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Lapid backs ally Stern amid outcry over sexual assault comments

Intelligence minister sparked outcry by implying he’d trashed anonymous complaints; party leader says: ‘If Stern had said he’d shredded assault claims, we would say goodbye to him’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (R) with MK Elazar Stern at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on January 18, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (R) with MK Elazar Stern at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on January 18, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid backed Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern of his Yesh Atid party Monday amid outcry over comments the latter made a day earlier, when he said he had “shredded many anonymous complaints” during his time as head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, indicating he was referring to claims of sexual assault as well.

In a damage control bid, Stern toured the major networks on Sunday evening, apologizing if his remarks had caused offense, and saying that none of the anonymous complaints he had shredded related to sexual assault.

According to a Yesh Atid party statement, during a meeting with Lapid Monday morning, Stern, a leading candidate to head the Jewish Agency, stressed that “any harassment complaint that reached his desk was immediately dealt with with the utmost severity” and that “his remarks referred solely to complaints filed by officers against each other during fights over promotions.”

Stern also denied an accusation that he’d threatened to make a woman’s life “dark and bitter” and to oust her from the army for filing a sexual assault complaint against an officer when he was her commander, the statement added.

Lapid said following the meeting, “Yesh Atid is a party where there is zero tolerance and zero backing for sexual harassment. We believe that women should be protected and allowed to complain in any way they see fit.”

According to the foreign minister, “If Stern had said he had shredded complaints about sexual harassment, we would have said goodbye to him later that day. He did not say that, and he does not believe in that.”

During the radio interview Sunday, and with the conversation clearly focusing on claims of sexual assault, the minister replied several times “yes” to whether he’d shredded anonymous complaints. When asked if he was referring to women’s complaints specifically, Stern said he didn’t “remember exactly whether it was by women.”

Stern was once the commander of the IDF officers’ school, the military’s most significant educational institution, and later served as the head of the Education and Youth Corps and of the Manpower Directorate, before entering the Knesset in 2013. He has served as intelligence minister since June.

As an officer, Elazar Stern believed the role of the military went beyond defense (Courtesy of Elazar Stern)
Elazar Stern as a two-star general in charge of IDF manpower. (Courtesy)

Following his Sunday comments, a woman told Channel 13 anonymously that during his time as head of the IDF’s officers’ school Stern had threatened her not to repeat the allegations she’d raised against a noncommissioned officer.

“I was a soldier at the base between 1995-1997 when one of the noncommissioned officers tried to sexually harm me,” the woman said. During a meeting with Stern and the accused, she said Stern told her: “If you repeat anything that was said here in this room, or what the officer tried to do, your days in the army will be dark and bitter. It will be the worst in the world for you, and you will not remain in the army.”

Speaking to Channel 13, Stern denied he’d ever said those words, while saying that the fact that he had spoken to both the alleged victim and perpetrator was a sign that he had dealt with the accusations. However, he conceded that his treatment of the case “may not have been good.”

“The quote, which comes almost 30 years later, cannot be true,” he said, according to the Yesh Atid statement, which called on the IDF to “investigate the matter in order to allow General Stern to defend his good name.”

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