IDF Brig. Gen. Ofek Buchris..
(photo credit: ELI DASSA)
IDF Brig.-Gen. Ofek Buchris on Thursday was demoted one rank to colonel as his sentence for prohibited sexual liaisons with two lower-ranked IDF women.
The demotion, approved by the majority of judges on a Special IDF Court for top-ranked officers, came after Buchris admitted to the offenses in a plea bargain.
In addition, Buchris was given a suspended sentence by the 2-1 majority. The dissenting judge wrote that he should have been demoted two ranks down to the level of lieutenant-colonel.
Even the two judges in the majority said they were only accepting the single rank demotion “grudgingly,” as part of courts’ general policy of honoring plea bargains, though they said in principle they thought the IDF prosecution should have held out for a multiple rank demotion.
Buchris was not fined to pay compensatory damages to the two women, but the lawyer for the primary victim said she was less interested in the sentence, having focused on forcing Buchris to publicly admit fault.
The court said that “a senior officer has failed... and how severely we deal with him... is the complex question we must deal with.
“Demotion is a major punishment for a high ranking officer – sometimes it can even feel worse than jail time,” the judges wrote, also noting they had “taken into account that Buchris made a public statement of regret and accepting responsibility.”
The defense team for Buchris declared a partial victory, noting he had not been convicted of rape and was receiving no jail time.
Buchris was convicted as part of the deal on December 18 in what is believed to be the highest ranking conviction of a soldier for that crime and ending a 10-month saga which shook the IDF.
The plea arrangement meant he admitted to consensual sex with a junior female soldier known as “A.,” prohibited because she was under his command, and conduct unbecoming sexual advances toward a junior female officer known as “L.”
Buchris had brought prominent character witnesses to support the deal’s lenient treatment and no jail time, including former Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi, who testified in person, and IDF deputy- chief-of-staff-in-waiting Maj.- Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who filed a statement.
Mizrahi had said that Buchris had been a tremendous soldier under his command in both 2002’s Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin and in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
He said that “Ofek saved my life, diving on top of me” to save him from an exploding grenade in Jenin in 2002, and mentioned another instance when Buchris saved him by “pushing me away from touching a booby-trapped weapon.”
Mizrahi added that “it was a loss for the IDF that Ofek had to retire. Ofek was a mensch.”
Kochavi’s written statement praised Buchris for “displaying conduct and values that many saw as a model,” and that the proposed demotion was “a heavy punishment.”
IDF Chief Prosecutor Col. Sharon Zigagi and Buchris lead defense lawyer Roi Belcher had echoed each other saying that since Buchris was on track to the rank of major-general and possibly even as a future IDF chief of staff, his demotion to colonel was a severe enough sanction, and no additional punishment was required.
The IDF has repeatedly noted Buchris’s taking public responsibility for his actions, including making it clear that the main victim had not wanted his sexual solicitations and that still he had persisted with her – a fact mentioned by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot in a December statement about the case.
Buchris was indicted in July 2016 for three counts of rape and 13 counts of other sex crimes between July 2012 and January 2013, against A. and L.
For more than six months, Buchris denied any kind of sexual contact with either woman.