Israel: Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner and his supporters

Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner

Israel’s President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, all understand the world well enough to be in no doubt that the behavior of Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner as he slammed his M-16 rifle into the face of a Danish activist, Andreas Ias, was bad for Israel.

“Such behavior does not characterize IDF soldiers and officers and has no place in the Israel Defense Forces and in the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Indeed. But the problem for Israel is that not only was Eisner’s behavior not an aberration — it has been widely praised.

In less than 24 hours a Facebook page, “We Support Lt Colonel Shalom Eisner,” has received several hundred “likes.” (The French-speaking creator of the page also happens to like the extremist Jewish Defense League and the English Defense League.)

Former Chief IDF Rabbi Avihai Ronski criticized the swift decision to suspend Eisner, who he described as “a highly ethical individual.”

“How can you say this was ‘a serious event’ after only a few seconds of footage? These kinds of incidents are why today’s commanders feel they have no backing.”

Danny Dayan, the chairman of the Yesha Council for Jewish settlers in the West Bank on Monday condemned the “overwhelming hysteria” in Israel over Eisner’s attack. He said there was no reason for the prime minister, the defense minister, and other high-ranking political authorities to be involved.

Michael Ben Ari, a National Union member of the Knesset responded by congratulating Eisner.

“Well done to the IDF officer who did what Bibi [Netanyahu] and [Yitzhak] Aharonovich [minister of internal security] have no brain or courage to do,” Ben Ari said. “Radical leftists must be handled with a heavy hand. There was a tangible threat to the lives of the soldiers and the officer had no other choice.”

Along with politicians, fellow soldiers have now voiced their support for Eisner. Ynet reports:

Eighty-three reservist officers and soldiers who served under the lieutenant colonel who was videotaped striking a Danish pro-Palestinian activist with an M-16 rifle, sent a letter addressed to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in which they expressed “support and appreciation” for their “moral and ethical commander.”

Amidst so much sympathy for the lieutenant colonel, Ziv Lenchner, a Ynet columnist, expresses a deeper concern: that Eisner’s behavior accurately reflects Israel’s moral decline.

He writes:

The easiest thing we can do is jump to conclusions and make accusations before clarifying the circumstances of the incident where Lt. Colonel Shalom Eisner struck a leftist activist. Yet on second thought, this is not the easiest thing we can do.

The truly easiest thing is to hide behind the details that may emerge or the arguments that may be presented – a pacifist provocation, a difficult day in the area, warm weather that inflamed the spirits – in order to justify the epitome of brutality.

One regrettable fact will not be going anywhere: A thug wearing a lieutenant colonel uniform forcefully striking the jaw of a protestor using an IDF rifle. This is a moral nadir that a moral society cannot tolerate and certainly should not accept. It must not.

With one gesture, Lieutenant Colonel Eisner provided a new and appalling interpretation to the term “purity of arms.” The disturbing thought that won’t let go wonders how many such cases take place in our country and in the territories, right under our noses and not in front of our cameras.

Many sneers must accompany the above words, and this is no coincidence. An interesting historical study to be undertaken one of these days will aim to figure out when exactly did morality turn into “self-righteousness” and “being a bleeding heart” in Israel.

Most public responses to Eisner’s act, as expressed in the talkbacks among other things, are sympathetic to his actions. The reactions range from “the Danish scumbag deserved it” to “Eisner is a real man.” The prevalent argument among the handful of objectors has to do with the PR angle: How foolish it was for the senior officer to act this way in front of the cameras, thereby undermining Israel’s image (which is otherwise superior, as we know.)

There is no doubt that the images from the Jericho area will cause Israel PR damage, and rightfully so. Yet the fact this is the main issue that concerns Israel’s decent citizens is odd, not to mention twisted – not the fact that an IDF lieutenant colonel behaves like a Syrian thug in Homs, but rather, the fear that the world will see it on television and think bad things about us.

This is actually an excellent opportunity for us to think about ourselves. How did we reach a state where a protestor on a bicycle, even if he’s naïve, eccentric and annoying, is received by the Israel Defense Force with a bone-shattering gesture, and only a few of us view it as a crime?

This may be a natural development in a country that is so scared that it undertakes a mass deportation of foreign protestors instead of allowing them to demonstrate as much as they wish in the West Bank. After all, said the man at the top, we are the only democracy in the Middle East. Aren’t we?

The blow delivered by Lieutenant Colonel Eisner is particularly painful because it was delivered by a senior officer, rather than a young, inexperienced soldier who lost his head. It’s even more difficult and painful because of the target of the blow, and it wasn’t only the Danish protestor’s face. It was the face of all of us. Look in the mirror for a second and see what our face looks like this morning.

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7 thoughts on “Israel: Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner and his supporters

  1. Sam Finkel

    The YNET columnist makes no mention that Border Police and army soldiers act even more violently against settlers. One YNET article attacked a settler woman for filming the thuggery of Border Policemen. She was trying to document violence against settlers. But the reporter accused her of ‘preventing the police from doing their job.”

    There was no great outcry from Netanyahu and the other brass about these incidents. And neither from Mr. Woodward. If we are dealing with a moral/ethical issue, then there should be no difference.

    I am also wondering why this ISM activist or ANT ISM activist wasn’t in Syria where over 9000 people have been murdered.

    I am not condoning Eisner’s action, but I do agree there is a misdirected hysteria over it.

  2. Paul Woodward

    Andreas Ias apparently only suffered a minor injury. Based on his prior experience of seeing how the IDF operates, he was surprised that this incident drew so much publicity. Indeed, as I noted in an earlier post, Nablus TV, which first aired the assault before ISM put it on YouTube, did not highlight Eisner’s rifle clubbing in their report on the Jordan Valley cycle ride. They too no doubt regarded this as business as usual for the IDF.

    Were it not for the fact that this incident took place at the same time that the Israeli government was in the midst of its hysterical overreaction to the prospect of peaceful activists arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, I think it’s quite likely that few people would have paid any attention to the lieutenant colonel’s antics. But what he did was perfectly illustrate the fact that so many of Israel’s critics are harmless while its defenders are dangerous. Eisner’s face is the face of Israel.

  3. Paul Woodward

    I see Sam that you live in Israel. Do you seriously believe that Jewish settlers get treated worse than Palestinians? Who more often gets their land confiscated and has their homes bulldozed? If you don’t know the answer, I’d call that willful ignorance. If you think the settlers are being treated worse, I’d call that delusional.

    As for the idea that no one should protest or criticize anything that Israel does if there are worse things going on anywhere else in the world, this reveals what a pitifully low opinion you have of your own country. Do you really hope that the wrongs of all the rest of the world first get fixed and that Israel meanwhile be ignored?

    Israel has an identity problem. On the one hand it insists that it is qualitatively different from all its neighbors — it proudly declares, we are the only democracy in the region. Yet at the same time, when it demonstrably fails to live up to the standards of Western democracies, it excuses itself by pointing out that it’s better than countries like Syria or Saudi Arabia or Iran.

    Either give up the pretension of being a fully fledged democracy or grapple with your own democratic failings. You can’t have it both ways.

  4. Tom Hall

    If every one of the bicyclists had been killed by Eisner and his comrades, and buried in the sand, defenders of Israel would respond reflexively by accusing other regimes of other crimes in other lands. No matter what the degree of oppression and degradation inflicted by the State of Israel on Palestinians- and their supporters- the instantaneous resort to denunciation of rival or merely neighboring states plays its predictable role. In that regard, Sam apparently believes that proponents of Palestinian rights in the West Bank should stage their protests in Syria for maximum effect. Or does he? As for the claim that Zionist settlers are the true victims of state-sanctioned Israeli violence, this preposterous assertion, no doubt repeated poolside in those enclaves and citadels perpetually encroaching on native fields and villages, is unworthy of refutation.

  5. DE Teodoru

    Mr. Sam Finkel, perhaps, perhaps you are right…I’d love for you to be. But did you notice how many people Eisner assaulted on the WHOLE video, giving his men liscence to engage in a bachanal of licentious violence? I knew a lot of IDFers and I knew many in very tense circumstances; I had just left Vietnam and found myself together with some IDFers in scary events. Yet I felt that I was leaving the world of mechanics of crowd management in Asia and had entered the world of engineers in the Mideast– that was only a few decades ago. Both the American and Israeli troops were draftees, yet, IDF command was more surefooted; and humane consideration such as WE HAVE TO LIVE WITH THESE PEOPLE, seemed foremost in the IDFers’ minds…not just officers but troops too as opposed to the here and now attitude of many grunts in Vietnam. The WHOLE video of Eisner proves that this fat slob is not morphogenically the kind of IDFer I knew…first of all, except for Sharon, none were that fat. Obesity can both inhibit frontal and loosen limbic cortices so it might be that Eisner suffers from obesity induced mental instability. But whatever, you can call his behavior neither normal nor responsible. As an officer he’s a model to his troops– most importantly of SELF-DISCIPLINE. I’m sure that if you saw a high level US officer behaving that way you would be outraged. Ask yourself why you might have such diametrically opposite reactions. I’d like to know your answer because, my rage notwithstanding, I’d love to see Israel getting on with being Israel rather than shaken by obese officers expressing their “mensch” complex beating on helpless young European, Palestinian and Israeli protesters. Clearly his post-event account– stupid lies of panic– said a lot about his holiness, n’est pas?

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