On the 1st of December, 2016, Ofek Buchris, one of Israel’s most decorated military officers and former head of the Golani brigade, signed a plea bargain admitting to “conduct unbecoming an officer” and “wrongful consensual intercourse”. This admission came after half a year of vehemently denying he had any kind of physical relationship with his two accusers.
Following the initial complaints against him, Buchris retired from the military (and therefore will receive his very handsome military pension), promising he would combat the allegations as a civilian. Buchris had initially been charged with rape, sodomy, sexual assault and conduct unbecoming an officer.
Ofek Buchris was considered a national hero, and for some, even after the plea bargain, he still is. He had won the chief of staff citation, a high military honour, for his actions during operation “Defensive Shield” in 2002. He was a decorated soldier and revered leader, one of the guys. Many of his friends and colleagues closed ranks around him and spoke up in the media about his character, claiming he could never have done what he was being accused of committing.
Now, while Buchris has changed his story, he has also been found guilty of a far lesser offense than what he was initially charged with. The punishment he received thanks to the plea bargain was a slight demotion (from Tat-Aluf, lieutenant general, to Aluf Mishna, colonel) and one-year probation, with no actual jail time.
This infuriating deal made feminists livid. Every woman I know who followed this case felt wronged.
In recent years, more Israeli women are pressing charges or speaking up against male authority figures in the army, academia and the media for having been involved in sexual misconduct. Too many times those who do so encounter victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and have been treated as liars by the public and media. Online, however, Israeli women have found a way to make their voices heard.
In 2013, a group of 40 women (I was among them) who’d never met before gathered at a café in south Tel Aviv, called together by a Facebook event created by feminist activist Lian Ram. That post read “we are starting a feminist newspaper” and nothing more. During a four-hour meeting, every possible idea for a feminist written venture was discussed. A year later, five of us opened a Facebook page titled קוראת פוליטיקלי or “Politically Corret” (literally, in Hebrew, “a woman who reads politically”). The idea was to create a place where women’s voices could be heard. As simple as that.
The mainstream media in Israel is dominated by male publishers, editors in chief and commentators. Especially when it comes to issues of national security and defense, women’s voices are almost never heard. News about women is absent as well. Politically Corret was formed in order to fill that void, and within three years has grown into a popular website with a strong social media presence. And it is only one of many online feminist initiatives that have slowly been raising public awareness regarding feminist issues.
Because of this work, following Buchris’s plea bargain, Politically Corret urged our readers and writers to share their feelings. One of them, Michal Porat, wrote that when she was in the army and left her post for a five-minute bathroom break, she got three days’ detention, a greater punishment than what Buchris got for sexually assaulting two women. Soon readers started sharing similar stories and a meme was born. Within minutes, the Israeli web was flooded with the hashtag #more_than_Buchris (יותר_מבוכריס, #יותרמבוכריס#).
Examples included a woman who got 21 days of detention for having a toaster oven in her barracks, a man who got three days’ detention for guarding his post with an empty water canteen, etc. Some women shared stories of sexual harassment and how they were punished for standing up to their harassers, while some conscientious objectors wrote about how they served two years in military prison for “not wanting to occupy another people.” All of them were punished more severely than Buchris. The original post reached almost 300,000 people, the hashtag was trending at number one on Israeli Twitter, and the protest was mentioned in all major Israeli news outlets. The subject was unavoidable, and for a few days even people who never spoke or cared about sexual harassment—in the army or otherwise—were engaged in the discussion.
Like any feminist venture, the hashtag protest led to internal criticism. We had conceived one of the most talked about feminist protests of recent years, but at what cost and to what end? Several Palestinian women stated that such a protest excluded them because it was a protest by those who served in the army. Some said the reason for the protest’s mainstream success was the fact that it called for people to reminisce about their army days, thus normalizing the army further. Most upsettingly, the protest did not alter the status quo. Buchris got his plea deal and his military pension, so what, if anything, has actually been achieved?
In my opinion, we got our “seat at the table” and, for now, that will have to be enough. Israeli society won’t be changed overnight. Just a few weeks after Buchris’ plea deal, convicted rapist and ex-president, Moshe Katsav, who has been serving a seven-year sentence, was released two years early, despite never admitting to his crimes. On the same day, sexual assault victim Yonatan Heilo, who is serving a 12-year sentence for killing his rapist, was denied a presidential pardon. Clearly, we have a long way to go if we want to achieve an equal and just society, but first we have to get everyone to agree that there is a problem. That recognition is what #more_than_Buchris achieved.
Now, we have to build on that achievement.
(This article originally appeared on the blog of Lilith Magazine–independent, Jewish & frankly feminist. For more information or to subscribe, visit lilith.org )