Analysis of Eisner: IDF fails to grasp digital media

Besides raising questions about IDF’s values, Shalom Eisner affair casts doubt on its readiness for new digital battlefield.

IDF officer hitting activist with M-16 370 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
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 future war.
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 day.
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.
This is 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 purpose.
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 place.
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 YouTube.
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 kippa.
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.