General convicted of sexual offenses demoted under plea bargain

Ofek Buchris, accused of rape, also given 7-month suspended sentence after confessing to unspecified sexual offenses

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Ofek Buchris arrives at military court on February 2, 2017.  (Flash90)
Ofek Buchris arrives at military court on February 2, 2017. (Flash90)

An IDF military court demoted a senior IDF officer who was accused of rape and admitted unspecified sexual offenses as part of a plea bargain Thursday.

Ofek Buchris, formerly a brigadier general, had his rank lowered to colonel as part of the sentence. He was also given a suspended sentence of seven months.

Buchris, a former head of the Golani infantry brigade, had been accused of rape and sexual assault by two female officers who served under him.

He denied the accusations at first, but later took public responsibility for unspecified sexual offenses and a prohibited sexual liaison in exchange for having the far more serious crimes of rape and sexual assault dropped. The prosecution also agreed not to seek jail time as part of the plea bargain.

Judges at the hearing said they agreed by a majority vote to demote Buchris by only one rank, although a minority opinion wanted to drop him two ranks.

“Acts like these damage the army and the public faith in it,” said Military Judge Col. Orly Markman in her summation. “As a soldier rises through the ranks — so he needs to set an example.”

“The lowering in rank reflects his failure. Lowering in rank is also symbolic and a statement. Unbecoming behavior is an expression of command failure and values. It is important for the defendant to take responsibility for his actions and to openly express regret.”

Under the plea deal, Buchris was convicted of prohibited sexual relations by consent instead of three counts of rape.

The allegations against Buchris surfaced last March, shocking the army brass, where he had been seen as a model officer. Buchris resigned from the IDF in July 2016, although he may return following his sentencing.

During a sentencing hearing on January 17, deputy IDF chief of staff designate Aviv Kochavi praised Buchris’s character, saying that “in his actions and general conduct he demonstrated moral behavior,” while adding that “in all of the tasks he carried out in the past he went above and beyond in fulfilling them and is considered an outstanding commander,” the Hebrew-language daily Haaretz reported.

The former head of the IDF’s Central Command, Avi Mizrahi, also lauded Buchris’s character at the hearing, saying that “he is a very realistic person, very brave and looks out for his people and those who are in his immediate circle,” according to Haaretz.

However, representatives of his accusers, whose names have remained under gag order, said the terse letter in which he took responsibility was lacking in empathy for his victims.

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