When IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi makes harsh derogatory remarks about one unit in the IDF, he risks staining the entire IDF enterprise.
The news of haredi IDF soldiers beating unarmed Palestinian Arabs broke on August 24th following the release of a TikTok video, uploaded to the social media site on August 15th. It is not clear when it came to the attention of the IDF, but initial media reports quote Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi's harsh reaction to it.
“This is a most severe incident that arouses disgust and is contrary to IDF values. The soldiers involved do not merit being soldiers. We will hold those involved to account. There is, and will not be, a place in the IDF for such behavior.”
The foreign press has apparently not yet caught onto this tasty morsel fit for consumption by Israel haters, but there is no doubt they will. In the meantime, the item has provided ample material for debate among Israelis who are quick to denigrate certain segments of Israeli society, in this case, the haredim in general, and Netzach Yehuda, the haredi battalion, in particular.
So far, the Hebrew-language press published 17 articles on the incident, and the English-language Israeli press, eight. I can summarize the articles thus:
Seven articles were published in Hebrew on the morning the news broke (24 August 2022) and the titles of all of them focus on Chief of Staff Kochavi's condemnation of the battalion. The five English language articles published that day emphasize suspension of the combatants from the IDF.
That evening, the Hebrew press alone followed up on the story. One article talks about the failure to prepare the soldiers for combat duty and five present the version of events as told by the combatants themselves. However, it appears that the story told by the Netzach Yehuda soldiers has made little impression on journalists and the public alike. It was not enough to neutralize the harsh view expressed by Kochavi.
The next day, one Hebrew article brought the news to their readers (haredim) with a title showing that they incorporate the "shocking" video together with the version of the story told by the soldiers. The titles of the three other articles concern the quick-to-judge aspect of the former day's reporting. In English, only one article appeared and it was a criticism by the soldiers of their nighttime interrogation.
Only one article appeared on August 26th and another on the 28th. Both were English-language pieces critical of the media slant on the incident.
I do not have a problem with the media reporting here. News sites post the news. My problem is with Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi. Kochavi’s remark was the news.
He fed the media with his impulsive and unadvised comment that cannot possibly have been based on a thorough investigation of the event. In fact, he does say that his remarks are based on an initial investigation, whatever that means, adding that a thorough examination of the incident will be conducted and the results of that will be made public.
Unfortunately, the public has heard this before: an initial seemingly off-the-hip remark that attacks the integrity and dignity of an entire group of Israelis and the promise of results after an in-depth investigation into the situation. Then, silence.
The public is left with the initial condemnation.
When Kochavi says that the four soldiers’ behavior was not consistent with IDF values, he does not explain. How is trying to overcome potential terrorists not consistent with IDF values? Military law prohibits violence against a detainee who is totally subdued; however, that is not the situation in this case. What message is Kochavi giving soldiers in the field who face similar situations when operating in Judea-Samaria?
Kochavi tells the public that these soldiers have no place in the IDF before a thorough investigation has been conducted, and then some politicians come out with suggestions to disband the entire unit. Yet this year, Netzach Yehudi was given a commendation for thousands of successful operations and just ten days ago a new group of 200 haredi recruits was welcomed into the IDF. If one 14-second video of four soldiers calls into question the entire battalion, how much does one give credulity to the earlier commendation?
Furthermore, how much faith can soldiers in any unit have that the IDF leadership ranks will stand by them when an edited video serving as anti-IDF anti-Israeli propaganda is seemingly swallowed whole by the top brass?
Chief of Staff Kochavi comes across as extremely unprofessional when his statement to the press is a condemnation of four soldiers who may have been trying to restrain potential terrorists intending to harm them. Until he verifies whether or not these were innocent Palestinian Arabs unreasonably set upon by the soldiers, he should keep his statement to the press to something like:
“A 14-second video of an incident does not lead us to any conclusions. We will investigate what led up to the moments captured in the video and when we have an answer to that question, we will be able to evaluate the behavior of the soldiers. In the meantime, they have the assumption of innocence until proven otherwise.”
Sheri Oz is a freelance writer whose articles appear on major websites. She lives in Israel and blogs at Israel Diaries.