IDF ombudswoman: Bulk of soldiers’ complaints are against ‘stubborn’ junior officers

In annual report, Defense Ministry official warns newly graduated cadets are likely feeling pressured by senior officers to accomplish tasks, end up harming their subordinates

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative: Newly graduated combat officers at the Bahad 1 IDF officers' school in southern Israel, November 10, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: Newly graduated combat officers at the Bahad 1 IDF officers' school in southern Israel, November 10, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel’s military ombudswoman on Wednesday announced that a significant chunk of the complaints of alleged abuse, negligence, and incompetence by commanders toward their subordinates in 2022 were made against junior officers.

The ombudswoman’s annual report included thousands of complaints from conscripts, career, and reservist soldiers. The number of complaints has remained relatively stable in recent years, but this year the report identified that junior Israel Defense Forces officers were the cause of the bulk of complaints.

The 190-page report was presented to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and to the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as well as senior officers in the IDF.

The document was prepared by ombudswoman Brig. Gen. (res.) Rachel Tevet-Wiesel, known formally as the chief complaints officer, who works out of the Defense Ministry. Tevet-Wiesel is the first woman to hold the position, after being appointed in 2021.

Over the course of 2022, the ombudswoman’s office received 6,075 complaints from Israeli troops or their parents, a two percent decrease from the previous year. Tevet-Wiesel’s office reviewed each of the cases, finding that the majority of them — 58% — were legitimate, with the rest dismissed as false or trivial.

Among the 3,654 complaints by conscripted soldiers, the majority, 54%, pertained to the alleged improper treatment of subordinates by their commanders.

In this handout image published February 22, 2023, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant receives the annual military ombudsman report from Rachel Tevet-Wiesel. (Defense Ministry)

Speaking to reporters ahead of the document’s publication, Tevet-Wiesel pointed a finger at junior officers.

“First of all, it worries me that this is not decreasing. But when I look at it in depth, the vast majority of complaints are against junior officers,” the ombudswoman said.

“I’ll call a spade a spade, it’s the second lieutenants. Those who only recently completed officers course,” she said, calling it “the problematic rank.”

“It’s not the lieutenant colonels or the brigadiers, although there are some complaints there — it’s mostly the second lieutenants. This is where the focus should be,” Tevet-Wiesel said.

She gave as an example a second lieutenant who denied a lone soldier leave to go to his sister’s wedding, calling the decision “absurd.”

“It’s not only patent stupidity but also ignorance of the protocols,” she said.

Illustrative image of the Bahad 1 IDF officers’ school, undated. (Israel Defense Forces)

Tevet-Wiesel said her office over the past six months has focused on working with the IDF officers’ school, known as Bahad 1, to build simulations of situations that have triggered complaints for cadets to train on. “The simulations are based on real complaint situations so that they will understand what their soldiers see,” she said.

The ombudswoman said her office was also working on training programs in courses for more senior officers, “to teach them that the real story here is the junior officers. You also need to educate them, but also give them space to make mistakes… and understand where the stubbornness comes from.”

“We know that those who show up at the gates of Bahad 1 are good people with their hearts in the right place, but still, this excessive stubbornness likely comes from wanting to accomplish tasks, the pressure to accomplish tasks, the thought of what will happen if they don’t accomplish tasks, and therefore they are more stubborn toward their soldiers” she added.

As they do every year, the complaints also dealt with cases of physical and verbal abuse, soldiers failing to receive proper medical care, bureaucratic inefficiencies and poor conditions.

Tevet-Wiesel said that while there were few complaints of violence and verbal abuse last year, “it must be reduced to zero.”

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers block the entrance to the illegal Homesh outpost, in the northern West Bank, May 28, 2022.(Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The most significant rise in complaints came from groups of soldiers, up 350% from 2021. One such group included more than 1,000 female troops, who complained over the type of uniforms given to servicewomen. The complaint was “fully justified,” Tevet-Wiesel said, and the IDF has since allowed female soldiers to pick between two different kinds of service dress uniform.

The biggest drop in complaints was among inductees, down 17% from 2021. Tevet-Wiesel said she saw an improvement in the induction process to the IDF, with the Meitav induction unit better treating civilians waiting to be drafted, as well as their parents.

The document is prepared each year, based on written complaints from soldiers, interviews and reviews of internal military reports, in order to identify both worrying and positive trends within the IDF.

This year’s report also included many of the conclusions that appeared in reports from previous years: commanders knowingly or unknowingly failing to provide soldiers with services required by military protocol; commanders speaking unprofessionally or hurtfully to their subordinates, sometimes in public; medical personnel failing to keep up with the needs of the soldiers in their care; and general bureaucratic mismanagement.

Illustrative: A group of new IDF recruits at a Meitav Induction Base, July 25, 2010 (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

On a positive note, Tevet-Wiesel said she felt the IDF was taking her seriously, with around 70% of her recommendations to relevant military bodies being implemented, along with another 142 recommendations from previous years whose implementation was delayed.

Responding to the report, the military thanked the ombudswoman and said it would help the IDF improve on the issues it highlights.

“The IDF views the work of the chief complaints officer with great importance, and will learn from the report and the lessons that emerge from it.” the army said in a statement.

Regarding the ombudswoman’s report about junior officers, the IDF said it was “advancing access to tools for young commanders for optimal treatment of soldiers.”

“Cases in which discrimination, physical and verbal violence against conscripts occurred, contrary to IDF values, are taken very seriously, investigated in depth, and dealt with harshly,” the military added.

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