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The Media Line: #Metoo is Coming to Israel’s Military

#Metoo is Coming to Israel’s Military

Several sex scandals in recent months in the Israel Defense Forces have been an embarrassment and an impetus for change.

By Ksenia Svetlova/The Media Line

Sex scandals involving Israel Defense Forces commanders, female soldiers and Palestinian women have rocked Israel’s military over the last few months.

The most recent scandal exploded just days ago, when it was announced that Lt. Col. Dan Sharoni had been arrested earlier this month on suspicion of secretly filming female soldiers. Also last week, Gilboa Prison commander Freddy Ben Shitrit testified before a government panel and confirmed reports from 2018 that female soldiers who were performing their military service in the prison were “pimped” to Palestinian inmates and were intentionally placed at risk of harm at the prison in order to get concessions from the prisoners. In October, yet another IDF officer was convicted of raping a Palestinian woman and sexual extortion. Previously, he also was accused of harassing female soldiers.

As a result of Sharoni’s actions, several female soldiers who served under his command and whose privacy was violated, have been unable to sleep or eat, according to their relatives. “We don’t believe in the IDF anymore. The feeling is very difficult,one of the women’s mothers told Israeli media.

All of these scandals have been widely covered by the Israeli press and have causedembarrassment to the IDF since they reveal an extremely problematic reality.

Col. (res) Ronen Itsik, who researches relations between the military and society and who served as commander of an IDF Armored Brigade, says that although during the last few decades the IDF had made serious progress in the sphere of combating sexual harassment and sex-related crimes, there is still much that remains to be done.

“I believe that this case with Dan Sharoni who, allegedly, secretly recorded the female soldiers, should have been prevented by the many screenings that are performed on high-profile commanders of his rank. They are often tested, they go through polygraphs, they talk to specialists, and all of these procedures are meant to identify the perverts, the problematic types. But apparently the system failed. Sharoni was not filtered out, and he probably kept doing what he did for many years. In fact, it was a multi-system failure. Also, usually people are aware of these types, there are rumors and water-cooler talk, and when the facts end up at the table of someone senior, they sometimes try to make it go away, so that there will be no noise,” Itsik told The Media Line.

Col (res.) Miri Eisin, who served in the Israeli intelligence community, is also concerned about the possible implications of the recent incidents on the promotion and possibilities for women’s integration in the IDF.

“I thought that the IDF had already overcome this problem, due to legislation and enforcement. I’m sad that it still exists. In my circle this affair was widely discussed, and in the general public there are many different voices. I’m afraid that this scandal might be used as a tool against women in the IDF,Eisin told The Media Line.

The sex-scandals in the IDF are nothing new, however in the climate of the #Metoo phenomenon there are more complaints that are made by victims of sexual offense in the IDF, as well as more indictments. In the case of Dan Sharoni, the female soldiers agreed to be interviewed by the media and also published their stories on social media.

Protecting men and women in uniform from sexual offenses is of particular importance in Israel, where both sexes serve in the army and the draft is compulsory. The IDF operates a sexual crisis center, which provides “emotional assistance” to the soldiers during their service. In addition, in 2015, a legal aid unit was established to assist the victims of sex offenders in the IDF.

“When I was recruited, the brigade commander used to choose his office manager based on her looks. Since then, the IDF went through significant changes, as all Israeli society did. These norms are not acceptable any more, they are unthinkable,” according to Itsik. He cited the case of Yitzhak Mordechai, an IDF major general who served as Israel’s defense minister after his retirement from the military and who was convicted in 2001 on charges of sexual assault during his military service and in later periods.

The military can live with operational failure, but not with an officer who is a womanizer. In comparison with the past there is significant decrease in sexualrelated crimes also because the level of awareness is different, the men appreciate women more than before, and there is also the social media. In general, the social norms have a huge influence on the IDF,” said Itsik. He believes that this societal influence is only possible in a people’s army such as Israel’s, while a professional army risks becoming a secluded military body that loses its connection to society.

“The sexual harassment is an every day challenge, and this is why there is strict legislation that is being implemented by the IDF. And still, this officer (Sharoni) hasfailed, but there are also others. We must fight it all the time and call it out as much as possible in order to make progress, but we must not be mistaken and think that it’s possible to eradicate this phenomenon entirely,Eisin warned.

Despite the muchpublicized arrest of Sharoni and the harsh reaction of top-ranking IDF commanders to this and other scandals that have erupted recently, many soldiers as well as their parents feel that not every complaint is thoroughly investigated, and the number of indictments remains low.

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern recently added more fuel to the fire, saying last month during an interview that when he was head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, he used to shred anonymous complaints submitted against soldiers.

Some 84% of cases of sex crimes were closed in 2019 by the State Attorney’s office, according to Israel’s Association of Rape Crisis Centers, while only 16% of the cases ended with an indictment. The rising number of complaints, however, indicates that Israeli victims of sexual harassment, both soldiers and civilians, refuse to be silenced.

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