IDF Brig. Gen. Ofek Buchris..
(photo credit: ELI DASSA)
An American is sexually assaulted every two minutes, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network of the US. This comes to some 288,800 victims per year of rape and sexual assault aged 12 and older.
While a similarly grim statistic has not yet been recorded in Israel, the situation here is horrible enough.
The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel reports that one in three Israeli women is sexually assaulted during her lifetime, while one in seven women is raped.
The question that is evidently not being asked enough is: Why are so many Israeli women subjected to sexual harassment, assault and rape? While an authoritative answer awaits scientific investigation, it is no secret that there is a growing sense that sexual assault is becoming endemic in Israel and is perpetrated most visibly by men in positions of power – whether in politics, the military or the rabbinate. There is also a growing sense that too many perpetrators are avoiding punishment for their acts via the misplaced leniency of the judicial system, whether civil or religious.
The most prominent example of the moment is the case of suspended IDF brigadier-general Ofek Buchris, who was reportedly on track for consideration as a future IDF chief of staff. This was before he was indicted in July on three counts of rape and 13 other sex crimes, allegedly committed between July 2012 and January 2013, against a soldier and a junior officer under his command.
Though his first reaction to the charges was the denial typically made by all who are similarly accused, after several months of stonewalling he admitted to the indictment, minus the more serious rape charge, as part of a plea bargain to avoid imprisonment. The former general agreed to being demoted to colonel and suspended from duty by issuing a public statement taking “full responsibility.”
“After various reports, I would like to clarify that my admission to the indictment is full and I take full responsibility for the actions specified there,” Buchris wrote.
The deal was welcomed by at least one fellow officer, who asserted not for the record that “[t]here is no officer who embodies the IDF moral code better than he. We are talking about a moral man, really dedicated to his service...
He cared about [female soldiers under his command] like a father.” Such a comparison is not necessarily helpful, given the occurrence of incest in the Jewish state.
The Buchris bargain was met with an immediate outcry by rights activists, particularly women’s groups. Orit Sulitzeanu, chairwoman of the Association for Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, stated: “It cannot be that such a senior officer would escape without significant punishment; it is inconceivable that he will not pay for what he committed and that he will not spend time behind bars.” She added: “It is unclear why the rape charge was removed and why it was decided to devise a plea deal that constitutes a slap in the face to the brave women who dared to complain.”
In a country whose former president is serving a considerable prison sentence for rape, the link between crime and punishment is not always broken, though it seems that way. Last year, interior minister and deputy prime minister Silvan Shalom and Bayit Yehudi MK Yinon Magal resigned within weeks of one another after a series of accusations of sexual assault by former subordinates.
Sexual misconduct cases involving top police officers have become regular occurrences and many chose to retire rather than face prosecution. Nearly half of the assistant chiefs of the Israel Police – the highest rank below commissioner – have been accused of such abuse.
The poor example set by the Buchris plea agreement is no bargain for women soldiers. Women’s International Zionist Organization chairwoman Gila Oshrat lamented the unavoidable consequence: “The plea agreement in question will mean that every senior IDF commander who took advantage of his rank, power and influence and inflicted serious harm on a young female soldier who trusted him, will not be liable for the full extent of his guilt,” she said.
Sexual predators abound in our society, but the one place our daughters and sisters should feel secure is in service of the military that exists to protect us. They are not the enemy. The time has come to demand appropriate punishment for every attacker, regardless of his status or authority.