A lawmaker from the Yesh Atid party apologized over comments appearing to suggest Culture Minister Miri Regev exchanged sexual favors for promotions during her military service, but refused to retract criticism he made of her.
Elazar Stern, a former Israel Defense Forces general, told Regev on Monday, “I don’t want to talk about how you advanced in the army,” drawing accusations of sexism from the Likud minister and others. The comments were made as the two argued in the Knesset over their respective military careers.
On Wednesday, Stern said he was sorry his words had caused offense to other women.
“In the IDF they’ve known me for many years and never was there anyone who thought I did something or was caught saying something with a sexual meaning,” Stern said from the Knesset plenum.
“Because I am aware of what is happening on social media and understand there were women who were hurt by my words, then to them and only to these same women do I express sorrow,” he added.
Stern refused, however, to extend this apology to Regev.
“Miri Regev is not one of [these women]. She wasn’t hurt by my words.” he said. “She is happy. She took my words for another round in the media.”
There was no immediate response from Regev on Stern’s apology.
Following Stern’s earlier remarks, Regev on Tuesday put out a Hebrew-language video calling for the Yesh Atid lawmaker to be suspended.
Brandishing a “#YouToo” placard, Regev called Stern’s comment an “indictment against women who advanced in the army and IDF commanders who advanced women in the army.”
“[Stern] hinted that I didn’t get promoted in the army the way he did — in accordance with criteria and recommendations from commanders — but by female objectification,” she said.
“Stern, tell us what you know, because I don’t know what you are talking about,” she said, calling his remarks “sexist.”
Regev asked that probes be opened by the attorney general, the defense minister and the ethics committee to investigate any possible wrongdoing on the part of the military officers that promoted her.
Regev, who reached the rank of brigadier general, served as the military’s chief censor, and then as the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson during the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Stern, a major general in reserves, was the head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate at the time.
After initially refraining from explaining his remark at the Knesset podium, Stern later said it was a comment on Regev’s “over-enthusiasm in serving her masters” and her being too willing to kiss up to get promotions, not about sexual favors.
During an Israel Radio interview on Tuesday, the Yesh Atid lawmaker said his remarks were specifically about Regev’s actions during the 2005 disengagement.
“I was talking about the disengagement, about how she handled herself during the disengagement,” he said, referring to the deeply contentious military action that removed all Israeli civilians and soldiers from the Gaza Strip.
“You want to hear more than that? During the Second Lebanon War, I visited more than 120 bereaved families. But for [Regev], everything during the Second Lebanon War was an extravaganza for the media,” he said.
“So when I say, ‘We know how you advanced in the military,’ these are some examples,” Stern said.
Criticizing Regev again, the opposition MK said that she “turned herself into a doormat” in order to gain favor with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid defended Stern on Tuesday, saying he believed the MK’s defense that he only meant Regev had been promoted by being overly obsequious to her superiors.
Lapid said anyone who thinks Stern was being sexist “simply doesn’t know him.”
“The low-brow dialogue that Miri Regev is pushing would not be found at all in Stern’s value system,” he said.
Regev, one of relatively few women to reach the rank of brigadier general, was deeply criticized for her performance in the 2006 Lebanon War, with some senior officers claiming that she functioned as a spokesperson not for the military as a whole but for the deeply embattled IDF chief of staff at the time, Dan Halutz.