The video depicting Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner bashing the butt of his M-16 rifle into the face of a Danish activist, who came to Israel to show solidarity with the Palestinians, may have been made public with particularly embarrassing timing for Israel, but the problematic timing does not exempt us from asking the hard questions about the conduct of soldiers and violence within Israeli society.
The prime minister and the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff should be lauded for their condemnations of the incident, and for suspending Eisner from his post. This was not the first such incident: Several years ago, a lieutenant-colonel in the Armored Corps was filmed using a helmet to clobber a demonstrator near the security barrier. The officer was subsequently suspended, but he has actually been promoted since. There are several other examples of such incidents at high levels. Perhaps we should examine where this violence comes from so it can be treated. After all, today there are cameras everywhere and we can't hide what really happens.
Let us not be swayed by Eisner's associates, who maintain that he had been abandoned and is not getting the support he deserves from high-ranking IDF officials. His was a grave, unjustifiable act. Handling this event in a superficial manner could cause a lot of damage -- to the defense establishment and to Israel's public diplomacy efforts as well, especially during these delicate times.
One can understand why those close to Eisner are protecting him, like a mother unwilling to recognize her son's problems. However, we must take collective responsibility and ask the toughest questions to root out the problem in the proper way.
Eisner's behavior in the wake of the affair raises questions. Let us recall that IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai had said that he could not justify the officer's behavior and that his actions were contrary to IDF values. It was only recently that Eisner was set to be promoted to deputy commander of Bahad 1, the IDF officers’ training base. In such an instance, Eisner should have admitted that he lost control. After all, commanders are supposed to command their soldiers. We have to be able to assume that they are self-aware and capable of admitting guilt. Only in this way can we relate to them as complex human beings, rather than denying and repressing the problems.
Violence within Israeli society is not a passing phenomenon, and we don't have to go into the occupied territories to find it. It can easily be found in the interaction between Israel Police and social activists. Take for example a recent bill approved by the Knesset in its first reading, floated by MKs Uri Ariel (National Union), Dov Khenin (Hadash) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), which aims to obligate police officers to wear identifying badges. Badges lead to a decrease in violence.
Why would the state of Israel, whose army is one of the most powerful in the world and is perfectly capable of protecting itself, need such problematic violence? Where does the great insecurity that this violence obviously indicates come from? Can we really dismiss this event as a rare exception, or is Eisner simply a product of a flawed system? If he is a product of the military, the police or any other social institution, we must ask ourselves what happened to that great Israeli power that it has become so fragile and thin.
The butt of Eisner's rifle, which was rammed into the face of a foreign activist, should give us all pause. Only recently we witnessed horrifying violence on a soccer field. Why are we resolving our conflicts with violence? Why are we not able to give voice to our problems in a language that the other side can understand?