Opinion |

Sex Crimes in the Army: Let Every Jewish Mother and Daughter Be Aware

The plea deal by a retired general shows that the Israeli army won’t fight for the accuser, who’s already subject to the patriarchal thinking that created the army in the first place.

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Women soldiers in the IDF.
Women soldiers in the IDF.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Plea bargains in criminal trials are a forced deal of give-and-take. At best they provide a semblance of justice while offering better terms to a defendant and lightening the judiciary’s load.

At the same time they block a principled debate and hinder society in bringing a defendant to trial, something usually labeled as the carrying out of justice. At worst, plea bargains reflect the system’s willingness to protect someone while still abiding by the law.

Under his plea deal taking shape with military prosecutors, Brig. Gen. Ofek Buchris won’t spend a day in jail, even though he was accused of one of the most serious crimes in the book. (He will, however, receive a suspended sentence.) He will be demoted by only one rank, which shows that a general can confess to charges such as sexual relations with a woman soldier and still be a colonel in the reserves.

Buchris resigned from the army before charges were filed, so he’s assured of receiving his pension. That’s it, it’s over. What Buchris described as the struggle of his life to clear his name will end with a whimper. But this will be a loud blast regarding the army’s approach to sex offenses under the shield of rank and within a rigid hierarchy against past and future victims.

Most victims of sex crimes in the military are women. None of them is likely, now or in the foreseeable future, to be at the top of the hierarchy. They will almost always be young women, weak as a result of the army’s structure and purpose – amid a hierarchy and patriarchal thinking that created the army in the first place.

All these women, including brave ones in combat roles, serve in accordance with the law, with their civil rights restricted in that framework. They are restricted in their speech, movement, right to assemble and freedom to leave an office in revulsion when sex offenses have taken place. In this they are no different than their male counterparts, but they are in a weaker position to begin with.

For better or worse, the “people’s army” isn’t a reflection of Israeli society, and plea bargains such as the Buchris deal are of a different stripe than a similar arrangement with a civilian employer charged with sex offenses against an employee, or in the case of a state official abusing a junior employee. In the Israeli army, each case of laying charges that benefit the accused is a clear sign that the system is unwilling to defend women.

Ofek Buchris at court, Tel Aviv, September 29, 2016.Credit: Nir Keidar

In the current climate, the exclusion of women in the army is considered necessary to “protect” religious soldiers, while ever higher obstacles are placed on women’s road to attaining equal rights and duties in the military, amid derision of their contributions. And now comes a plea bargain showing that the system won’t fight alongside a woman who makes a sacrifice and accuses someone of rape.

Instead, it chooses to make it easier for the accused, and in a manner that admits that he exploited his authority, status, rank and seniority, but stating that it was all consensual. This shows that the army won’t make an effort to fight for the accuser.

It also applies to potential plaintiffs who have heard about the plea bargain and won’t want to make a similar sacrifice and have to relive the trauma. It applies to any woman who works under an officer who sees her as an object for convenient sex, whether consensual (though not supported by the law) or under coercion.

What will happen to such an officer? In the worst case of a rape charge, even if the plaintiff is believed, the officer will be demoted one rank. Among his equals, people will still believe that he did nothing wrong. Female soldiers, meanwhile, will be less protected following this deal. Let every Jewish mother and her daughter be aware.

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