With Brigadier General Ofek Buchris, an IDF officer convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault, set to receive a generous plea deal, many Israeli army veterans have taken to Facebook to protest. The most popular expression of protest entails individuals (men and women both) recounting minor infractions they engaged in while enlisted, such as unkempt hair, tardiness; a lost beret; a lost document; or talking back, followed by the relatively minor punishments they received (a fine, a suspended sentence, two days detention). The posts end with the hashtag “more than Buchris” (i.e., my punishment for a trivial offense was more severe than what Buchris is receiving).
The campaign is not without some controversy, though. Some have said that turning a lens on these minor infractions and their light punishments deflects focus from a more wide-ranging discussion of sexual assault, including identifying the existing barriers to reporting it. Most cases of sexual assault cases indeed go unreported — in Israel and elsewhere. Others say that instead of recounting silly military foibles, veterans should be criticizing the IDF more pointedly, including demanding an end to the occupation. In describing the Buchris affair in the context of Buchris’s tours in South Lebanon and Jenin, one set of Israeli bloggers on the feminist website “Politically Correct” suggest that there is a link between the occupation and sexual assault. Part of maintaining the machinery of military occupation and Israel’s expansionist tendencies around its surrounding territory, they imply, is the sense of entitlement IDF soldiers have to women’s bodies. A better hashtag aimed at women inductees, these authors say, would simply be “#refuse” (to serve altogether).
These criticisms have some merit. But one could argue that testimony — even if it’s secondary to the most urgent issues at hand — has intrinsic power. While many of the anecdotes circulating might be serving a certain social solidarity function, a function that can, when left unchecked, lead to complacency, there is significant social value in talking about what is often left unspoken. Rendering visible what is invisible is the first step to disrupting any problematic status quo. This is especially true when the status quo involves an institution which is inward-looking and self-reinforcing, as most militaries are. And sometimes a light touch is exactly what’s needed to get people to listen.
Alongside all this is a more serious video protesting the Buchris affair. Here, female soldiers sing about being “Buchris’s girls of 1993” to the tune of “Winter 1973,” a ballad originally devoted to commemorating the children born in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. The new version goes as follows:
“You roughed us up in the media, with all the reactions….When we were drafted, our parents wept; they said we hope these girls will be spared violent attacks; it turns out that we did have something to fear: there are commanders who think we are commodities. We wanted to be protected. Instead we got screwed with no apology….So if you submit a complaint, drink a little wine, because someone else is drinking a toast….We are, after all, just meat for the ranks.”
Readers can decide whether the song strikes the right note. Rewriting the words to a well-known ballad, however soberly delivered, may strike some as inappropriately playful. And with close ups of the women’s rear ends, I fear that the video winds up exploiting these women yet again.
As for the critics who feel that the Buchris campaign is deflecting attention from the occupation, other memes are popping up to address the issue more directly, like this one: “We don’t want to send our children to unnecessary wars and we don’t want to send our girls to unnecessary commanders” (Link in Hebrew).
And of course, there’s nothing preventing the “More than Buchris” hashtag users from tacking on an anti-occupation message too. One Facebook user added a second hashtag after describing her West Bank-based infraction — “#things soldiers do during occupation”, she wrote, in Hebrew. That latter hashtag has yet to catch on. But there’s still time to raise increased awareness — both about the occupation and about the scourge of sexual harassment in the military — before the occupation, that engine of humiliation where control over Palestinian bodies is arguably buttressed by the objectification of women in the IDF, turns 50 in June.
Mira Sucharov is associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.