Lapid Backed the Wrong Man

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MK Elazar Stern attending the official government photo shoot with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem in June

Intelligence Affairs Minister Elazar Stern did not misspeak. In the radio interview in which he was asked about his attitude to anonymous sexual harassment complaints and said that as head of the army’s manpower directorate he shredded anonymous complaints, he displayed the same misogyny that he showed in November 2018 when, addressing then-Culture Minister Miri Regev from the floor of the Knesset, he said: “I don’t want to speak here about how you advanced in the military; it’s not worth getting into.”

The radio interview was prompted by an anonymous complaint that was sent to the committee that vets senior civil service appointments in an effort to thwart Ronen Bar’s appointment as head of the Shin Bet security service. The committee concluded that there were no grounds for barring his appointment, and Stern said that through this decision, the panel “prevented the civil service from sliding toward the abyss.”

The problem with Stern is that the debate on anonymous complaints is too sensitive and important to be left to people with prejudices against women. After the interview, Stern insisted that he had merely sought to take a stand against “the culture of anonymous letters as a tool for settling accounts and thwarting senior appointments.” He stressed his commitment to dealing with sexual harassment and denied that he had shredded sexual harassment complaints.

No matter how hard he tries to contain the damage caused by his remarks, he cannot conceal their sexist tone, which echoed his misogynistic innuendo about Regev. Moreover, a former officer at the army’s Bahad 1 training base later recounted that Stern did not deal with a sexual harassment complaint that she submitted when he was the base commander in the 1990s. “Nonsense, it’s nothing, okay, okay, I’ll look into it,” she quoted him as telling her. Stern insists that he dealt harshly with the perpetrator.

The person who has repeatedly backed Stern is the chairman of his party, Yair Lapid. After the 2018 incident, Regev accused Stern of “joining the ranks of the men who smear, objectify and degrade women” and urged Lapid to suspend him. Not only did Lapid reject the demand, he chose to dissemble and to make a different accusation against Regev: “Stern was referring to Regev’s endless groveling to her commanders that peaked during” Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. “Anyone who heard him say anything else must have a serious problem,” Lapid concluded.

In fact, it’s Lapid who has a serious problem. This time, too, he defended Stern, saying, “He didn’t say that and he doesn’t believe in that,” in reference to the shredding claims. But what can you do? Enough people did believe it, and as a result Stern was forced to announce the withdrawal Tuesday of his candidacy to head the Jewish Agency. After two lapses of judgment, Lapid now has a final opportunity to climb down from his tree and dismiss Stern from the cabinet.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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