Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid gave full support to his party colleague Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern on Monday, following Stern’s alleged boasting that he shredded anonymous complaints in the IDF and an accusation from a female soldier that he told her to keep quiet about her officer sexually harassing her.
Lapid said he spoke to Stern and accepted his denial that he had shred complaints about sexual harassment.
Yesh Atid has zero tolerance for sexual harassment, and if Stern had admitted to shredding documents alleging harassment, the party would have departed from him immediately, Lapid said.
Regarding the accusation against Stern, Lapid said he believed him and not his accuser, saying that Stern had handled sexual-harassment complaints with sensitivity throughout his career and that the quotes by the accuser attributed to Stern could not be correct.
“They falsely accused him for no reason,” Lapid was quoted by KAN News as saying in a closed conversation.
On Monday night, Channel 13 interviewed a woman who said she had left the IDF four months early because Stern forced her to keep silent about her sexual-harassment accusations against her officer.
“I was shocked to see Stern say he didn’t silence [accusations of] harassment,” she said. “He is a liar.”
In response, Stern’s office said he was aware of the incident and did take action to punish the officer, including shortening his service and preventing his promotion.
On Sunday night, the same channel aired a video of a female soldier complaining that Stern had prohibited her from following through with a sexual-harassment complaint.
“I was a soldier in Bahad 1 [the IDF’s officer school] between ’95 to ’97,” the soldier, who was identified as G., said in the video in an electronically altered voice. “One of the NCOs tried to come on to me and sexually harass me. We were in the room, me, MK Elazar Stern, my personal commander and the NCO who tried to harass me. And [Stern said] in these words, ‘If you talk about what went on in this room, if you mention what went on in this room or what the NCO tried to do, your days in the army will be dark and bitter. You will be the worst off in the entire world. You will no longer stay in the army.’”
Lapid called on the IDF to probe the allegations immediately to enable Stern to defend his name.
“There are no such things in the world,” Stern said in response to Channel 13’s query. “There is not one case that I know of, and I am sure that there may be some now that are made up. If you say that I summoned them into the room, both the harasser and him, then they did address the issue. Again, it could be that the incident was not handled well.”
Stern said he did not believe he had actually said those words to the soldier.
“The fact of the matter is that the incident was addressed, and I think the emphasis is on its treatment,” he said.
Stern’s office later issued an official response to the accusation.
“Complaints brought before Minister Stern were always dealt with,” the statement said. “Furthermore, the army has a protocol for these complaints,” it said, adding that every unit has a person assigned to deal with any gender-based issues, including complaints of sexual misconduct.
“[Stern] has always acted, and does so to this today, to curb the phenomenon of sexual harassment, and Stern does not remember this specific case,” the statement said.
In the past, Yesh Atid has departed from its politicians immediately when allegations were raised. Former MK Yaakov Peri was forced to quit before a television investigation accusing him of lying about his military record aired. But Lapid dismissed serious sexual-harassment allegations against MK Meir Cohen.
Yesh Atid said Stern would remain its candidate for the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency.
Top figures in the coalition also showed support or limited themselves to tepid criticism of Stern. When they were asked if he should be forced to quit the cabinet or the agency race, they avoided the question.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) told a conference of the Makor Rishon newspaper she did not want to judge him during his race for Jewish Agency chairman, but anonymous complaints by women in the army must be probed.
Labor leader Merav Michaeli said told her faction: “As much as I believe his intentions were not bad, Stern must also understand that his comments were not a question of ‘politically correct’ but are at the heart of whether or not we believe those who are abused and whether we are doing everything we can to protect victims of abuse – women, girls and boys, men.
“Whether we are doing everything we can so that our society is not a hothouse for sexual abuse, a hothouse for the exploitation of power. That is what we are committed to. We must, all of us, do it all the time, in every place and in every way.”
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz told his faction: “We have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. What Stern said is unacceptable.”