Majority of women in Knesset say they've been sexually assaulted or harassed

Israel's Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel (middle row, seventh from left) says she has been sexually harassed in the past.

Story highlights

  • The revelation comes from a report by CNN affiliate Channel 2
  • One lawmaker wants better education for teenage boys on sex harassment

Jerusalem (CNN)Israel's parliament, the Knesset, has 120 members.

Thirty-two of them are women -- and almost all say they've been sexually assaulted or harassed.
    A new report from Channel 2, a CNN affiliate in Israel, says that 28 female Knesset members from across the political spectrum have faced sexual harassment -- a year after Israelis elected more women to serve in the Knesset than ever before.
    A handful of male Israeli politicians and high-ranking members of the Israel Defense Forces have been accused of sexual misconduct in recent years.
    Silvan Shalom, the country's interior minister, stepped down late last year after harassment accusations surfaced.
    Merav Ben Ari, a member for the centrist Kulani party, recounted a commander making sexual advances toward her during her army service in the 1990s.
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    She told CNN that younger officers often looked up to their commanders as "adored role models," adding "when he (the commander) asks you to do something for him, you do it -- and you don't think about the situation."
    "My commander asked me to join him in his car for a drive at around 12 o'clock at night," 40-year-old Ben Ari said of her experience some two decades earlier.
    "But when he tried something, I said 'stop it,' and it didn't actually happen."
    She added that the sexual climate in Israel had changed dramatically since then, with many workplaces now employing staff tasked with tackling harassment.
    However, Ben Ari would still like to see schools introduce better sexual harassment education to teenage boys.

    Stories of groping, pinching

    "There were periods where I was so sexually harassed ... in the street, I felt sometimes that it was difficult to go out onto the street," said Knesset member Ksenia Svetlova of the center-left Zionist Union party. "They were looking at me, playing with my hair and sometimes coming up with indecent proposals. People that I didn't know."
    "At a certain stage I colored my hair to light brown so that I would not stand out and stop people from looking at me."
    Svetlova was one of five MKs who agreed to speak on camera about their experiences.
    MK Gila Gamliel, the minister for social equality and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, used to take the bus home when she served in the army (military service is compulsory for most Israelis when they turn 18.)
    "I felt someone pinch me. I looked and tried to move around to understand what happened. I look around and I see a hand. Under the seat there was an open space, I saw a hand," she said. "I simply froze and I looked behind. To this day, as I talk to you I still see that character."
    MK Anat Beko was on her way to Tel Aviv when an older man sat down next to her, holding a coat in his hand on a hot day.
    He covered his hand with the coat, and then she felt something touching her leg.
    "I pushed myself to the window and squeezed up against it," she said. "(I) did not know what to do with myself. I was in shock."

    Proposed solutions

    Gamliel believes that laws in Israel need to be clarified as to what constitutes sexual harassment, "so that there will not be, as there is today, misunderstandings about what is permissible and what is forbidden between a compliment and harassment."
    Beko believes education among women is key to tackling harassment. "The most important thing is to give the women the tools to stop the thing in time."
    "When you say 'no' what do you mean? I mean 'no' -- and you have to know how to say those things."