IDF chief of staff Benny Gants on Thursday said he is not ready to decide the fate of Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner's career in the army.
"It's a very bad incident" Ganz said of a film that was uploaded to the internet of Eisner striking a Danish ISM activist from the anarchist ISM movement in the face with his rifle. "There are political ramifications."
The incident happened on April 14 when a group of foreign and Arab cyclists sought to block a main road near Jericho to protest Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria.
Critics of Eisner's dismissal from his post – through he remains in the IDF with the same rank – were quick to note the video of the incident uploaded to the internet was clearly edited in such a way as to cast Eisner in the worst possible light.
The altercation came at the end of nearly two hours of heated confrontation between protesters and soldiers, but the video began with Eisner striking the activist.
Eisner subsequently told military investigators that two of his fingers had been broken in an attack by the Danish campaigner before he retaliated with his weapon.
A medical examination confirmed at least one of Eisner's fingers was indeed broken during the demonstration.
A second video released on April 20 – which critics say was also clearly edited – showed Eisner striking other activists with his rifle.
"This has nothing to do with sectarian concerns," Gantz said, responding to charges that senior officers dismissed Eisner because he is religious. "Its not a matter of [Eisner] wearing a skullcap, or secular or religious or political beliefs. These have no connection to the decision making process."
"Trying make this about those things is unfair, untrue, and extremely dangerous," Gantz continued. "Trying to turn our [eventual] decision on this matter into a political struggle or media event rather than a professional decision by military commanders is inappropriate."
Gantz – who joined Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in publicly condemning Eisner's actions before the initial investigation of the incident was complete – also sought to blunt criticism that there had been a rush to judgement.
"I did the research," Gantz insisted. "I sifted through preliminary information about the demonstration, through threat assessments, the basis for the attack. My only consideration is professional," Gantz said.
Observers say, even if Gantz's decision to remove Eisner from his post – made after the initial investigation was complete – was was based solely on professional concerns, that his own initial comments to the press prior to the decision are what opened the door to the criticism he now finds himself trying to answer.
Gantz also rejected the assertion he had failed to backup a senior officer under his command.
"I cannot stand behind such an incident," Gantz said. "We must recognize the good things he has done, and he has done some, but not in this case. If we defend this incident we lose the integrity of the IDF. It cannot spare even an ounce of integrity. Its not professional, and does not represent our values."
The decision to remove Eisner from his post was unpopular with Israelis who sympathized with the difficult position he was in, and his assertion that "doing the job comes before looking good."
Eisner's comments – which included sharp criticism of Gantz and other senior officers – were made in a private conversation that was recorded and broadcast on Channel 10. It remains unclear if Eisner knew he was being recorded.
"His comments were unfortunate, irrespective of his reasons," Gantz said.
However, Gantz softened his tone from previous comments somewhat, describing Eisner's actions on April 14 as an error in judgment.
"The IDF is a large military force and there are many events in many places and people can make mistakes," Gantz said. "We work hard at it, but this incident is not representative of the IDF, or of Lt. Col. Eisner."
"I'm not ready to decide his fate and end his career, but I cannot simply ignore the incident, either," Gantz said.