Israeli Military Court Demotes IDF Officer Over Sexual Harassment

Former Givati battalion commander and lieutenant colonel Liran Hajbi demoted to major after being convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer in plea bargain.

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Lt. Col. Liran Hajbi in military court. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Lt. Col. Liran Hajbi, a former battalion commander in the Israel Defense Forces’ Givati infantry brigade convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer in a sexual harassment case, will be demoted to the rank of major, a military court in Tel Aviv ruled on Thursday morning.

The judges said the demotion was “an obligatory result” of Hajbi’s conviction in a plea bargain and could not be avoided.

The military prosecutor had asked the court to demote Hajbi by at least one rank and the court concurred, saying that he had failed on both a moral and a command level.

Hajbi was convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer, but not of more serious offenses, by a military court in May. He had previously been removed from his command and is leaving the army. He will also pay compensation of 5,000 shekels ($1,320) and will be given a two-month suspended prison sentence.

Under the plea bargain agreement, he was charged with “acts that deviated from [proper] superior-subordinate relations, some of which had a sexual background,” rather than of of sex crimes.

The judges said the incident was “not a single and one-time affair, but a continued failure over a long time.” Hajbi, it wrote, had deviated from the standards expected between a commander and his subordinates, which also caused psychological damage to one of the complainants. Hajbi’s misconduct, which had a character of sexual harassment, had continued, even though the victim had made it clear that she objected, the judges emphasized. Given the relationship of authority he had over her, he was required to stop his actions.

May Fatal, the woman soldier who was sexually harassed by Hajbi and one of the two complainants in the case, did not appear in court to hear the sentencing. Her lawyer, Roni Aloni-Sadovnik,  said Fatal and her family preferred to remain at home since the situation was a difficult one for them – “having to face the IDF and its troops.” She said the IDF supported the defendant, but the court’s decision was balanced. “We think he is a brave warrior, there is no dispute about that, but even a brave warrior must control his urges,” said Aloni-Sadovnik.

Hajbi told the press after his sentencing that the entire affair was blown out of proportion with various interested parties involved – and he was caught in the middle.

Hajbi’s attorney, military defender Col. Asher Halperin, said the trial ended in a proper manner: “He was convicted only of conduct unbecoming an officer, without prison, without [being sentenced to military labor], without a criminal record – with a suspended sentence, with a demotion. The attempt to present the incident as much more serious than it was was inappropriate, seriously hurt Liran Hajbi and in my opinion the complainant too.”