May 11, 2017

Israeli Defense General Demoted as He Comes Out Gay

IDF General Sharon Afek

For the first time in IDF history, a top member of the high command revealed on Wednesday that he is openly gay.

Military Advocate General (Brig.-Gen.) Sharon Afek told the Israel Bar Association’s official magazine that even though currently there are pockets of "ignorance and hatred," the IDF accepts him and he never experienced discrimination. 

Afek added that, “I never felt discriminatory or preferred treatment due to my sexual orientation” as a factor in decisions the army made on whether to promote him or not  “and that is a positive.”

"When I was a young officer, times were different and I worried that the issue would be used against me and that I might really hit the glass ceiling. But happily, the issue did not make waves," he said.

He said it was important for him to send a message to the many young LGBT teens on the verge of being drafted into the IDF, "it is important for them to know that there is no glass ceiling that will hold them up in the IDF. Their success depends on them and only them. It is possible to rise to the top of pyramid.”

"The IDF is the people's army and it encourages all who want to contribute and grow," he added. "I will be pleased if many more will walk in my footsteps."

Afek does not only serve as a model for equality for LGBT soldiers, he has also been a consistent supporter of women in the IDF.

Although he clarified that primarily the place of women in the IDF is a command policy issue, not a legal issue, he strongly defended the legality of the IDF’s recent policies, which have seen an increase of women in fighting units and in the higher ranks.

“I think that the decisions which were undertaken until now were balanced and well-considered and that they make it possible for all those serving in the IDF to fully serve,” he said.

He noted that half of the IDF’s legal division are women and that two of its top division heads are women, “and I am proud of that.”

Shifting to the Hebron shooter trial, Afek said, “I am completely at peace at the manner in which the Azaria case was handled and this was given expression from the verdict,” in which Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter in the killing of neutralized terrorist Abdel Fatah al-Sharif on March 24, 2015.

Questioned about the storm of political pressures he faced during the case, he responded, “no defense establishment official came to me and said to me: ‘I want you to act in this way or another way.’ All decisions were made totally independently without outside influences or attempts to influence.”

One criticism from Azaria’s lawyers has been that pretrial comments by then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and the IDF Spokesman’s Office infected the trial and caused various witnesses to turn against Azaria in a biased manner.

Afek responded by defending the conduct of Eisenkot and the IDF Spokesman’s Office in terms of sending a moral, not legal message, to the army’s soldiers. Notably, he did not defend Ya’alon and was not asked a follow-up question about his statements against Azaria.

The MAG also said that he had given then-IDF Brig.-Gen. Ofek Buchris no preferable treatment when he decided to indict him for rape, despite his high rank.

He acknowledged that Buchris’ service to the army played a role in considering his punishment of a demotion in rank as part of a plea bargain deal, but said that it was only one of many typical factors taken into account. 

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