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Israeli NGO aims to kick sexual harassment out of Tel Aviv's clubs

Layla Tov founding members (left to right): Shelly Ben Shahar, Gali Piflaks, Hagar Shezaf, Yasmin Wachs, Shira Makin, Keren Greenblatt, Yael Elbaz, Silan Dalal
Hadas Peretz
Over 50 of Israel’s hottest bars and clubs have committed to a zero-tolerance policy on their dancefloors

Ask any woman. She knows the feeling of not being able to shake a too-persistent someone at the bar, or the dance move for slipping away from someone getting too close at the club. But a night out on the town shouldn’t come with the burden of trying to avoid sexual harassment, nor with a repertoire of well-rehearsed tricks which only serve to normalize it.

The idea that one should be able to experience Tel Aviv’s world renowned nightlife without worrying about sexual harassment is exactly how the Layla Tov (“Good Night”) organization got its start. It's work is a step forward in the battle against a phenomenon the magnitude of which is coming to light in the wake of bombshell allegations against the likes of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and viral social media campaigns like #MeToo.

The Layla Tov project began three years ago with a powerful Facebook post by founding member Gili Ron titled “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”, in which she recounted her own experience of sexual harassment in a Tel Aviv club. The post sparked a conversation, and soon after Layla Tov's founders were hosting a frank discussion about sexual harassment with the owners of some of the city’s hottest bars and clubs.

“For the first time, there was an open conversation between women and central figures in nightlife -- mostly men -- about what sexual harassment means and what women are experiencing when they go out,” says Hagar Shezaf, one of the group's founding members.

“We don’t think sexual harassment can be eradicated. It happens everywhere, not exclusively in bars and clubs. But clubs deal with violence and other bad behaviors. It’s an easier space in which to define your rules and what you stand or don’t stand for,” Shezaf says.

Together, Layla Tov and Tel Aviv bar and club owners wrote a voluntary code outlining practical steps for addressing sexual harassment, including the posting of signs indicating a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and annual trainings for staff on how to identify and deal with such incidents.

Layla Tov’s mission and methods are similar to those of the UK’s “Good Night Out” campaign, and the organization joins a growing list of activist-led movements cropping up around the world against sexual harassment in nightlife and other sectors.

“We have power as customers and suddenly we realized that we can and should demand these policies,” Shezaf says.

Jonathan Lipitz, owner of Kuli Alma in Tel Aviv, was one of the first to get on board with the Layla Tov project.

“I went out from that meeting overwhelmed by the power of these women and their courage to bring the issue to the surface and make connections. I felt that as a person and as the owner of Kuli Alma, I needed to be part of this,” Lipitz says.

Layla Tov held its official launch at Kuli Alma in 2016, and after a successful kickstarter campaign which nearly doubled its $25,000 fundraising goal, the group became an official non-profit organization and hired its first full-time employee, campaign manager Yahel Azulay Sharabi, earlier this year.

Today, 54 bars and clubs are members of Layla Tov, and its reach expands well beyond Tel Aviv with sister organizations in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Be’ersheba.

Signs featuring Layla Tov’s vibrant logo -- a playing card queen with her hand raised in dissent -- have become a mainstay at some of Tel Aviv’s most popular bars and clubs, including The Block, Kuli Alma, Radio EPGB, Teder FM, and Hoodna Bar, to name a few.

Shezaf emphasizes that Layla Tov is not aiming to police nightlife, nor the use of alcohol or other substances by partygoers.

“Layla Tov is not against sex, drugs, alcohol, or having fun. Just the opposite. We want to have fun. Our whole initiative is about fun. When I am being sexually harassed, I’m not having fun,” she says.

The organization wants to empower clubgoers to feel comfortable speaking up when they witness or experience sexual harassment. And that’s exactly the message that the Layla Tov queen, created by Israeli designer Afik Naim, is intended to send.

“Very often when you talk about sexual harassment the image is of a woman curled up and cowering in a corner. It’s not very empowering,” Shezaf says. “We are about going out and having fun, and it was very important to us that our logo would be powerful, colorful, convey strength, and not put blame on the victim.”

Spotting the Layla Tov logo in any of Israel’s bars or clubs is an indication that the establishment has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and that staff have been trained to deal with it -- whether it’s reported by a customer or experienced by staff members themselves.

“We have meeting once every few months will all of Kuli Alma’s staff and owners, as well as representatives from Layla Tov. We hold workshops and discuss the law and the experiences of our staff,” Lipitz says.

“At the end of the night we’re not just reporting on how many people came to the club and how much money is in the cash register. We’re talking about these cases. It's all the time on the surface, we don’t brush it under the carpet,” he says. “We want to see that this muscle is well trained. If it’s not trained it won’t be active.”

Eventually, Shezaf says that she hopes the work of Layla Tov will be taken over by the Israeli government.

“When you start a business, you apply to the government for a licence which sets out certain conditions about smoking, for example. Why not add as a condition of the licence that these establishments have to have a sign indicating zero-tolerance for sexual harassment, and a commitment to annual trainings,” Shezaf says.

Until legislators take a more active role in stemming the wider phenomenon, Layla Tov is continuing its grassroots work forging partnerships with local activists who know the bar and club scene in cities throughout Israel.

Emily Gatt is a journalist and news editor for i24NEWS English.

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