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Postdoctoral fellow left UCLA following tweeted allegations of sexual harassment

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim, a postdoctoral fellow at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, left UCLA following multiple accusations of sexual harassment on Twitter. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Anushka Chakrabarti

Aug. 3, 2020 2:39 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Shaiel Ben-Ephraim acknowledged the claims against him. In fact, he did not acknowledge the specific claims against him.

This post was updated Aug. 7 at 4:40 p.m.

A postdoctoral fellow left UCLA following multiple accusations of sexual harassment on Twitter.

Starting in early June, several Twitter users accused Shaiel Ben-Ephraim, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, of sexual harassment, stating that he sent private messages harassing them, invited underage people for drinks and sent minors unsolicited inappropriate photos.

The Nazarian Center’s director Dov Waxman said in an emailed statement that it received a complaint based on the social media posts and informed the UCLA Title IX Office of the incident. The statement added that Ben-Ephraim was no longer affiliated with the Nazarian Center.

Waxman did not clarify if Ben-Ephraim resigned or if he was fired, citing confidentiality and privacy laws.

Ilana Cruger-Zaken, a student in New York, said in an interview with The Bruin that she publicized allegations against Ben-Ephraim on Twitter after her friend Nino Zaugg, a 31-year-old woman from Arizona, confided to her she was harassed by him. Following her tweet, several minors and adults responded to the thread with their experiences with Ben-Ephraim.


“I have recently engaged in several instances of inappropriate communications with individuals,” Ben-Ephraim said in an emailed statement to The Bruin.

Zaugg said in an interview with The Bruin that she and Ben-Ephraim met through Twitter and exchanged messages because they were both involved in the Jewish community on Twitter.

However, in May, Ben-Ephraim began to criticize her on Twitter and through email, Zaugg said. Ben-Ephraim threatened to hurt himself, criticized her political opinions and threatened to destroy her life, she added.

In an email obtained by The Bruin, Ben-Ephraim told Zaugg that “when you least expect it, you will get the payback you deserve.”

Once, when Zaugg tweeted about her friend being “her queen”, Ben-Ephraim criticized Zaugg over text message for being affiliated with anti-Zionists because of her friend’s rhetoric online, Zaugg said.

Zaugg blocked his account on Twitter and his email addresses, including his UCLA email address, which he used to allegedly harass her, she said.

Zaugg reported Ben-Ephraim to the Behavioral Intervention Team at UCLA on June 17. Zaugg said the team asked her if she wanted to report the incident to the UCPD and she later filed a police report to the UCPD against Ben-Ephraim.

UCPD spokesperson Scott Scheffler declined to comment or provide a copy of the police report, stating that the matter was under ongoing investigation.

Talla Khelghati, a fourth-year economics and public affairs student, also responded to Cruger-Zaken’s tweet with her experience with Ben-Ephraim.

Khelgati first met Ben-Ephraim after she attended his lecture on Israeli settlement in the fall because she was interested in the topic, she said in an interview with The Bruin. Khelghati is an active member of J Street U at UCLA, a club dedicated to fostering discourse about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

After she attended his lecture, she became more interested in his work and invited him to speak about a similar topic to her club last December.

In February, Khelghati said Ben-Ephraim asked her through Twitter direct message if she would like to get a drink. Khelghati declined and told Ben-Ephraim that she was 20, but Ben-Ephraim asked her for dinner. Khelghati then told him she was uncomfortable.

Ben-Ephraim then told Khelghati he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, but added he wished she was older.

Khelghati said in a follow-up emailed statement to The Bruin that she blocked him on social media after the exchange but decided not to report Ben-Ephraim to the UCLA Title IX Office because she was afraid of future interactions with him and thought her experience was an isolated incident.

According to publicly available tweets, Ben-Ephraim also allegedly shared unsolicited photographs and inappropriate messages with a minor.

Minor A, whose name has been redacted for confidentiality purposes, a 17-year-old girl, said Ben-Ephraim sent her flirtatious messages and photographs of himself on Twitter and Snapchat, even though he knew she was a minor. Minor A told Ben-Ephraim her age in their Twitter exchanges, according to screenshots she posted on Twitter of these exchanges. She also listed her age on her Twitter page.

“Once I had posted something about liking tattoos on white guys and he’d messaged me saying, ‘I’m white but I don’t have tattoos,’ which I found weird,” Minor A said in an interview with The Bruin.

A friend of Minor A said in an interview with the Bruin they also saw screenshots of the photos and messages over Snapchat and Twitter shortly after Minor A received them.

Ben-Ephraim said in the emailed statement to the Bruin that he is no longer seeking new teaching positions and is no longer employed at UCLA.

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Anushka Chakrabarti
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