Several senior IDF officers testified on Thursday on behalf of a former battalion commander in the Givati Brigade accused of sexual offenses against a subordinate female soldier.
Lt. Col. Liran Hajbi left the army after entering a plea bargain over charges of “acts which exceed the commander-subordinate relations and had some sexual background,” and was relieved of his post last December.
The hearing at the military appeals court Thursday was to determine whether Hajbi could keep his rank.
Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar, formerly the head of the army’s Gaza division, on Thursday spoke before the military court, praising Hajbi’s character and “impressive” army track record.
“He is an impressive and unique officer, warm and courageous, who proved himself in a long line of events,” Bachar told the military tribunal.
Bachar said Hajbi had been on track for a promotion for his exemplary performance during the 50-day summer conflict in the Gaza Strip.
“On the basis of his achievements during Operation Protective Edge he was on his way to becoming the brigade commander and if it wasn’t for the events for which we are here now, Hajbi would have become the Givati Brigade commander by the summer of 2016.”
According to the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Givati Commander Col. Ofer Winter also asked the military court to be lenient with its punishment.
Maj. Gen. Shlomo Turgeman, the head of the Southern Command also offered his support for Hajbi in a letter presented to the court.
Ex-IDF soldier May Fatal had accused Hajbi, formerly chief of the Givati Brigade’s Tzabar Battalion and her commanding officer, of sexual harassment.
In a plea bargain, Hajbi agreed to leave the army and was fined NIS 5,000 ($1,300).
MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union) denounced the support from the top IDF officials as a “disgrace.”
“It is a disgrace that the officers are defending Hajbi [so ardently],” she wrote in a message posted to her Twitter account. “I am waiting for a mini-parade for the one little female soldier who was the victim of dozens of his sex crimes that have been whitewashed as ‘misconduct.'”
In April, Fatal broke her silence and identified herself on Facebook for the first time, slamming the military courts for offering Hajbi what she said was a softened indictment and plea bargain.
The original indictment in March accused him of hugging, kissing, and harassing Fatal by text messages, and another clause that was not made public. The revised indictment after the plea bargain found Hajbi guilty of “acts which exceed the commander-subordinate relations and had some sexual background,” but made no explicit reference to sexual harassment.
In response, Hajbi’s attorney said at the time that Fatal had approved the arrangement, and had revised her version of the story.
Fatal has denied any romantic entanglement with Hajbi, saying that she had rejected his advances repeatedly and explicitly.