Despite the uproar over Brig. Gen. Ofek Buchris being investigated on rape allegations, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was a beacon of reason Tuesday. For International Women’s Day, he released a statement saying Israeli society must “continue fighting without compromise, using every legal and educational means possible, against violence against women, as well as sexual assault and harassment.”
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Ya’alon said society must also fight “attempts to turn a complainant into the accused by tarnishing her character. None of us truly understands how a woman who has experienced sexual violence, harassment or assault is emotionally affected.”
One might argue with Ya’alon over his rigid views on the Palestinian issue or his conservative positions on various military matters, but when it comes to the rule of law, the man is a ray of light in very dark times. Time after time, he stands by the legal and investigative authorities and says what should be obvious, whether it’s the current issue or support for the High Court of Justice.
His statements resonate all the more during the investigation against Buchris, who stands accused of several acts of rape by a woman soldier who served under him when he headed the Golani Brigade. In this case, unlike the Moshe Katsav and Silvan Shalom affairs, there doesn’t appear to be a coordinated effort to malign the complainant or shame her on social media.
But many have rallied around Buchris, praising his virtues as a commander. They’ve repeated how “it just can’t be” that he did what the young woman says he did.
These sentiments shouldn’t come as a surprise; Buchris is a highly accomplished commander. Until the current episode, his reputation was spotless, and he still has the right to be presumed innocent, especially when the military advocate general is still very far from deciding whether to indict him.
But amid the enthusiastic efforts to defend Buchris, some curious, even dubious claims have been made. In the days after the story broke, some journalists gave great weight to two lie-detector tests presented by the general’s lawyers showing that he was telling the truth.
The first test was carried out in routine work by the Shin Bet security service before someone is appointed to a senior military position. Buchris was asked if he had ever committed a criminal offense. He said no and the machine said he was telling the truth.
In the second test, suggested by his lawyers and carried out privately, he was asked if he had ever had full sexual relations with the complainant. He said no and was again found to be telling the truth.
It’s hard to consider these tests decisive evidence, and not just because polygraph tests are controversial and not admissible in a criminal trial. The question asked in the first test seems too general and subjective: Does he think he ever committed a criminal offense? The question in the second test is too specific.
Since then, three more polygraph tests have been done, at the behest of the Israel Defense Forces. Two were done a few days ago with another female soldier and a female officer who have complained against Buchris, and one more with Buchris Tuesday. These test results, which are already known to military police investigators and the state prosecutor, have not been leaked.
Overall, defense officials’ conduct in this episode – suspending Buchris for two weeks, the IDF’s extremely cautious language, the pace and scope of the investigation, the updating of officials on developments, and Ya’alon’s statement Tuesday – shows that the complainant’s claims are being treated with all due seriousness.
The day before, Channel 2 aired a report that seemed to be partially true and partially mistaken. Yes, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot met with Buchris after the complaint was made, but the IDF immediately denied that Eisenkot had told Buchris there was no rush to decide on his hitherto planned appointment as operations chief.
It seems, at the media’s expense, someone may have been trying to falsely suggest that the system was standing behind Buchris and keeping the position open for as long as necessary. In fact, it seems Eisenkot, despite his high esteem for Buchris, wants to let law enforcement do its work, and if the investigation drags on, it’s nearly certain another officer will get the job.
At the same time, it’s very possible the legal process will reveal Buchris’ innocence. This too requires a sound investigation rather than online petitions or learned Twitter theories. The rallying behind Buchris shows once again the IDF’s special standing in society and the tremendous, almost automatic, credit battle-hardened top commanders receive.
But the IDF isn’t only a force that defends the state. As Ya’alon rightly pointed out Tuesday, it should be an organization that gives equal opportunity to men and women, offering them proper protection from violence and harassment.
In the long run, such elements are just as critical to the IDF’s image. Sexual assault complaints must be handled the right way, regardless of the seniority and virtues of the suspect.