Israel's Top-ranking Military Lawyer: I Never Felt Discriminated Against for Being Gay

In interview, Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek opens up about being first openly gay officer in the army's general staff

Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek in 2016.
Moti Milrod

At no time did he encounter prejudice based on his sexual orientation, says Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek in his first interview about being the first openly gay officer in the Israel Defense Forces' general staff.

Afek, the army’s chief military advocate general for the last year and a half, told Orech Din, a Hebrew-language journal for lawyers, that times had been different when he was a young officer and worried that his career would be hindered by the glass ceiling. “Happily, nobody paid any attention. I never felt that my sexual orientation was a consideration in decisions about me, which is good,” he said.

Even now, in 2017, “discrimination, ignorance and hatred of others still exist,” said Afek, adding that he would like to be a model for LGBT teenagers preparing for the draft. “It matters to me that these young men and women know that there are no glass ceilings that might constrain them in the army. Their success depends on them and them alone."

In the interview, Afek elaborated on two major cases in which he was involved. The first was the matter of Elor Azaria, who was convicted of killing Abd Fatah al-Sharif, a subdued attacker, in Hebron in March 2016. “I am completely at peace with how the Azaria case was handled,” said Afek. Nobody handed down orders to him on how to handle it, he said. “All the decisions were completely independent. There was no external pressure or efforts to exert influence.”

There had been no justification or operational need for the gunfire, Afek said, but indicting a combat soldier for actions taken as part of an operation is complicated. He noted that the case had been a turning point for military law: “It is hard for some people to digest.” Azaria was sentenced to 18 months in prison and demoted from sergeant to private. The true test of the Azaria case will be the perspective of time, Afek added.

The second case involved Brig. Gen. Ofek Buchris, who was convicted of improper conduct and prohibited sexual relations by consent with a woman under his command. The plea deal he struck with the prosecution evoked considerable public criticism.

“Everything is taken into account when consolidating a plea bargain," said Afek, "the deeds, the evidence, public interest, sparing everybody the legal process, victims' opinion and regarding the punishment, the background of the defendant. In my view, the bottom line is that the plea bargain was appropriate and factored in the relevant considerations.”