IDF soldiers marching in Second Lebanon War 311 (R).
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
Last week, a lieutenant colonel in the IDF was convicted by a
military court of sexual harassing three subordinates.
Women under his
command, serving their mandatory service, recalled being touched inappropriately
while working as his driver or assistant. They felt intimidated to come forward
because they served under his command.
They described being humiliated.
According to reports the court found that the behavior was
However the court only gave him forty days of community
service and 1,000 NIS in restitution to the victims.
The officer will
retire from the army on a pension. By handing down such a light sentence the
court has illustrated that the army is not taking seriously the issue of sexual
harassment, especially of young women serving their mandatory service. MK Merav
Michaeli has described the issue as an issue of abandonment of women in the IDF
at the very time when the army is talking about the issue of declining
enlistments. MK Michael Roison, chairwoman of the Knesset Lobby for Equality in
Employment, sent a letter to Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz calling on him
to “recognize the severity of sexual violence toward female
She stated further, “a verdict like this, which is
scandalously soft on a senior officer…can cause significant damage to the
ongoing struggle for gender equality and an environment free from sexual
violence and sexual harassment in the IDF.” The IDF spokesman’s office has not
responded to the letter, and the lack of response seems to only reinforce the
feeling that the army is not taking this issue seriously. This was one of the
rare high profile cases to gain media attention, and rather than handing down a
tough sentence as was done with former President Moshe Katsav, the message has
been sent that officers engaging in this systematic behavior, harming citizens
who are proudly serving their country, will not be punished. Women who
previously were considering coming forward to report incidents may now feel even
In 2011, a female Ethiopian soldier claimed that the
commander of her base sexually assaulter her. When she complained, other
officers retaliated against her and called her racist names. She went absent
without leave, and the military police tracked her down. She explained her
circumstances and although charges for her fleeing the army were dropped, the
army refused to press charges against the officer.
Earlier this year a
company commander was charged with 27 acts of sexual harassment towards male
subordinates, mostly carried out during recruit training. Statistics show that
there has been a steep rise in complaints of sexual harassment, topping 500 a
year since 2011, around ten percent of which are filed by male soldiers. However
only about 20% of cases are investigated and 5% result in
The plague of harassment extends beyond the army to the
police force. Earlier this year the deputy commander of the Ayalon district was
charged with two counts of rape and other sex crimes. He was jailed for eight
years in November.
Women under his command, who were serving their
compulsory service, claimed that because he was their commander they felt unable
to complain. When they did complain, other officers in their unit subjected them
to humiliating comments and further harassment. In late November it was revealed
that Jerusalem district commander Niso Shaham is facing indictment on a variety
of crimes, including sexual harassment, against nine female
Sexual harassment and assault are society-wide problems and
must be confronted at every level. However the recent revelations of large
numbers of assaults and harassment in institutions such as the army and police
reveal a pattern of behavior that is disturbing and particularly galling because
women are conscripted by the state to serve in these institutions.
numerous indictments reveal patterns of abuse that are not isolated, in many the
judges have heard accounts of entire units where the behavior is tolerated and
women in economic distress or asking for leaves of absence or other requests are
encouraged to trade sex to receive their own rights. These assaults do not
happen in a vacuum, they are often part of a culture of harassment. Those
complaining are subjected to further harassment and officers often present
stories of relationships being “innocent” or blame the women.
and police must send a clear message that these incidents are serious; that
offenders will receive long and stiff prison terms, and that women who come
forward will be provided protection. Internal investigative methods must be
strengthened; when base commanders or district commanders are the assailants,
the army and police must have the proper tools to go after even the highest