Israeli Lawmaker Accused of Sexism After He Appeared to Suggest Minister Slept Her Way to Top of Army

Miri Regev responds to Elazar Stern's comments, saying that he has 'joined the ranks of men who speak ill of women, objectify and disrespect them'

Elazar Stern and Miri Regev, 2006.
Dan Keinan

Israeli lawmaker Elazar Stern was accused of sexism after appearing to suggest on Monday that Culture Minister Miri Regev slept her way up the Israeli military ladder. Elazer later rejected her claims that she was sexually harassed while serving.

Speaking on the floor of the Knesset, Stern said to Regev: "I don't want to speak here about how you advanced in the military."

Stern, from the centrist Yesh Atid political party, addressed Regev, who is a member of the right-wing Likud party, after she interrupted his speech – a common occurrence in the Israeli parliament.

Regev said that Stern has "joined the ranks of men who speak ill of women, objectify and disrespect them." She called on Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid to suspend Stern over the incident.

Politicians from the right and left echoed Regev's criticism of Stern, calling his words misogynist and unworthy for a Knesset discussion.

Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli wrote in a tweet that it "doesn't matter what Elazar Stern meant. Sadly, what came out is a comment that reeks of very bad sexism, from days and standards we're no longer willing to accept. Towards no woman."

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that in 2018, a man who speaks to a woman as Stern did, "doesn't understand where he's living. I call on Yair Lapid to dismiss this miserable statement, women in Israel see and remember, and there's a crossing of a red line in the public discourse against women."

Regev served in the Israel Defense Forces for 25 years. She ended her career as a brigadier general, serving as the IDF spokeswoman from 2005 to 2007. Stern, now a retired major general, served as head of manpower directorate in the military during those same years. 

Defending himself, Stern said that his criticism of Regev wasn't sexist: "My intention was to criticize Regev's overenthusiasm in serving her masters, as she did during the disengagement and as she does today, always sucking up to her superiors without an ounce of ideology." Stern was referring to Regev's role as the IDF spokeswoman during Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

"Stern's words are an accusation against the military's commanders who advance women in the army," Regev said in a video she shot in response to the Knesset confrontation. "I reject with contempt and despise Stern's words," she added. She said she's turned to the defense minister, the attorney general and the Knesset's ethical committee and requested that they check with her former military commanders to see if there was any blemish in their decision-making process when they decided to advance her. In the video, she held a sign that said #YouToo.

In a news interview Wednesday, a correspondent showed Stern a clip from an interview Regev gave to Israeli television in 2016, where she said she had been sexually harassed in the military. Upon seeing the clip, Stern reacted with a chuckle and said he does not believe Regev's claims: "I don't believe a word she says. One day you'll come get back to me about this and ask me why I smiled." In response, Regev said, "He's a petty man, let him say whatever he wants, what does he know."

MK Yair Lapid backed Stern, writing on Twitter that "Stern was referring to Regev's endless groveling to her commanders that peaked during the disengagement. Anyone who heard him say anything else must have a serious problem."