Stern’s anonymous complaints blunder – editorial
Particular attention focused on whether some of the complaints that were shredded involved allegations of sexual harassment by female soldiers. In Sunday’s radio interview, Stern revealed that he had “shredded anonymous complaints” during his tenure as head of the Workforce Directorate. He was responding to a question about an anonymous complaint recently filed against the new head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Later, in damage-limiting interviews, Stern said he was simply trying to expose a “culture of anonymous complaints” and never shredded anonymous complaints about sexual assault.
He claimed that as an IDF officer he “encouraged every soldier, man or woman, who has been harassed, sexually or otherwise, to complain, and at the same time took unequivocal action against any person. found guilty. All complaints… have been fully investigated.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, chairman of Stern’s party Yesh Atid, spoke with the intelligence minister and issued a statement that accepted his denial that he had shredded sexual harassment complaints. Yesh Atid, Lapid added, has no tolerance for sexual harassment, and if Stern had admitted to shredding documents alleging harassment, the party would have immediately left him.
The Stern case has exposed the nature of sexual harassment complaints, whether they are anonymous or in full ownership. The resounding conclusion is that how they’re made shouldn’t matter; these complaints must be investigated.
In many cases, women don’t think they can openly complain about sexual offenses, especially if they serve in strict hierarchical organizations like the IDF or the police. Investigations can be canceled and ambitions for advancement halted in their tracks.
Look no further than the case of Colette Avital, the former Labor MP, who in an interview last week at Haaretz alleged that the late President Shimon Peres sexually assaulted her twice in the 1980s, including once when he was Prime Minister. When asked why she hadn’t told anyone about it until now, Avital replied: “Because they would have laughed at me … that was the norm.”
Former Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich, now a radio host on KAN, said if Avital had come forward at the time she would have faced a campaign of denial and accusations of lying. Any chance of her continuing her political career, which ultimately included a stint as Israel’s consul general in New York, would have been hampered.
Now the question is whether Stern’s comments will thwart his ambitions to become president of the Jewish Agency. He has an excellent resume serving the country and the Jewish people.
Stern founded the IDF conversion program for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He created the Edim b’Madim (Uniformed Witnesses) project, which sends IDF soldiers to Poland to directly attend concentration camps. He also headed a special committee that reformulated the IDF’s code of ethics and led to the drafting of the “Yi’ud V’yihud” declaration of principles to strengthen Jewish and Zionist values in the IDF.
Questions should be asked and the question should be raised when Stern is interviewed for the Jewish Agency job on Wednesday. A member of the 10-person selection committee, Helena Glaser, told the To post‘s Gil Hoffman that would certainly be on the agenda.
Nonetheless, what appears to be a slip of the tongue in a radio interview should not disqualify Stern from moving forward in the process to lead the Jewish Agency. Ultimately, it will be up to the selection committee. We wish him the wisdom he will need to choose the best candidate.