rabbi Mordechai Elon, Orlev said, "There is no connection to the Elon affair. Any connection between the timing of the vote on the bill and the break of the affair is entirely circumstantial. In any case, this is just a preliminary reading. There is no retroactive legislating, and there is, therefore, no connection to the Elon affair."
Some 65 members of Knesset voted in favor of the bill, with no abstentions and no opposition. The second bill, initiated by MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) received the support of 59 MKs. The cabinet supported both bills.