Just last week the media carried the following news item: a senior IDF officer,
who was convicted of molesting three female soldiers, was sentenced to only 40
days of community service. He would not have to serve any time in prison and his
rank was only reduced to Major, so that he could hold on to his high
It is outrageous that a commanding officer who sexually
assaulted three female soldiers who were under his command was given such a
This could cause serious damage to the ongoing struggle
for gender equality and to efforts to create an atmosphere in the IDF that is
devoid of sexual violence and harassment.
I turned to IDF Chief of
General Staff Benny Gantz and requested that he urgently take the necessary
steps to make sure that these kinds of actions cease to occur in the IDF and
that they will not be treated as legitimate occurrences by any military
Specifically, I requested that military courts begin
recognizing the severity of sexual assault and sexual harassment of female
soldiers, and that this recognition be reflected in their legal
But even if justice is served with this particular officer,
this scenario is all too common and this widespread phenomenon is unfortunately
all too common in Israeli society. Women are all too often sexually exploited,
especially women who are in positions or jobs which make it hard for them to
stand up for themselves.
For example, young female soldiers and
policewomen who are subordinate to male commanding officers, or women seeking
assistance from municipal or other public employees, and even young women who
admire rich and famous music stars who are decades older than they are, fall
victim to systematic sexual exploitation.
The current ongoing trial in
the case of Major-General Nissim Shaham, the former Jerusalem district police
commander, who is accused of sexually harassing and molesting a number of junior
policewomen, is another example of the same phenomenon.
In the midst of
his interrogation, Shaham stated that sexual relations between police officers
and their subordinates were extremely common.
Although this sounds like
an excuse made by someone who’s trying to get away with something, it is
important to understand the significance of this statement.
means is that the Israel Police and the IDF have not yet begun enforcing
relatively new laws that were lobbied for and passed by Israeli
Cases like these were my impetus for initiating the law that
passed a few weeks ago in its final reading, which holds civil servants
responsible for sexually harassing women over whom they have authority. This
law, like other feminist laws, had many supporters, but also many vehement
Opponents love to claim that this law is a romance killer,
and that feminists are trying to get rid of courtship.
But the truth is
that there is absolutely nothing romantic about sexual harassment, and it’s not
considered courtship if one of the sides is hurt or harassed and if the victim
has to suffer from serious emotional distress for years after the
Israeli women should not – and are no longer willing to – feel
threatened in their workplace or anywhere else.
It’s important to mention
in this context that passing laws in the Knesset and holding people responsible
for their actions in the courthouse are an important step in the fight against
sexual harassment and sexual violence, but they are not the be-all and end-all.
Some types of behavior might not be technically illegal, but they still should
never be considered acceptable behavior and we should be shocked when we hear
about them happening.
Sexual exploitation, which is based on inequality,
hierarchy and unfair power relationships, is one such behavior that we must
denounce – not only in the courts or with legislation, but in the Israeli
education system and in the media. We must show by example that Israeli society
is dealing with all actions on the wide spectrum of sexual
And equally important: victims of sexual harassment and
sexual violence must know and trust that we are here to support them.
light of the most recent cases in which we dismally failed to protect young
women in the army, police, on the street, in markets and at work, I for one
promise that I will continue fighting this uphill battle until we are all
The author is a Knesset Member for
Translated by Hannah Hochner.