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Middle East

Prominent Israeli politician sexually harassed on live TV?

Israeli politician Stav Shaffir was surprised to find out how one news program reacted to a column she had published on happiness: "A bunch of men claimed I enjoy cycling because it gives me sexual pleasure," she said.

Opposition legislator Stav Shaffir, 30, who belongs to the center-left party The Zionist Union, was "defiantly humiliated and imitated in a chauvinistic, misogynist manner" following a column she wrote for Israeli newspaper "Haaretz," according to her fellow party member Ksenia Svetlova.

"The Patriots," a current affairs program broadcast on Israel's Channel 20, includes a host and a rotating panel who discuss recent news from Israel and the world. During the most recent show, host Erel Segal mocked a claim in Shaffir's article, that riding her bicycle makes her happy.

"I want to ride my bike but without a seat," he said, imitating her by wearing a wig matching her hair color, as other panel members laughed. Among the show's guests were a politician from the right-wing party the Jewish Home and Ari Shamai, a lawyer famous in Israel for representing Yigal Amir, the assassin of the late Yitzhak Rabin.

Continuing the conversation, Shamai said "if Shaffir enjoys riding her bicycle so much, I wonder what MK [Knesset member] Ayelet Nahmias Verbin [a female politician from the Zionist Union] enjoys doing."

"Friends sent me a link to Segal's program on Channel 20 - the channel of 'Judaism and heritage'," Shaffir wrote to her followers on Facebook.

"I opened the link, and Segal was doing my imitation live on TV with a redhead wig on his head, when a bunch of middle-aged men were sitting around bursting in laughter. He claimed that I love to ride a bicycle as it gives me sexual pleasure," she continued.

Harsh criticism was quick to follow as people called the show "tasteless," "misogynist" and "offensive." One of the main arguments was that the show is not a satire, but a serious news program on a state-funded channel which is supposed to deal with current affairs.

"Revolting content was aired under the guise of 'public affairs' in the channel which has a public broadcasting license and should broadcast programs about Judaism," Shaffir said.

"But they [Channel 20] don't give a damn about the law. This is what the channel had to offer: a group of men in their 40s - married with children - choking with laughter from jokes at the expense of the sexuality of serving [female] MKs."

Not a satire

Following the incident, Israel's broadcast regulatory body said it will examine whether the station violated its franchise terms.

However, many called the move "hypocritical," claiming that representatives of the left only act when it's their side that's offended. In fact, they pointed out, insults like this happen to right-wing MKs, too.

"Where were all the prudes from the left when 'Eretz Nehederet' [Israeli satirical show, literally 'Wonderful Country'] mocked Netanyahu or any other right-wing politician?" Lior Cohen, a Jerusalem-based law student, told DW. "Freedom of speech is only sacred until it hurts them."

However, many people took to social media claiming that because the show is not defined as satire, the things said on air should be taken seriously. "There is no room for filing a complaint - but there is definitely room for apology," one person tweeted in Hebrew.

In a statement, the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting said that "portraying a woman as Channel 20 did has no place in public discourse." From her side, Shaffir tried to encourage young girls and women who wish to become part of the political system in the future.

Israel Jerusalem Sozialproteste Stav Shaffir

"Revolting content was aired under the guise of public affairs": Shaffir

"I'm mostly sad for those young talented women who watched this program and might want to take part in public life in the future," Shaffir wrote on Facebook.

"Think about this one woman - who can be the age of Segal's daughter - who sees how a bunch of men talk about female MKs, then suddenly thinks that maybe it is better to keep her opinions to herself. To surrender in advance to the kind of men the channel of 'Judaism and heritage' loves so much," she continued.

"If there is such a young woman out there, I hope she reads my words: All these 'Segals' may refuse to acknowledge it, but the days when politics was an exclusive club of cynical and aggressive men fighting against any chance for change are gone. We are here, the world is changing, and the sordid attempts to try to humiliate us only illustrate how outdated they are."

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