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Chief of Staff Apologizes for Joke about Women

Lt. Gen. Gantz offers apology after feminists skewer him and Defense Minister over 'sexist' banter.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 12/7/2011, 6:01 PM

Barak, Gantz and Buchris.
Barak, Gantz and Buchris.
Screenshot

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz apologized Tuesday over a joke he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak shared while viewing an exercise by the Golani Brigade in Israel's north. The joke was an oblique reference to the ongoing debate over the right of strictly observant religious men to opt out of entertainment that includes women who sing on stage.

The IDF Spokesman said: "The Chief of Staff apologizes to any of the elements that may have been hurt by his words." The utterances were made jokingly, said the Spokesman, "and the interpretation that was added to them is in contradiction to his world view and his proven record on advancing women."

The idle chat between the two heads of Israel's defense establishment was captured on videotape and broadcast. Barak, noticing the presence of female soldiers at the exercise, asked what level of command they belong to. 

"Who are the women here? Are they from the battalion or the brigade? From the division?"

Gantz answered -- in a joke that may have been meant as a lighthearted poke at the Golani Brigade commander, Col. Ofek Buchris, who is religious – "They sing at the breaks… When we take a break, they sing."

Buchris said: "No problem, let them sing solo, everything will be OK."

Barak then said that a woman named Dana from his entourage is also present, and she can sing "without a uniform" – meaning that she would be in civilian clothes, making her performance less of a problem somehow.

Buchris said that as long as she was "without a uniform and with [civilian] clothes that is fine."

Gantz understood at this point that Israel's highly feminized media could make an issue out of the banter and instructed the two reporters present not to broadcast the repartee. He smilingly paraphrased a well known song in which a soldier promises his child that "this will be the last war," and half-jokingly "promised" the reporter that if he goes ahead and uses the videotape "this will be the last report."

The television reporter ignored the request and broadcast the video anyways. A flurry of harsh condemnation from militant feminist Knesset members and journalists resulted. The militant feminist interpretation of the banter was that it reflected a sexist attitude. Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz said that she would demand an urgent debate at the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and that the dialogue proved that the Chief of Staff was opposed to women's rights. She went also used the somewhat offensive expression "the fish stinks from the head" to accompany her accusation.

Defense Minister Barak did not comment on the matter.