Ofek Buchris, a brigadier general who avoided rape charges and jail time by admitting sexual relations with a woman solider under his command, was sentenced to nine months’ probation Thursday, along with a demotion to lieutenant colonel.
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“The defendant’s path had been paved to the rank of major general,” the chief military prosecutor, Col. Sharon Zgagi Pinhas, told a military court in Tel Aviv. “Now he has not just been demoted one rank, he has been brought down from the highest heights to the lowest depths.”
In a plea deal, Buchris was convicted of improper conduct and prohibited sexual relations by consent. The judges ruled Thursday that the plea bargain should be upheld.
“Despite the passage of time, the accumulation of events justifies a more serious penalty,” said Brig. Gen. Orly Markman, the head of the military court. She said that if it were not for the plea deal, a greater demotion would be warranted.
Markman said Buchris’ actions “hurt the Israel Defense Forces’ moral strength,” though the defendant also had “many points to his credit.” Judge Zvi Gurfinkel, representing the minority, said the phrase “by consent” should have been dropped. He also said he feared that the demotion would not have a significant impact on Buchris.
“The message is the unequivocal condemnation of the actions of the defendant, who exploited his rank and position to satisfy his sexual appetites. Another message is the unequivocal protection of young female soldiers, who must not be sexually exploited,” Markman said.
“The verdict is meant to let commanders know that sexual exploitation of a female soldier will be met with a harsh punitive response, and to let young female soldiers or subordinates to a senior officer know that the legal system provides them with protection, that they mustn’t give in to their commander in such a situation, and that their complaints will be heard and receive due treatment.”
Attorney Avital Ben-Noun said she and her client, the soldier known as A., were satisfied with the verdict; the acknowledgement of the offenses was most vital.
“The court stated very clearly that if it weren’t for the plea deal, he would have received a harsher sentence. What happened here was sexual relations due to an abuse of authority,” Ben-Noun said.
“The word ‘consent’ is misleading and inaccurate. The plea basically grants him leniency because he took responsibility, so we agreed to the plea deal. The plaintiff was less interested in the punishment. What she cared about most was the stipulation that these actions indeed occurred.”
Buchris’ military defense lawyer, Oded Savoray, said the defendant was satisfied with the court’s decision as well. “There is no rape case here. It’s a case of prohibited sexual relations by consent,” he said.
In July, Buchris was charged with 16 sexual offenses against A. and a female officer who served under his command from 2010 to 2012. The officer, L., is still in the army. In addition to rape he was charged with one count of sodomy, six counts of obscene acts against the soldier, and six counts of obscene acts against the officer.
In December, Buchris was convicted of prohibited consensual sexual intercourse with A. and of unbecoming conduct toward L. Both women were both present for the last two court hearings and both agreed to the plea deal.