Into the Fray: Excoriating Eisner: Egregious or ethical? (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By MARTIN SHERMAN 04/27/12)
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Nor do the gods appear in warrior’s armor clad
To strike them down with sword and spear
Those whom they would destroy
They first make mad – Bharthari, 7th century (translated from the
A Spanish journalist, with a particular penchant for local red wine
told me how every international correspondent dreams of being posted
in Israel. “It a paradise for foreign journalists” she
explained. “Where else in the world can you go to an restaurant in a
town like Tel Aviv, have a drink in Dizengoff and then go to sleep in
a good hotel when all that stands between you and a first-hand report
from “the battleground” is a 45-minute ride to Sheikh Jarrah or
Bil’in.” – Tal Dror, Ynet, April, 21, 2012 (translated from the
The two activists, who developed a taste for the blend of arak and
red grapefruit [juice] I served them at the bar, explained to me
[when] I asked – half naively, half critically – “Why don’t you
demonstrate in Egypt? Why not in Syria? What do you want from us?”
The Swede stopped smiling and replied with deadly seriousness. “Are
you crazy? Those places are really dangerous” – Ibid
Quite some time ago – when I was significantly younger and
considerably slimmer – I served in a unit that operated behind enemy
lines. I therefore have a keen awareness of how important it is for
the motivation of combatants who undertake demanding missions and for
their resolve to execute them, that they believe that – if they are
in a jam – they will enjoy the unmitigated backing of their superiors.
I mention this not because I was ever charged with the kind of tasks
Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner was expected to execute two weeks ago, but
because it gives me some idea of the sense of bitter disappointment
and disillusionment he must be feeling at the moment. The potential
operational impact the episode – and the unfortunate ethos that it
reflects – could have on the efficacy of the IDF cannot be ignored.
What’s wrong with this picture?
There is something deeply disturbing about the picture that is
emerging in the wake of incident that took place in the Jordan Valley
on the post-Passover weekend. It goes far beyond the specifics of the
particular incident and reflects a deeper malaise that pervades the
public discourse in the country.
On the one hand, we have a radical anti- Israeli activist belonging
to an organization virulently hostile to Israel, unequivocally
supportive of terror organizations dedicated to the destruction of
the Jewish state, taking part in an unruly confrontation with Israeli
security forces, who ends up with (gasp) a cut lip.
On the other hand we have a senior IDF officer with a record of
proven valor in combat, highly regarded by both his men and his
superiors, who has been relieved of his command, his entire career in
jeopardy, because of a fleeting video of a few seconds showing him
striking the aforementioned radical with a single blow.
In a stroke, years of exhausting effort, and commendable courage were
washed away – as if knocking over a vitriolic anti-Israeli activist
(who was seen back on his feet seconds after the blow) carried more
weight than all the deeds of daring and dedication he accumulated to
his credit over a long period of distinguished service.
In a twinkling, a massive PR victory was handed to Israel’s most
venomous vilifiers – with an abject admission of guilt before the
prosecution even presented its case.
Have the gods really made us mad? A devoted defender of Israel
dispatched in disgrace while a demagogic detractor is elevated to
celebrity status. Whichever way you cut it, there is something wrong
with that picture.
True – the fundamental aesthetics shown in the short video were
highly prejudicial. A swarthy, unshaven, balding, overweight,
yarmulke-donning, gun-toting Jew, clubbing a tall, blond, slender
handsome Dane for no apparent reason. The visual impact could hardly
be more damning and damaging for Israel.
And the media seized on it with unbridled enthusiasm, embarking on a
veritable “feeding frenzy”– as if some world-shattering event had
taken place. The morning news channels played and replayed it ad
nauseam seemingly determined to engrave indelibly into the mind of
viewers that finally definitive proof of Israel’s bestial brutally
had been discovered.
Context and balance were discarded and ignored. The true nature of
the organization, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), to
which the aggrieved activist belonged, was obscured – or at best
skimmed over – as if irrelevant.
The fact that its members openly embrace Palestinian terror groups,
conceal their operatives from the IDF, intentionally initiate clashes
with Israeli forces, impede army operations aimed at protecting
Israeli civilians, provide Palestinians terrorist organization with
financial, logistic and moral support, are active in advocating
boycotts divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, played a
central role in the Gaza flotillas, call for the “right of return”
and thus, in effect, for the elimination of Israel as the nation
state of the Jewish people.
None of this seemed to be of much interest to the maniacal media
which made little effort to convey to the public the ilk of the
people Eisner was called on to deal with–but seemed hell-bent on
destroying his career and his reputation.
Much has been said about Eisner’s “moral failing” in this episode.
But what could be more morally reprehensible than the behavior of
Channel 10 and its surreptitious recording and broadcast of a private
exchange between a bereaved mother and Eisner, who at considerable
personal risk had retrieved the body of her son after he had been
killed in the 2006 Lebanon war.
In the exchange, Eisner expressed his bitterness at the lack of
support he had received from his commanding officers.
Neither Eisner nor the mother, who has voiced her strong support for
him in an earlier interview, had any idea that his expression of
resentment was being recorded and certainly not that it would be
broadcast. The public airing of the private conversation caused
Eisner considerable harm and it is widely believed to have played a
part in the severity of the measures taken against him by his
What made the release Eisner’s words particularly egregious was fact
that Channel 10 gave the impression that they were in fact intended
to be a public declaration, rather than a personal intimation of his
feelings not meant for wider distribution. Indeed other media outlets
quoted Eisner as if he had given an interview to the TV station.
Revulsion at this unscrupulous journalistic conduct has led to a
request for a criminal investigation into the cynical exploitation of
the bereaved mother’s trust. But whatever the legal outcome of the
probe, it seems clear the incident comprises a new low for the
already less-than-illustrious behavior of the Israeli media.
The journalist who publicized the conversation later issued an
apology, stating: “The last thing I want as a military correspondent,
an Israeli journalist, a patriot and Zionist, is to hurt the feelings
of a bereaved mother.”
His words however, are difficult to accept at face value. After all,
knowing the close bond between Eisner and the mother; knowing that
she would never wish to cause Eisner any embarrassment, what other
result did he expect his actions would have?
Indeed, his so-called apology has a ring of crass insincerity about
it that only adds insult to injury–setting new standards for
journalistic hypocrisy, Short-sighted, self-obstructive
obsequiousness The knee-jerk condemnation of Eisner by senior public
figures across the board in Israel, who rushed, with undignified
haste, to express their opprobrium at his actions – long before the
facts were known, was less than inspiring. It betrayed an unbecoming
mixture of panic and obsequiousness, driven more by a fear of
annoying detractors than of alienating supporters (see “Public
Thus, showing greater solidarity with the ISM than with the IDF,
Israel’s president, Shimon Peres – in possession, at best, of partial
information – rushed to express his “shock” and “disgust” at the
sight of one of its anti-Zionist members being bowled over – with
nary a reference to the nature of organization, its history of
provoking clashes with Israeli forces, the fact its members refused
to comply with IDF instructions or that the Eisner had been attacked
and had suffered a fractured hand.
Somewhat paradoxically, he declared: “This attack undeniably demands
an investigation,” apparently unaware that his harsh condemnation
demonstrated that he had already prejudged the results of such an
Statements from the prime minister, the defense minister and chief of
staff were, if somewhat less emotive, hardly more supportive or
Indeed, The Jerusalem Post editorial (April 16) could not have been
more apt in stating: “The prime minister, the president and others
who leveled criticism at Eisner should have refrained from commenting
until the findings of a proper probe are released.”
This alacrity to admit guilt, the instinctive self-flagellation and
abject hand-wringing are both self-demeaning and counterproductive.
It will do little to enhance Israel´s image. Quite the contrary!
By handing Israel’s detractors a resounding PR victory, without a
fight, it serves only to create an increasingly conducive atmosphere
for “protest tourism” of pampered radicals and hostile correspondents
who will be encouraged to believe that they can vilify the country
with impunity, while nonchalantly sipping their cocktails in the
comfort of some elegant lounge or well-stocked bar.
This cult of mea culpa and remorseful breast-beating will not work to
project Israel as principled, self-critical society, quick to admit –
and address – its faults. Rather, it will only reinforce and reaffirm
all the negative perceptions of its adversaries, convincing them that
not only are their accusations well founded but that their efforts to
address them are productive.
So why go off to some “really dangerous places” to confront far more
grievous abuses when one can achieve high recognition at low risk
right here in Israel?
The panicky response to the Eisner episode showed once again how out
of step the politicians and the press are with the Israeli public.
For, in stark contrast to the severe reproach meted out by the media
and much of the official establishment, Eisner seems enjoy widespread
popular support, or at least, understanding A recent survey conducted
by one of Israel’s leading polling companies found that the majority
(51%) of the population feel that Eisner’s dismissal was not
justified, outstripping by almost 40% those who thought it was (37%).
Significantly, 70% believed that the decision by Chief of Staff Benny
Gantz to relieve him of his duties was a result of media pressure,
over four times more than those who did not (a mere 16%) – which
implies that even a good percentage of those who endorsed decision
felt that the media had a dominant role in molding it, rather than
any substantive considerations on the part of Gantz.
Perhaps even more significantly, 41% said they felt a sense of
identification with Eisner, almost double (21%) those who felt angry
with him – while almost 40% “preferred not to answer the question.”
The real moral failing
The real moral failure in this sad episode was not Eisner’s. He has
already conceded that he may have acted inappropriately. If on the
one hand, it was a mere and momentary lapse of judgment on his part,
he should not have been treated so shabbily by his superiors. If on
the other hand, his actions were the a reflection of a some deeper
character flaw, the entire IDF system of evaluating officers must be
broken – and it is his superiors who are at fault in allowing him to
function in a command capacity for so many years. And it is they –
not him – who should be held accountable.
This brings me back to the issue with which I began – and perhaps the
most important aspect of the Eisner episode: The bond of trust
between the warrior and his superiors.
The editorial in this paper hit the nail on the head when it remarked
that “the ease with which these leaders and others denounced Eisner
conveys a mixed message to our soldiers.”
Indeed it does. For, as the editorial went on to state: “Instead of
providing them with the trust and backing they so desperately need
when confronting radical activists bent on disrupting public order,
our leaders issued hasty statements based on partial evidence. This
sort of response will inevitably undermine IDF soldiers’ confidence
in their next confrontation with anti-Israel activists.”
This is no trivial matter. For the confidence issue applies not only
to confrontations with “anti-Israeli activists.” And if in the future
a young IDF soldier loses his life because he hesitated before acting
(or reacting) lest a lurking camera be near-by, Lt.- Col. Shalom
Eisner will not be the one to blame. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post
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