Ross Singer
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A different kind of hero

On speaking up against sexual harassment in the IDF

“I came here to defend the country and I’m not sure that’s what I’ll be doing.”

This was my “adopted” daughter’s concern when she was offered a place in an IDF unit assigned to communications and liaising with Palestinians in the territories.

Danna had come into our lives just a few months before. We volunteered to adopt a lone soldier (a soldier with no immediate family in Israel) through our Kibbutz’s Garin Tzabar program. Idealistic and dedicated, Danna wanted to serve her country and this unit was not what she had in mind when she signed on.

My wife and I shared with her our sense that every unit in the army serves an important purpose. Even if it was a bit unconventional, she would be doing a great service to the country serving in this unit. I am not sure how much our advice affected her decision, but in the end she accepted the offer.

Shortly thereafter, I accompanied Danna to the Bakum (draft absorption base). Her early army experience continued to challenge her expectations. Her basic training was “klalit” – meaning unspecialized and with the general population. There she trained with some of the most unmotivated soldiers in Israel. They would complain that they couldn’t run because they were too fat. When the commander asked for volunteers, Danna’s was the only hand that went up. Everyone tried to evade as much work and responsibility as possible. Her fellow soldiers couldn’t understand Danna’s readiness to volunteer and chip in. Again she was struggling with the gap between her idealistic vision of serving and protecting her country, and the reality the army presented to her.

But the greatest disappointment was yet to come. After finishing basic training and beginning regular service, a commanding officer accompanied her back to her apartment for a home visit. The army arranges these visits to ensure that lone soldiers like Danna have appropriate accommodations. It’s a wonderful idea in theory, but proved to be devastating in this case. On the drive, the commander engaged her in an extremely inappropriate conversation that, given his authority over, her was tantamount to sexual harassment.

Danna struggled for a few days about what to do. She shared the incident with some of her fellow soldiers who told her to just blow it off.  In the end, she filed a formal grievance and in the process learned that there had been numerous other complaints against this officer from other young women; many of the incidents involved went beyond verbal harassment to actual physical molestation. Still, none of the victims had gone as far as calling for an official inquiry. After much soul searching, Danna decided to ask for a hearing.

I am writing these words on the afternoon of the hearing and I am not yet sure of the result. Yet there is one thing I am sure of. Danna has served and protected her country in one of the most important ways possible. The Jewish community is reeling from revelations of sexual abuse. A former president of Israel sits in jail convicted of this very crime. The perpetrators who commit these acts appall us, but we are also perplexed by those who knew of the abuse and didn’t call out the perpetrators on their crimes. Today, despite the difficulty and discomfort, Danna refused to be silent in the face of this offence.

I am sure this wasn’t what Danna had in mind when she volunteered to serve in the IDF. She wasn’t involved in taking out terrorists or decoding enemy communications. It may have been a bit unconventional, but I have no doubt that the soldiers and citizens of Israel are a bit safer today. There will be a ripple effect and officers and commanders who know about this case will think twice before they abuse their status and power. I can’t help but think of my other children who will be receiving their draft notices in the coming years, and I am so grateful that their “big sister” made their country and their army a more secure place to live and serve.

About the Author
Ross Singer lives on Kibbutz Maale Gilboa and works as a tour guide, educator, and translator.