A second woman testified on Monday that Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern dismissed her and others’ sexual harassment claims when he was the commander of the IDF officers’ school in the 1990s, adding to a public outrage that is seen by many as endangering the politician’s career.
The outcry began when Stern, a leading candidate to head the Jewish Agency, said in a radio interview on Sunday morning that 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.
However, a woman told Channel 13 news anonymously on Sunday evening that during his time as head of the IDF’s officers’ school Stern had threatened her not to repeat allegations she’d raised against a noncommissioned officer, or else her life would be “dark and bitter.” Stern denied saying those words, but conceded that his treatment of the case “may not have been good.”
On Monday, Channel 13 aired the testimony of a second woman, now aged 49, who served as an officer at the IDF officers’ school, the military’s most significant educational institution, when Stern was its commander.
The woman, who had been in charge of dealing with sexual harassment cases at the time, said Stern had ignored complaints by herself and by others, alleging that the base had an “atmosphere of harassment, of touchy officers.”
She said she was “shocked” when Stern gave interviews Sunday night to all three major Israeli TV news networks, claiming he had never silenced sexual harassment complaints.
The woman testified that when she came to Stern after a male officer tried to kiss her against her will, Stern answered: “Nonsense, [it’s] nothing, okay I’ll look into it.”
“I hoped he would probe it but I knew he wouldn’t,” she said. “When I tried to find out he avoided the topic.”
She said she was later ostracized by officials in the army base, ultimately causing her to leave the military earlier than planned.
“It was a nightmare. Female soldiers feared retribution because of what was done to me, officers were moved to other bases because they were in my situation. I was saddened by how they managed to break me,” she said.
Stern’s office replied that “from the few details we were given, it seems like the case is familiar to Minister Stern and was directly and stringently handled by him. The [offending] officer was relocated and his service was shortened.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid backed Stern, a member of his Yesh Atid party, in a Monday statement: “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. 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 his 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 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.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.