Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed support Thursday for a minister from his Likud party who an opposition lawmaker appeared to imply rose up in the Israel Defense Forces by providing sexual favors to her superiors.
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, a former IDF general, told Culture Minister Miri 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.
Stern faced accusations of sexism from Regev and others over the remarks and later apologized to any women who were offended, but refused to extend an apology to Regev.
“I’ve heard the chauvinistic remarks. This is just inappropriate, not serious,” Netanyahu told Regev as they met with Israeli medal winners from last month’s judo tournament in Abu Dhabi.
“You need to do an ippon and move on,” he added, referring to a knockout move in judo.
Following Stern’s initial 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 promoted 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 through female objectification,” she said.
“Stern, tell us what you know, because I don’t know what you are talking about,” she continued, 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 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 only a handful of 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.