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Friday, 1 August 2008

Israeli Professor Is Accused of Sexually Abusing Students and Creating a 'Reign of Terror'

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION NEWS BLOG

August 1, 2008

Jerusalem — A professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was arrested this week by the Israeli police on suspicion of sexually abusing and harassing female students in return for higher grades and advancement, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The professor, Eyal Ben-Ari, was arraigned in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court on Wednesday and released on bail. The police believe he may have preyed on his female students for up to 15 years.

Mr. Ben-Ari, a sociology and anthropology professor who from 2003 to 2007 was director of the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the university, denied all the accusations against him.

One of his students described him to the Post as a "dynamic, charismatic, and funny lecturer."

But other students at the university told the Haaretz newspaper that Mr. Ben-Ari had threatened his victims and prevented them from speaking out.

Haaretz reported that the new chairman of the sociology department, Gad Yair, admitted, in a letter published online, that a "reign of terror" existed in the department. "Neither academic freedom nor academics can exist in this environment," he wrote.

The problem came to light a year ago, after female students at the university wrote an anonymous letter alleging they had been raped and coerced into having sex with Mr. Ben-Ari. They accused him of threatening to suspend their student grant payments if they refused. The students said that women who had refused Mr. Ben-Ari's advances had lost their jobs as teaching assistants. They also said he had misused university funds to pay for trips abroad for himself with female students.

But the police did not get involved until three months ago, when the Israel Women's Network brought legal charges against the department on behalf of a woman who alleged sexual harassment by one of Mr. Ben-Ari's colleagues.

A report in the Hebrew-language local newspaper Yediot Yerushalayim quoted two of his students who said he had sexually attacked them as a matter of routine.

A university spokeswoman, Orit Sulitzeanu, said the university had begun investigating the allegations internally and also alerted the police.

"When an anonymous letter was received by the administration regarding actions taken by this lecturer, the letter was immediately forwarded to the Israel Police," she said in a written statement. "The police asked the university to stop the investigation it [had] initiated so that they could conduct an investigation."

"The university takes very seriously any sexual harassment," she said, "and will take all necessary steps to deal with complaints of this sort." —Matthew Kalman

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