IDF’s top lawyer to become first openly gay major general

Military Advocate General Sharon Afek will be promoted in light of international law’s growing importance in warfare

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek speaks at a conference on the law of armed conflict outside Tel Aviv, on April 25, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek speaks at a conference on the law of armed conflict outside Tel Aviv, on April 25, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The army’s top lawyer Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek will be promoted to the rank of major general, the military announced on Thursday, citing the increasing importance of his position.

When he is promoted later this year, Afek will become the first openly gay officer in the Israel Defense Forces to hold that rank.

In addition to the change in rank, the military advocate general will have a fixed tenure of five years, with the option for a sixth, “depending on the needs of the IDF chief of staff and the agreement of the military advocate general,” the army said.

In the past, the position was open-ended. Some military advocate generals held the position for four years, others for eight.

Afek will continue to hold the rank of brigadier general until he has completed three years at that rank, which will occur in October, and then receive the promotion to major general.

According to the army, this will be the case for future military advocate generals as well.

Prior to Afek, the position of military advocate general was always held by a major general. The policy was changed as part of the army’s recent streamlining efforts, which sought to cut back on the number of generals.

With the approval of the defense minister, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot decided to reverse the policy in light of the importance of international law in modern warfare.

“These recommendations show the central and significant position of the MAG in the army,” the military said.

That could be seen clearly in the recent discussions over the legality of the IDF’s use of lethal force in the clashes along the Gaza border, which have reached the Israeli High Court of Justice.

The military added that the promotion and extended tenure was encouraged by the Ciechanover Commission, a fact-finding probe launched following the 2014 Gaza war to investigate how the military handled the campaign from an international law perspective.

Afek served in the army in a law-related position for 25 years before being appointed military advocate general in October 2015, taking over for Maj. Gen. (res.) Danny Efroni.

During his nearly three years in office, Afek has dealt with a number of high-profile cases, most notably the so-called Hebron shooting.

When Afek took over as military advocate general, he became the first openly gay member of the IDF General Staff.

In an interview with the Israeli Bar Association, Afek said it was an important step in showing the LGBT community that the army would accept them.

“It’s important for me to act as a role model,” he said. “Even today, in the year 2017, we still encounter manifestations of ignorance and hatred of others. It’s important to me that young men and women know that there are no glass ceilings in the IDF that limit them.”

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