The Quick Demise of a Perfect PR Campaign

Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner will be punished for excessive use of force, but also for his demonstrable stupidity.

The deputy commander of the IDF's Jordan Valley brigade who was filmed hitting a left-wing activist with his rifle will be dismissed from his position.

The announcement on Sunday by the Israel Defense Forces stated that the army took a grave view of the incident involving Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner. Anyone who follows scandals like this knows how it will unfold. Eisner will be punished for excessive use of force, but also for his demonstrable stupidity.

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The video clip depicting Eisner thrusting his M-16 into the face of a left-wing activist surfaced on the Internet with particularly embarrassing timing from Israel's standpoint. It appeared just as the so-called "flytilla" of pro-Palestinian activists from abroad - which was so dramatically overstated here by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch - was dying, as expected, with a whimper.

The hundreds of police needlessly deployed at Ben-Gurion International Airport refrained from violent force, failing to provide the protest organizers with the snapshots that would have served their interests. But then along came Lt. Col. Eisner to save the day for the pro-Palestinian activists. In light of the fact that Israeli television stations on Sunday evening repeatedly ran footage of the video of Eisner hitting the activist, one can imagine how foreign broadcasters would relate to it - assuming of course that they manage to tear themselves away from the daily carnage in the Syrian city of Homs.

Violence of one kind or another is almost routine in dispersing demonstrations in the West Bank, sometimes involving right-wing Israelis and certainly when it comes to Palestinians and their supporters. It is a bit surprising, however, how time and time again, rather high-ranking officers get caught up in this - in contravention of declared IDF policy. More than 11 years after the beginning of the second intifada, it is also not clear how these officers still fail to take into account the fact that in almost every one of these incidents, at least on activist on the scene has a video camera.

Several years ago a lieutenant colonel in the armored corps was photographed ramming a demonstrator near the security fence with his helmet. The officer was suspended, though he was actually later promoted in rank.

Subsequently, in another incident, an armored corps battalion commander was dismissed and criminally prosecuted after he was filmed instructing one of his soldiers to fire a rubber bullet at a bound demonstrator. Eisner is in good company.

Beyond the moral issues in Sunday's case and the public relations implications from the incident, what has been revealed in Eisner's case is the Achilles heel of the IDF in the Jordan Valley. The location of the incident is relatively distant from police posts in Ma'aleh Efraim and Ma'aleh Adumim.

And even if we accept the army's explanation that the activists were seeking to impede Israeli cars from traveling the Jordan Valley highway, it is hard to understand why 200 cyclists are perceived by forces on the ground as a threat that justifies such wild behavior.

IDF soldiers detaining the bicycling activists near Jericho on April 14, 2012.
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