Postscript: A shroud of shame

Eisner is a disgrace to the uniform he wears; cannot be an example to those under his command; should never be in charge of educating young recruits.

IDF officer hitting activist with M-16 370 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
IDF officer hitting activist with M-16 370
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner, a senior officer in the Central Command, takes his rifle butt and bashes it into the face of a young Danish pro-Palestinian protester on a bicycle near Jericho. Instead of flatly condemning the officer, this paper, among others, has tried to justify his actions both editorially and by publishing op-ed pieces and letters in his defense.
There is nothing to defend. Eisner is a disgrace to the uniform he wears; cannot be an example to those under his command; should never be in charge of educating young recruits, and should have been kicked out of the army so fast that his pension would have been left behind.
I am not going to go through the issues oneby- one, but if there is anything I hate it is the claim, or claims like, “But look at what the Americans do in Afghanistan” or “remember what the Allies did in Bosnia?”
We are not Americans and not NATO, we are not in Afghanistan or in the Balkans, we are here, in Israel, in our sovereign country with its own mores and values. Eisner dumped on those values, in public, on television, in front of the world. He hit an unarmed demonstrator full in the face with every ounce of force he could muster with the butt of a heavy rifle; the type of behavior one would expect Idi Amin to be proud of, not the readers of The Jerusalem Post.
There is another claim that makes the little hair I have stand on end, that Eisner should be forgiven his actions because “he has devoted his life to defending the country.”
Do me a favor. We have all served our country. Some of us did it for three years, others for five and more. Eisner decided to make the military his career, his chosen profession. In return he gets a pretty good salary, excellent conditions, earlyretirement, and gets to fly around in helicopters and give commands when he wants something done, as opposed to the rest of humanity who generally have to ask. I guarantee he has more office help than the mayor of a mid-size town, is chauffeured around and enjoys a highly subsidized mortgage. He gets to play with guns, yell, shout and bully, all the things he seems to love and, yes, by-the-by, is serving the country.
Wearing a uniform carries responsibilities. Having rank adds to those responsibilities. At the level of lieutenant-colonel the lives of people are in your hands, both soldiers and, in the occupied areas, civilians. When his troops see him hit a protester full in the face, what signal is he sending them in terms of how to deal with the situation: maturity; constraint; sensitivity? No. Barbarism for the entire world to see, placing a shroud of shame on both the Israel Defense Forces and Israel itself.
It was only thanks to the quick and decisive action by the Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz that the matter did not snowball into a massive attack on Israel in the international media. Because he acted quickly, the headlines were mainly about Eisner being suspended, and not his actions. Because of the swiftness of the condemnation from the army itself, the IDF was able to defend its reputation for fairness and distance itself from Eisner’s actions, not find ways of justifying his behavior and then find itself having to explain itself to a skeptical world.
The truth is that Gantz probably did not spend more than two seconds deciding what to do when he saw the clip on television. No commander wants men like Eisner handling sensitive tasks for them, or anything for that matter.
From the tone and content of the letters, editorials and articles justifying Eisner, most seem to have come from Right-leaning readers. Automatically they are for the IDF and against pro- Palestinian demonstrators.
One can only urge them to look beyond their basic instincts, understand that what is involved here is not political, but moral, and what is at stake is not the future of the territories, but the nature of the IDF itself.
Until the future of the territories east of the Green Line is decided, either by agreement or unilaterally, they remain occupied by definition and in reality. Because they are occupied the army, and not Israel’s civilian authorities, is in charge, which makes Eisner a diplomat as well as a soldier. He failed as both.
Eisner, by the way, may be a nice guy with a short fuse. He may have been provoked and taunted and even had his finger twisted and injured in the confrontation. But he cannot be an officer in the Israeli army. Conflicts are all about tensions and taunts and call for nerves of steel and judgment. What could possibly more dangerous than an armed soldier, especially a senior officer, out of control I think the country is lucky the incident ended where it did, and so is Eisner. He could be in jail on charges of manslaughter had the butt of his rifle had hit the young man one inch or so from where the blow landed.
Israel is also fortunate to have a chief of staff who is obviously a gentleman and a credit to both the country and the army he heads. He not only did the right thing in terms of the country’s international reputation but, more important, he did the right thing by the IDF, and for that he is to be both saluted and commended.