Lt. Col. Benny Meir, the officer who exposed a sexual harassment case in the Givati Brigade – and was then persecuted by his commanders – will be one of 12 recipients of an award for outstanding graduates of Israel's premilitary academies.
Meir, now a battalion commander in the Home Front Command, is being awarded the prize next week for “civic bravery when he launched a moral battle, despite the price, against the battalion commander who acted improperly.”
The affair – at the Tzabar (Cactus) battalion of the Givati infantry brigade – was exposed in 2014 by Reshet Bet radio’s military correspondent, Carmela Menashe.
Two combat soldiers in one company complained about harassment by their platoon commander, but senior officers in the brigade covered up the allegations. More suspicions emerged, and it was revealed that the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Liran Hajbi, had sexually harassed his clerk, May Fatal, and another female soldier.
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The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces at the time, Benny Gantz, dismissed Hajbi from the army. In a plea agreement, Hajbi admitted to conduct unbecoming an officer and was demoted, sentenced to probation and fined. He then retired from the army.
In April, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ruled in favor of a civil suit by Fatal against Hajbi and ordered him to pay her 140,000 shekels ($39,000) in compensation.
As for Meir, who had served a short period as Hajbi’s deputy, he was labeled a troublemaker by the brigade’s commanders after he exposed the affair and complained about it to his commanders. Hajbi’s supporters gathered information about Meir and even made up stories that they tried to peddle to the media, saying that Meir himself had committed sexual harassment.
Meir was forced to quit as deputy battalion commander even before Hajbi was removed. Later he was transferred to a marginal job and only after a number of senior officers intervened – they had known him when he was a combat commander and were disgusted by the treatment he was receiving – was he appointed a battalion commander in the Home Front Command.
Givati commanders only dropped their support for Hajbi after his actions were exposed in the media, which led to a more thorough investigation.
Meir’s family came to Israel in the 1970s from the Caucasus. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in Acre and was one of only very few his age from his neighborhood to serve in a significant position in the military.
He enlisted in the air force’s ultra-elite rescue unit, where he served as a team leader. In Givati he served as a company commander in three different units, was wounded in Gaza, received a commendation from the brigade commander and was appointed to establish the Rimon commando unit.
Meir, a graduate of the Yitzhak Rabin Pre-Military Academy, is being awarded for his excellence as a combat soldier and a commander. The Joint Council of Pre-Military Academies also cites the “unique path he made from his childhood environment to the premilitary academy, and to his expressions of military and civic courage.”