IDF officer hitting activist with M-16 370.
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Besides raising questions about the IDF’s ethical values, the Shalom Eisner
affair casts doubt on whether the military fully understands the new digital
battlefield that Israel faces today and will face to an even larger degree in a
When announcing the decision to dismiss Eisner from his post
as deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny
Gantz said that the lieutenant-colonel had violated the IDF’s code of ethics by
smacking a Danish pro-Palestinian protester in the face with his M-16 rifle for
no apparent reason.
Watching the video though shows other clear mistakes
such as the failure by Eisner and the other officers who were with him –
including another lieutenant-colonel – to understand the power of the camera, or
in this case cameras, which were filming the demonstration on Road 90 that
The fact that the officers did not understand that a video camera is
like a weapon in such a scenario is in itself a failure.
It also raises
serious questions about the role the IDF Spokesman’s Office plays and why these
officers were not aware of the potential impact of their actions.
not to say that the officers should feel less restrained when there is no
camera, but the in-your-face camera should have some influence. The fact of the
matter is that the video of Eisner smacking the protester in the face caused
Israel strategic damage and forced the entire state leadership – including the
prime minister, the president, the defense minister and others – to immediately
issue statements condemning the action.
Another question that needs to be
asked is: Where were the IDF cameras which should have been there to document
the demonstration so that Israel would have proof to back up its claims if
needed? A unit – called Combat Camera – was established exactly for this
Even when the IDF has released footage from previous
demonstrations to prove acts of violence committed by the other side, it is not
systematic and is mostly done on an individual basis, depending on who the
specific spokesperson was in charge of the region where the specific event took
The IDF Spokesman’s Office can take pride in establishing a strong
YouTube channel, a Twitter page and setting up a website in various languages
but all that is not enough if the information provided is not relevant and if
senior commanders need to learn about an incident like the Eisner case from
What was also missing from the way the IDF managed the Eisner
affair was Gantz himself.
While the IDF Spokesman’s Office put out a
statement explaining Gantz’s decision, the chief of staff’s voice was not heard.
The media vacuum was instead filled by various political elements that
politicized the whole affair, even giving it a religious twist due to Eisner’s
Now is the time for the IDF General Staff and Spokesman’s Office
to learn from its mistakes.
The Nakba Day protests next month will be
another test of the IDF’s ability to clash with a civilian population in a
surgical and moderate manner.
A failure here will not be easily repaired
by the dismissal of an officer or two.