Content warning: this article contains descriptions of sexual harassment.
Note from the editor: One of the authors of this piece, Nirali Patel, took MIDEAST 207 from subject Yaron Eliav during the summer/spring 2021 semester.
On Oct. 12, 2022, an anonymous email was sent to the University of Michigan’s Department of Middle East Studies faculty listserv with the subject line, “Your Colleague the Rapist.” The letter, obtained by The Michigan Daily, was attributed to an anonymous graduate student in MES and described misconduct concerns regarding Yaron Eliav, associate professor of Rabbinic literature and Jewish history of late antiquity.
“(Eliav) sexually harasses his students,” the letter read. “I am one of them.”
The letter claimed Eliav’s alleged misconduct was so widespread that neither Eliav nor anyone else would be able to discern the author. The Daily was not able to identify the author of this letter.
“Don’t fool yourselves: this is no one-off,” the letter read. “I am so far from alone in this experience that Yaron would have no idea which former student / colleague / woman around campus I actually am.”
Correction: the above letter makes claims about the “UM Daily,” the article that featured the language above was from MLive in 2008.
The public accusations drew renewed attention within MES to Eliav’s previous history of sexual misconduct.
A Daily investigation found four allegations Eliav engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct with faculty and students in the early 2000s, including a 2008 case in which he was arrested for soliciting prostitution services from a U-M student. According to court documents obtained by The Daily, the University investigated all of these allegations against Eliav and claimed Eliav exhibited a pattern of misconduct between 2004 and 2008.
In an interview with The Daily, one of Eliav’s alleged victims described feeling a lack of institutional support when she brought allegations to U-M administrators that Eliav repeatedly harassed her. This source requested anonymity, citing fears of retaliation. In this article, she will be referred to as Laurie.
“I was completely on my own,” Laurie said. “I felt very manipulated by the institution.”
Several MES faculty members said they have raised concerns about the department’s climate over the last 15 years since the 2008 case became public, which they believe has suffered as a result of Eliav’s alleged misconduct. These concerns have gone largely unaddressed by the University, these faculty alleged.
Two faculty members in MES described a culture of silence in the department, where attempts to discuss Eliav’s behavior were shut down by MES leadership due, in part, to fears of legal retaliation from Eliav.
This article is based on interviews with nine current and former faculty members and graduate students, as well as an extensive review of court records, emails and other documentation.
In an interview with The Daily, Eliav said he believes he has learned from his past conduct. He pointed to a lack of recent formal complaints against him as evidence of his rehabilitation.
“I’m trying to change and have made major changes in my life,” Eliav said. “I have not done anything inappropriate for 17 years.”
The University’s Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office was investigating concerns within MES as recently as October 2021, according to emails obtained by The Daily. Laurie, who met with an investigator at the time, said ECRT was looking into a matter related to Eliav.
In an email to The Michigan Daily, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote the University takes misconduct allegations seriously. He declined to comment on the specific allegations against Eliav, per U-M policy.
“The University of Michigan takes action to respond to every allegation of behaviors that are inconsistent with the policies of the University,” Fitzgerald wrote.
“There is a problem that needs to be addressed”
In April of 2008, a U-M student filed a police report against Eliav after he solicited prostitution services from and allegedly physically assaulted her. Eliav was arrested and initially charged with a misdemeanor and assault and battery following the incident.
Reporting from 2008 indicates Eliav pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of using a computer to commit a crime and received 12 months probation. The assault and battery charges against Eliav were dropped in 2008, and the misdemeanor charge was dropped as part of his plea deal.
In his interview with The Daily, Eliav admitted that he hit the student during the incident.
“I engaged in something that I myself consider inappropriate,” he said. “During that engagement, another human being was hurt. I hurt her.”
The University tasked former LSA dean Terrence McDonald with pursuing disciplinary measures against Eliav following his arrest. In an interview with The Daily, McDonald explained the University’s 2008 investigation into Eliav’s conduct. McDonald said he knew about the initial assault and battery charges, but the University only had the power to enforce one violation of the University’s policy: Eliav’s use of a U-M computer to engage in illegal activities.
“A University machine had been used to (solicit prostitution services),” McDonald said. “That was the (only) ground on which the University could take action.”
Eliav signed an agreement for several disciplinary sanctions outlined in a 2008 letter from McDonald. He accepted that he couldn’t be nominated as a chair in any U-M programs for five years, and resigned from his committee positions and endowed professorship in the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies. Eliav retained his academic rank as an associate professor of his department.
In the 2008 letter, McDonald referenced a separate misconduct complaint filed against Eliav in 2006 by an undergraduate employee in the Near Eastern Studies Department, which was renamed to Middle East Studies in 2018.
“This is the second time you have been involved in difficult matters of a similar type,” McDonald wrote. “The subject matter similarity of these two incidents is of very serious concern to me.”
In 2009, multiple faculty members in Judaic Studies and the Frankel Center sent a letter to Deborah Dash Moore, their program’s director at the time, McDonald and Derek Collins, former associate dean of LSA. In the letter, the faculty members expressed fear for their safety when working with Eliav. The Daily obtained a draft of the letter. It is unclear how many faculty members contributed to the letter.
“Many of us, particularly those of us who are women, simply do not believe that we can safely work with him,” the faculty members wrote. “We mean ‘safe’ literally. We have good reason to believe that he has been physically violent toward others … We have fears that this will only escalate.”
The letter also expressed concerns that the unsafe environment created by Eliav’s alleged misconduct would impact the academic success of the department.
“If his behavior is allowed to continue … none of us will be able to attract graduate students to our programs,” the letter said.
Collins could not be reached for comment.
In an interview with The Daily, Dash Moore recalled the writers of the letter felt she wasn’t taking enough action to discipline Eliav. But, Dash Moore said, she moved master’s students off of Eliav’s committees and reassigned students to different mentors to protect them from Eliav. She said she also removed Eliav from the Frankel Center entirely, though she didn’t have the authority to impose additional sanctions outside of what McDonald had outlined in his letter.
“I wanted to protect (students),” Dash Moore said. “I tried to do some things that I subsequently learned that I didn’t really have the power to do … Maybe I would have signed (the draft) letter if I hadn’t been director.”
Following Dash Moore’s disciplinary actions, Eliav filed a grievance within the University. He temporarily regained his appointment in Judaic Studies in 2009, but Judaic faculty voted him out of the center in 2011.
“A pattern of inappropriate behavior”
Eliav agreed to the disciplinary sanctions outlined by McDonald after the 2008 prostitution case. But three years later, in April 2012, he filed a lawsuit against the University for breach of contract. The Daily reviewed more than 1,000 pages of depositions, motions and other court proceedings from this lawsuit.
Eliav alleged the University breached his sanctions contract when he was stripped of his membership in the Frankel Center, and that faculty of the Frankel Center had engaged in a “campaign designed to disparage” him by accusing him of sexually harassing U-M students.
His efforts backfired.
The University argued any damage to Eliav’s reputation came as a result of his own actions, revealing earlier concerns over his conduct with students and colleagues. They presented five separate misconduct allegations against Eliav, which had previously been investigated by the University, in an April 2013 motion for summary disposition in their favor.
The University described four instances in which Eliav “(exhibited) a pattern of inappropriate behavior with students and colleagues,” ranging from inappropriate touching of an undergraduate student to sexual propositions toward faculty members. The 2008 case was included in this pattern.
In one instance in the winter of 2004, Eliav allegedly professed romantic feelings to a research assistant.
“The research assistant replied, ‘aren’t you married,’ to which (Eliav) responded, ‘aren’t you?’ ” the motion read.
This research assistant reported the incident to U-M administrators in 2009. She wasn’t comfortable asking Eliav for a letter of recommendation after the incident transpired, the University’s motion said.
Eliav told The Daily he does not view his conduct in this instance as inappropriate.
“Opening up and saying you have feelings for someone is not the easiest thing to do,” Eliav said. “I’m actually very proud of how I acted there.”
The University’s motion also detailed the 2006 allegation mentioned in McDonald’s letter to Eliav. In June of that year, Eliav allegedly invited an undergraduate student into his office to help him unpack some books.
“While assisting (Eliav), the student reported that he touched her inappropriately on her shoulder and buttocks, and pressed his body against hers,” the motion read. “She further alleged that (Eliav) made comments to solicit sex.”
The University said they mandated Eliav receive sexual harassment training after the student reported this allegation to U-M administrators. This training was conducted by Anthony Walesby, former senior director of the Office of Institutional Equity (now ECRT), according to McDonald’s sanctions letter to Eliav.
Eliav denied that any physical contact with the student was intentional or sexual in nature.
In a sworn deposition given in March 2013, Dash Moore recounted a 2009 meeting in which faculty discussed Eliav’s alleged misconduct.
“Did that allegation come up during that meeting, that Professor Eliav was some kind of problem in the classroom with his students?” Eliav’s lawyer, Marian Faupel, asked Dash Moore.
“At that meeting there were several people who spoke of Professor Eliav as a sexual harasser of them personally,” Dash Moore said.
“There’s something rotten here”
One allegation that arose during the course of the lawsuit came from Laurie, a faculty member who worked with Eliav in the 2000s.
Certain details of Laurie’s experiences with Eliav and court documentation have been omitted to preserve her anonymity.
In a sworn statement provided to the court, Laurie alleged Eliav sexually harassed her on three separate occasions in the early 2000s. She described instances in which Eliav made sexual comments and overt advances toward her. A colleague of Laurie’s, who worked at the University at the time of the alleged harassment, told The Daily that Laurie informed them of these events soon after they occurred.
Laurie was a junior faculty member at the time of this alleged harassment. She told The Daily she feared how her career might be impacted if she filed a complaint against Eliav, an accomplished male professor at the University.
In 2008, Laurie reached out to Walesby, the OIE investigator who had conducted Eliav’s sexual harassment training in 2006. She wanted to gauge what his response would be to a potential complaint against Eliav. The Daily obtained email correspondence between Laurie and Walesby, which confirmed this meeting occurred.
“ ‘What would you do if I told you this?’ ” Laurie recalled asking Walesby. “My biggest concern was retaliation, so I essentially told the story of what had happened, but (as if it was) a friend of mine.”
According to Laurie, Walesby revealed to her that the University had conducted previous investigations into Eliav’s conduct. But, Walesby told her, OIE couldn’t establish a pattern of misconduct because they did not find that Eliav violated U-M policy in these previous cases.
In an interview with The Daily, Title IX attorney Laura L. Dunn said the University can, in fact, use previous formal complaints to constitute a pattern of misconduct, according to U-M and U.S. Department of Education policy. In Laurie’s case, the previous 2006 complaint and the other complaints Walesby allegedly mentioned could have been used to support her claims if she had filed an official complaint.
But Walesby did not inform Laurie of this aspect of the policy, she told The Daily. She would be on her own if she chose to pursue a formal complaint against Eliav.
“(Walesby said) ‘The only way I can protect you is if there’s a pattern,’ ” Laurie said. “And he knew there was a pattern … there’s something rotten here.”
Laurie later learned about the 2006 complaint against Eliav made by an undergraduate student, and realized it could have supported her own allegations.
“I eventually found out about (the 2006 complaint) and I was so fucking angry,” Laurie said. “It really felt like he lied to me and sabotaged my ability to make a (formal) complaint … He was basically trying to make me go away.”
“Actions (were not) followed by consequences”
Eliav’s lawsuit against the University concluded in 2014 when the court found no cause of action and ruled in favor of the University.
Though the University revealed a pattern of misconduct allegations against Eliav during the lawsuit, The Daily has not found evidence the University took action in response to their finding. Fitzgerald did not comment on any such disciplinary measures in his statement.
Eliav continued working as a tenured associate professor and teaching undergraduate classes after the lawsuit.
But the impact of Eliav’s alleged misconduct on the climate of the MES department led some faculty members to persist in raising concerns with administrators.
One former MES professor, who requested anonymity due to fears of professional retribution, told The Daily she attempted to contact LSA leadership with her concerns in 2018. In this article, she will be referred to as Miranda.
Miranda said she believes the culture of MES suffered in the years following Eliav’s prostitution case.
“People watched this happen, and then watched as nothing was addressed and then nothing changed,” Miranda said. “(It) didn’t feel like a place where actions were followed by consequences.”
In 2018, LSA dean Anne Curzan and former LSA dean Andrew Martin began the process of selecting a new department chair for Middle East Studies. In MES, chairs are only elected for specific amounts of time. LSA leadership solicits feedback from faculty during the selection process.
Knowing she had a chance to reach LSA leadership directly, Miranda sent a letter to Martin and Curzan describing how she believed Eliav’s alleged misconduct had harmed the climate of MES. She shared this letter with The Daily on the condition that it would not be printed to preserve her anonymity.
Miranda never received a response to her letter. It is unclear if Martin or Curzan took any action to address the continued climate issues in MES.
It is also unknown if the deans kept this letter for future reference. According to McDonald, it was standard practice during his time as LSA dean to destroy such letters after they’d been read by administrators to ensure the anonymity of their writers. No copies are maintained for posterity, even if the letters address issues like sexual harassment within U-M communities, McDonald said.
“If someone raised an issue … the college would follow up on it,” McDonald said.
When asked to comment on this story, Martin and Curzan both referred The Daily to U-M Public Affairs.
Miranda and other faculty members told The Daily MES administrators have failed to respond to the alleged climate issues within their department.
In late 2018, Miranda said she went to lunch with Turkish studies professor Gottfried Hagen to discuss the problematic climate within MES. Hagen was chair of the department from 2015 to 2018.
“(Hagen) suggested that I should read an essay on free-range parenting because that was his approach to managing difficult behaviors in the workplace,” Miranda said. “This was a chair who did not understand the effect of (hostile) behavior on the workplace.”
Miranda told The Daily she decided to leave MES shortly after that conversation due to a lack of accountability from the leadership of the department.
Hagen declined to comment when contacted by The Daily.
Miranda wasn’t alone in her experiences within the department. When the ADVANCE Program conducted a climate assessment of MES in 2018, half of MES faculty said they had experienced “exclusion or bias” by a colleague. Three-quarters of faculty in the department reportedly considered leaving the University for other institutions. Faculty also said a small group of senior faculty created a hostile environment during faculty meetings and other department functions.
“Here are all your potential victims. Have at it.”
Laurie said she distanced herself from Eliav after he allegedly harassed her. But more than a decade later, in October 2021, ECRT investigator Andrea McDaniel reached out to Laurie and asked to meet with her in relation to an issue within MES, according to emails obtained by The Daily.
“I recently learned that you may have information related to a situation that I am looking into in the MES Department and would like to speak with you,” McDaniel wrote.
When McDaniel and Laurie met a few days later, McDaniel revealed she was looking into concerns related to Eliav, Laurie told The Daily. She asked Laurie if she knew of any issues with Eliav’s conduct that had arisen recently related to sexual and gender-based harassment. According to Laurie, McDaniels specified she was not looking for information on any events prior to his lawsuit against the University.
Laurie recalled McDaniel saying she was not yet conducting an official investigation. McDaniel didn’t give Laurie details of the situation she was looking into, and they had no further contact after this conversation.
A year later, an alleged victim of Eliav sent the 2022 anonymous email to the MES faculty listserv.
U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald replied to the email and said ECRT would follow up on it, but it is unclear what steps were taken to address the concerns raised. Eliav said he was never contacted by ECRT or other U-M administrators in regard to this email.
Two faculty members told The Daily the email’s effects were felt in the following weeks. Eliav replied to the email and publicly denied the allegations against him.
In his response email, Eliav claimed the University did not find further misconduct concerns while investigating his conduct after the 2008 prostitution case. He did not disclose to his colleagues that the University was already aware of at least one complaint brought to OIE in 2006, for which Eliav received sexual harassment training. Two other sexual misconduct complaints would later surface in the 2012 lawsuit, constituting a pattern of alleged misconduct.
“No other shred of evidence came up that indicated a pattern or that anything of this sort ever happened before,” Eliav wrote in his public response to the anonymous email.
In his interview with The Daily, Eliav repeatedly denied the allegations contained in the email. He said he believes the anonymous email was sent as part of a campaign to undermine the publishing of his book, “A Jew in the Roman Bathhouse: Cultural Interaction in the Ancient Mediterranean,” which was published in May 2023.
“That email has lies and fabrication written all over it,” he said. “It was a clear smear campaign to undermine my book.”
The day after Eliav publicly responded to the anonymous email, MES faculty received a second email purportedly written by the same anonymous author as before. This email came from a different address, and The Daily was not able to verify that it originated from the same individual. The second email retracted the statements made about Eliav in the first anonymous email.
One faculty member told The Daily he was suspicious of the retraction email’s authenticity. He requested anonymity due to fears of retaliation. In this article, he will be referred to as Seth.
Seth pointed out inconsistencies in the acronyms used to reference MES and differences in language.
“If I were analyzing these two emails as though they were pieces of literature, I would not think they were written by the same author,” Seth said.
Another faculty member echoed doubts about the retraction email being written by the same person. He requested anonymity, citing fears of professional retribution. In this article, he will be referred to as Ashton.
According to Seth and Ashton, a culture of silence enforced by department leadership stifles discussion of incidents like the October 2022 emails in MES. They alleged MES leadership explicitly told faculty to withhold information about the “Your Colleague the Rapist” email from undergraduate and graduate students.
Seth told The Daily some faculty members in MES wanted to inform graduate students in the department of the October 2022 email. He said they didn’t want students who worked directly with Eliav to be left in the dark about Eliav’s history of misconduct, which the anonymous email referenced.
When these faculty members went to Prof. Karla Mallette, the current chair of MES, to discuss their desire to tell graduate students about the October 2022 email, Mallette allegedly shut them down. Seth alleged Mallette instructed faculty members to withhold the email from students.
Mallette declined to comment on this story.
Ashton corroborated Seth’s account. He told The Daily he believes the University’s failure to publicly address the recent email’s allegations against Eliav threatens student safety in MES.
“We were forbidden from having conversations with students about this,” Ashton said. “The University is telling us that we cannot share information with students to allow the students to protect themselves. There are layers of silencing.”
When Ashton asked Mallette to tell Eliav’s Graduate Student Instructor about the anonymous email, she allegedly refused. Ashton said Mallette was worried about potential legal ramifications.
“Department leadership is unwilling to act because of a fear of lawsuits,” Ashton said. “It reinforces the culture of fear and intimidation.”
MES graduate students only found out about the anonymous email when a printed copy was slid under the door of their student lounge by an unknown individual. The graduate student who found the copies of these emails spoke to The Daily on the condition of anonymity, citing fears of academic retaliation. In this article, she will be referred to as Emily.
After finding the pages lying on the floor of the graduate student lounge, Emily said she began sharing the email with other graduate students. But even as the emails circulated through the department, Emily said graduate students received no official response from Mallette or MES leadership.
“I don’t think we ever heard from (Mallette) directly addressing the issue or trying to work with us as a community of graduate students,” Emily said. “It’s very confusing and very frustrating.”
Emily worried about her undergraduate students, who she believed could be put at risk if they took classes taught by Eliav. She felt a responsibility to inform undergraduate students of the allegations against Eliav.
“It’s like this elephant in the room,” Emily said. “Everyone feels uncomfortable but nobody really does anything.”
Because MES leadership and the University have continued to assign Eliav to undergraduate classes, both Seth and Ashton said they believe students remain vulnerable to threats to their safety.
“Our number one obligation seems to be to circle the wagons and protect the people already in power,” Seth said. “Granting this faculty member access to hundreds of students annually is essentially like us saying, ‘Here are all your potential victims. Have at it.’ ”
“To shrug your shoulders is to fail”
Middle East Studies announced in August Eliav is being considered for promotion from associate professor to full professor — the final step in his tenure track position at the University.
Seth said he believes if MES, LSA and the Board of Regents approve Eliav’s promotion, it would sweep his history of alleged misconduct under the rug.
“It would be saying everything that he’s done is acceptable to all of us,” Seth said. “It would be a recognition from the college that he’s completely untouchable.”
To the faculty members who have raised concerns over Eliav’s conduct in the last 20 years, there is little trust in the University’s ability to take misconduct allegations seriously.
Laurie told The Daily she decided against filing a formal complaint because of her lack of confidence in the University to hold alleged abusers accountable.
“People observe what has happened and they learn not to make formal complaints,” Laurie said. “People do not trust the institution with this information.”
Dunn said if a new complaint were to be filed through the University, previous allegations against Eliav could be used to establish a pattern of misconduct.
“(A complainant) could be successful in getting a positive outcome,” Dunn said. “It’s not their word in a vacuum. All the other cases come in and are relevant.”
While faculty members and graduate students in MES still feel their concerns are being ignored, some Judaic Studies faculty said their department’s decision to vote Eliav out of the department in 2011 following the 2008 prostitution case has helped them avoid any further issues. With Eliav gone, Dash Moore said, the culture in the department changed for the better.
“Once he was out of the unit, you could start to work to build bridges,” Dash Moore said. “It took a lot of time. But if you look at Judaic Studies now, it’s a place that is far more welcoming of diverse voices and people.”
Without concrete measures aimed toward fostering accountability, Miranda said, the climate of MES will not improve. The anonymous letter sent to MES faculty in October 2022 called for its readers to take such action.
“The truth of the matter, which you will know if you know (Eliav), which you must know deep down, is that women are not safe around (him),” the letter read. “It is your job not to dodge this truth out of some collegial politeness. To shrug your shoulders is to fail.”
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