Israel Harel
Haaretz (Opinion)
April 19, 2012 - 12:00am

"You shouldn't join the chorus of rabbis and politicians who are trying to make Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner's case into one that divides the religious and the secular, and the left from the right," B. begged me. B.'s views are well considered and highly regarded. From his point of view, the media lynching of Eisner, after a recording surfaced on the Internet of a confrontation in which the officer hit a Danish activist in the face, has engendered precisely the opposite reaction - a natural sense of empathy with Eisner that cuts across various communities.

"Many people felt uneasy when the usual suspects who would automatically condemn Eisner's conduct were joined by Israel's president, prime minister, defense minister, and the chief of staff and GOC Central Command of the Israel Defense Forces even before any sort of investigation of the incident had been carried out. Even I, whose politics are different from yours, am amazed by their conduct," B. told me. "If the country's leadership is engaged in competition over who can take Eisner to task more forcefully, the world, which they so wanted to satisfy, understood this was not just a common smack in the face - it was an act of absolute evil. As a result, instead of paying attention to the provocations of the anarchists whom Eisner had to confront, the world directed its attention to the 'absolute evil' committed by Israel in the territories."

B. is a wise and knowledgeable gentleman, and I, too, thought the media overkill would come back to haunt those who engaged in Eisner's lynching. But I was wrong. Eisner was offered up as a sacrificial lamb and dismissed from his post without any substantial protest that an officer on duty had been hung out to dry.

Eisner is just one name on a long and painful list of officers and other soldiers sacrificed on the public relations altar of the senior IDF command. It was treated as both a command failure and an ethical failure on Eisner's part, rather than a case of a demonstrator being hit. This surrender of the top IDF command to the pressures of political correctness, rather than a needless blow from the butt of a rifle, is what is destroying the IDF. If, contrary to orders he was obliged to follow, Eisner had allowed the convoy of provocateurs to go on their way, and had preferred the approbation of the media over dedication to duty, no one would have thought of sacking him. And that's the heart of the matter.

A commander's instinct is to support those under his command. The stage at which blame is assessed, and must be assessed, only comes later. In the case of Deputy Brigade Commander Eisner, however, everything was reversed. His own commanders rushed to sacrifice him and investigation of the incident, the conclusions from which were decided in advance, would only come later.

And when Eisner has already been taken to task by IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and GOC Central Command Nitzan Alon, what investigating officer, even if he or she were to find information exonerating Eisner, would dare draw conclusions running counter to their commanders' sentiments? And the punishment that has already been meted out - the portrayal of Eisner as a monster - is the worst of punishments, even worse than expulsion from the army.

One of the most important qualities required of an army officer is maintaining one's cool under pressure. That, of course, was required of Eisner, and it's all the more true of his superiors. But in dismissing him from his post they totally lost their cool. People of conscience, particularly commanders looking after the true spirit of the IDF, have a duty to protest Eisner's dismissal and to point out the senior command's ethical lapse, as officers courageously did when Border Police officer Madhat Yusuf was left to bleed to death at Joseph's Tomb in 2000.

It's reasonable to assume that, following his dismissal as deputy brigade commander, Eisner will also be dismissed from the IDF altogether. And the outcome will be like those of the Second Lebanon War. From now on every soldier and officer will know that supposed values like dedication to duty and engaging hostile forces are merely lip service. Anyone who takes such values seriously, and there are other prior examples of this, will end their service just as Eisner is.

On the other hand, there are almost no examples of officers who have been dismissed for shirking their duty, and some have even been elevated to the highest ranks. It is these "values" that have brought about the dismissal of an officer who, even if he faltered somewhat, committed the sin of being dedicated to the task at hand.


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