Bar Lev: Do not veto IDF women as prison guards due to pimping scandal

Yisrael Beytenu MK Yossi Shein called the program a “colossal failure” and vehemently opposed extending the law for three years.

 Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev attends the first Public Security Knesset Committee on September 13, 2021 (photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)
Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev attends the first Public Security Knesset Committee on September 13, 2021
(photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev on Tuesday pushed back on any potential attempts to undermine the program of having IDF female soldiers serve as prison guards following the recent Gilboa Prison pimping scandal.

Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s hearing on whether to extend for three years the law allowing IDF soldiers to serve in the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and the police, Bar Lev said it was important to extend it.

In the context of that debate, Bar Lev was concerned that some on the committee might want to end or shorten the law, which has been extended for three years many times for decades.

His main message was that the pimping scandal at Gilboa Prison was a rare, scandalous exception and should not undermine the generally highly successful decades-old program.

The pimping scandal, including accusations that female IDF soldiers were pressured by higher officers to gain intelligence from Palestinian security prisoners by granting various sexual privileges, broke into the news in 2018.

 GILBOA PRISON, in northern Israel near the West Bank.  (credit: FLASH90) GILBOA PRISON, in northern Israel near the West Bank. (credit: FLASH90)

The prosecution initially closed the case without indicting any prison commanders, but earlier in December, State Attorney Amit Aisman reopened the case after a top prison official revealed that the scandal was not being fully and properly probed.

Bar Lev noted that the program of IDF soldiers serving in the police started in 1995, and that as of now there are over 1,100 participants.

Next, he said that IDF soldiers, 35% of whom are women, started to serve in the IPS in 2006 and that there are now 760 such people.

Historically, he said that soldiers joined the IPS as part of a broader deal in which the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) transferred responsibility for security prisoners to the IPS, but still provided aspects of the human resources and budget for doing so.

In fact, Bar Lev said the IPS would be happy to give the whole issue back to the IDF and the Shin Bet, but since they want the IPS to do the job, it will continue to need soldiers to assist.

Still, he requested that critics “do not throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

“In the IDF there was one lieutenant-colonel who took pictures of women in the showers. Will we close all of the showers or fire all of the lieutenant-colonels in the IDF? I do not see the connection,” he said in support of extending the law and ignoring the pimping scandal as unusual.

IPS chief Katy Perry and IDF Brig.-Gen. Amir Vadmani also spoke in favor of extending the law, saying the vast majority of IDF soldiers serving in the IPS are satisfied and feel fulfilled by their service.

Perry added that half of IDF soldiers serving with the IPS request to join a prison service career track after they conclude their required IDF service.

IN CONTRAST, Yisrael Beytenu MK Yossi Shein called the program a “colossal failure” and vehemently opposed extending the law for three years.

He said that doing so would mean the Knesset would be guilty of “giving its stamp of approval to something which does not work. It has not worked for many years; not a single task force has said it works.”

Shein then quoted several task forces that had called to end the program.

Further, he said that at the start of the program, many IPS officials were skeptical about it and insisted that IDF soldiers should only serve in prison guard towers and not in the cell blocks with security prisoners – where the Gilboa Prison scandal occurred.

Meretz MK Michal Rozin also opposed extending the law and criticized the committee and the defense establishment for raising the legal extension at the last minute, as if the pimping scandal was a non-issue when the law must be thoroughly reexamined.

Religious Zionist MK Ofir Sofer said the pimping scandal was directly connected to the law and that Bar Lev was not taking the law seriously enough.

He suggested that the law only be extended for three months in order to put pressure on the involved government agencies to achieve reform.

One issue that was unclear was to what extent IDF female soldiers could leave the IPS once they felt trapped by problematic situations.

Vadmani said soldiers could return to regular IDF service within their first three months, but critical MKs said that this was not occurring in real terms in the field.

The law is due to expire on December 31.

After additional MKs started to criticize the law, Bar Lev said he needed to leave early without fully responding.

Suddenly, several MKs erupted in anger that the Public Security minister was treating the committee as unimportant and refusing to respond to its deep problems.

When Bar Lev answered that often ministers do not even come personally to the Knesset committees, the MKs got even more furious, saying he was not doing them a favor and had a duty to appear.

Committee chairman MK Ram Ben Barak tried to defend Bar Lev, both regarding his main message and on his need to leave early based on his preset schedule.