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IDF chief: ‘Zero tolerance’ for officer-subordinate relationships

Following 24% increase in sexual assault complaints in the army, Aviv Kohavi says any such incidents represent ‘an attack on human dignity’ and must be rooted out

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attends a ceremony in Glilot military base, near Tel Aviv, May 26, 2019. (Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attends a ceremony in Glilot military base, near Tel Aviv, May 26, 2019. (Flash90)

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said on Wednesday that the army has a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to relationships between officers and subordinates, slamming instances of sexual assault in the armed forces and vowing to root them out.

“Any attack on sexual grounds, in speech or in deed, is an attack on human dignity and constitutes a severe breach [of army protocol],” Kohavi said at a ceremony marking the completion of the latest combat officers course, following reports of increased cases of sexual assault in the IDF.

“In order to eradicate the phenomenon, the involvement of commanders is required, including education to instill values, control over what is happening in the unit, deterrence and severe punishment, and, above all, personal example,” Kohavi said.

“The policy we have set on the subject is ‘zero tolerance,’ and we will act severely in the face of any deviation,” he said, stressing that officers “must avoid any intimate relationship between an officer and a subordinate, even if it seems to be based on consent. There is no gray area in this issue.”

Illustrative image of a female IDF soldier seen in an army deployment area near Israel-Gaza border, on July 18, 2014. (Gili Yaari /FLASH90)

Data released by the IDF last month showed that over 2020 there were 1,542 sexual assault complaints, compared with 1,239 in 2019.

The report noted the figures represented an “exceptional increase in scope, since in the last decade there has been an average annual increase of 11 percent in reports” while in 2020 there was a jump of nearly 24%.

In October 2019, shortly after Kohavi was installed as chief of staff, a senior officer resigned from his position as the head of operations for the Israeli Navy  ahead of a television report alleging he had improper sexual relationships with subordinates, the army said.

Brig. Gen. Shai Elbaz had served as the head of naval operations since May 2018. He previously served as the head of the navy’s elite Shayetet 13 commando unit.

His alleged illicit sexual harassment occurred while he commanded Shayetet 13. According to Channel 12, several women came forward and claimed that he maintained improper sexual relationships with them.

Ofek Buchris, the former military brigadier general accused of rape and other sexual crimes against subordinates, seen at the Jaffa military court on September 29, 2016. (Flash90)

The allegations against Elbaz came two years after Ofek Buchris, formerly a brigadier general, pleaded guilty to three counts of maintaining prohibited sexual relationships as part of a deal in exchange for having far more serious charges dropped.

Buchris, a former head of the Golani infantry brigade who was seen as a rising star in the IDF, 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 an illegal sexual relationship as part of the plea deal. The prosecution also agreed not to seek jail time as part of the bargain.

The allegations against Buchris surfaced in March 2016, shocking the army brass, where he had been seen as a model officer. Buchris resigned from the IDF in July 2016.

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