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Handling of Sexual Offenses in the Israeli Military

On December 18, 2016 the Tel- Aviv Military Court convicted a brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of sexual offenses against female soldiers serving under his command. The conviction is believed to be of the highest ranking IDF soldier of such crimes, based on the officer’s admission as a result of a plea bargain. The officer had initially been indicted on serious sexual offenses, including rape, sodomy, indecent acts and unbecoming conduct. Based on the revised indictment in accordance with the plea bargain, the officer admitted to lesser offences of having engaged in prohibited sexual relations by consent, and in conduct unbecoming an officer. In addition, he made a public statement in which he apologized for his actions.

Following the conviction, the Military Court is expected to issue a sentence. If approved, the sentence proposed under the plea bargain would exempt the officer from serving prison time. He would be demoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and receive a suspended sentence. As a consequence of having resigned from the military soon after the issuance of the initial indictment and before reaching of the plea bargain, his pension is unlikely to be affected by the conviction.

Public Outrage

The plea bargain was a cause for concern to many in Israel for various reasons. It follows a number of trials in recent years involving high ranking officials. In 2015, the approval of a plea bargain in a different case resulted in the conviction and demotion of an IDF lieutenant colonel to the rank of a major, having been convicted of engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer. The officer was dismissed from the military. Among the highest ranking civilian officials convicted of sex offenses in recent years is no other than former Israeli President Moshe Katsav who refused an offer of a plea bargain and is currently serving a seven years prison term on conviction of rape and other serious sex offenses. The former president’s request for early release after serving more than two thirds of his sentence was finally approved by the parole committee on December 18, 2016, and he is expected to be released shortly.

Protecting men and women of the uniform from sexual offenses is of particular importance in Israel, where subject to some exceptions, males and females are drafted into the military upon turning 18. This may explain the public reaction to the plea bargain which resulted in a conviction under mitigated charges and might protect the convicted officer of possible imprisonment.

IDF Official Policies on Handling Sexual Offenses

In response to public concerns voiced in connection with the recent plea bargain, IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot promised to maintain a policy of “zero tolerance regarding every instance of harassment or sexual assault” in the Israel Defense Forces. Eisenkot stressed that a commander’s military record was irrelevant when charges of sexual assault were raised against him, and that IDF would not hesitate to take severe action towards senior commanders irrespective of rank.

The IDF operate a sexual crisis center. The center provides “emotional assistance” to male and female soldiers who report sexual offenses committed on base or off, during their military service. The center also provides assistance to soldiers who were sexually assaulted or harassed before being drafted. The center has reportedly received 777 reports of sexual offenses in 2012, 930 in 2013, and 1,073 in 2014.

In 2015 a legal aid unit was established to assist soldiers who are victims of sexual offenses. It has been reported that the unit’s attorneys have provided assistance to the female soldier who lodged a complaint in the brigadier general’s case.

Emphasizing the seriousness with which complaints on sexual offenses are being handled by the military, IDF spokesperson noted that “[e]very three months, the head of human resources issues a letter to all officers with the rank of major and above under his professional responsibility, dealing with relevant issues on the agenda. The IDF considers sexual attacks very serious and invests many resources in uprooting the phenomenon.”

Adjudication of Sexual Offenses by Members of the Armed Forces

Under Israeli law, military courts are authorized to hear all cases that involve IDF service members, in the regular and reserve services. Indictments may cover all offenses against the laws of the State of Israel, both “military” and “non- military.” “Military offenses “include treason, assistance to enemy, etc. (See Military Justice Law, 4715-1955, Sefer HaHukim (Book of Laws, the official gazette, SH) 5715, No. 189 p. 171, as amended (hereafter MJL), 2nd Part, Ch. 3).

Under the MJL, rape is punishable by twenty years imprisonment if committed by an individual, and by a life sentence if committed by three soldiers together. (MJL § 75). Under the Penal Law, 5733-1977, a person who has intercourse with a woman who is 18 or older, or who commits an act of sodomy on any person 18 or older, “by exploiting his authority in labor relations or service”, is subject to three years imprisonment (Penal Law 5733-1977, SH 5733 No. 864, p. 226, as amended, § 346(b) & 347 (a1)). Perpetrating an indecent act on an adult “by exploiting a relationship of dependence in employment or service” is punishable by two- year imprisonment (id., § 348(e)). The law defines “an indecent act” as “an act committed for sexual arousal, satisfaction or abasement (id., §348(f)).

The MJL considers an offense under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law, 5758-1998 (SH 5758 No. 1661 p.166, as amended, hereafter PSH) as a “military offense” for the purpose of disciplinary adjudication, when the defendant is of a military rank lower than lieutenant general (MJL §136). Under the PSH penalties for harassment, including blackmailing to perform sexual acts, indecent acts, repeated offers and references of sexual connotation, range from two to four years imprisonment in addition to compensation to the victim (PSH §§3- 6).

Law Library of Congress Sources on Adjudication of Sexual Offenses in the Military

The Law Library of Congress holdings include official publications of Israeli legislation in the original Hebrew language. For our non-Hebrew readers I have provided in the text of this post above LCCN Permalinks of the most updated unofficial translations of the relevant laws.

Staff of the Law Library of Congress Directorate of Legal Research prepared a report titled Military Justice: Adjudication of Sexual Offenses (July 2013). The report, one of many on a variety of subjects, is available on the Law Library website and is composed of country surveys for five countries. In addition to Israel, the report includes country surveys for AustraliaCanadaGermany and the United Kingdom.

We invite you to review additional reports on legal aspects relating to armed forces, including topics such as the interpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution which renounces war; eligibility for family and medical leave in the militaries of Denmark; Israel; Norway; and Sweden; distribution of veterans’ benefits in France and in Israel; along with other subjects appearing under the Law Library Comprehensive Index of Legal Reports heading of “armed forces.”

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