“David the Nahal Soldier” goes viral. Army chief: Facebook is not a tool of command

A Facebook campaign expressing support for a soldier filmed pointing a cocked gun at a young Palestinian during an altercation in the West Bank is growing in strength. The IDF is powerless to stop its soldiers’ online actions, and the flurry of publicity surrounding “David the Nahal soldier” is beginning to steer the country’s political narrative out of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s control. As the protest gathers more “likes,” various politicians and media figureheads are eager to get in on the act and exploit it for their own ends.

Online support for soldier is the direct result of failure by the IDF and government to provide answers for the Internet generation. The Facebook campaign, “We are with David the Nahal soldier” had already garnered 100,000 “likes” in support of soldier David Admov by Thursday morning. The suggestion conveyed was that the IDF is losing control of its soldiers and the government losing ground on the country’s political agenda. This effect may be disproportionate.

The protest grew out of a video posted online of a confrontation between the Nahal Brigade member and several Palestinian youngsters in Hebron, in which the soldier cocked his gun and pointed it at one of the Palestinians.

Erroneous reports spread that Admov had been jailed as a result of the incident, but the IDF said he had been put on disciplinary trial before the clip was filmed, for an unrelated incident.

But the damage was already done, and backers began posting pictures of themselves in uniform, their faces hidden by signs expressing solidarity with the soldier. It is not clear how many of those in the photos are actually soldiers, or simply civilians trying to give the campaign a boost.

IDF Spokesman Brigadier-General Motti Almoz was technically correct when he said that “in the army there is no such thing as a protest,” and that the army can’t recognize the concept. But the statement was a misstep media-wise, as it showed the extent to which he and the IDF are unaware of the ground level concerns of their own soldiers.

There may be no protest in the army, but there is protest online and the army doesn’t have the means to stop it.

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz addressed the issue at a General Command meeting Thursday. Promising an investigation into the incident and its repercussions, Gantz said the army would examine how it was handled and draw the necessary lessons. He stressed: “It is important to say loud and clear that Facebook is not a tool of command. It is here and that is a fact, but on no account may [this medium] be allowed to take the place of regular interchange between officers and their men.

Central to the public debate on the issue is the notion that the conduct of the protesting soldiers “goes against the spirit of the IDF.” This concept needed no explanation to a former generation, but simply doesn’t ring true with many of those in service today. While the majority of young Israelis still serve in the army, they are not lauded like their parents and grandparents were. And they are confused by the IDF’s reluctance, since the start of the second intifada, to issue clear orders about when to use their weapons to show authority, and when to fire.

They are also frustrated – combat-trained soldiers spend weeks at a time essentially acting as police patrols in the West Bank. They are left to cope independently with a rebellious Palestinian population.

The uproar isn’t just the result of army policy; it is also rooted in the actions of the political class.

Like many prime ministers before him, Prime Minister Netanyahu is deliberately vague on nearly every issue, and his attitude suggests the average person doesn’t really need to know what is happening in the country. His public relations efforts are almost exclusively in English and directed at the foreign media. The result of this philosophy is that eventually the man on the street – in this case the IDF soldiers – are fed up and refuse to be taken for fools.

The Facebook protesters are saying ‘we’ve had it with the obfuscation. We want to be spoken to clearly, and if you don’t speak directly to us, we will speak to you.”

Many Israelis are fed up with the song and dance surrounding the talks with the Palestinians. They don’t have any idea what is on the table, what is being discussed, and what the true final objectives are. In a time when any child with a smart phone can become a media mogul, clouding the truth is a bankrupt political policy.

The protest is also a statement against the labeling every spray-painted Star of David on a Palestinian or Israeli Arab car a “hate crime” and a “price tag” attack. Just as we have no idea how many of those joining the online campaign are soldiers, there’s no way to tell if all of those who have been painting graffiti on mosques and other Arab properties are genuine protestors or just people who want to stir up trouble and undermine coexistence or even Palestinian provocateurs.

These actions don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen, and they are on the rise because young Israelis wonder why the law they are required to uphold and obey is not being enforced on the Arab street. They wonder why Palestinian terrorists, mainly from Hamas and Hizb al-Tahrir, can barricade themselves inside Al Aqsa with no action by Israeli law enforcement. When the “we are with David the Nahal soldier” generation watched the news April 29, they saw thousands of people marching through Ramallah, carrying green Hamas flags and shouting “Ya Qassam, Ya Qassam, destroy Tel Aviv!” Asking why they must accept this, and finding no answer from the Israeli establishment, this generation is providing its own answers.

Ultimately, the problem lies with the lack of leadership in Israel, where the rule of law is weak. As of Thursday morning, the Facebook campaign had begun to threaten the survival of the government coalition.

Economics Minister and chairman of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett declared on his own Facebook page that he too supports “David the Nahal soldier,” saying he “acted correctly.”

“He was alone, confronted by several violent Palestinian provocateurs,” Bennett wrote. “He did not fire his weapon and he took reasonable measures to protect himself and those around him.”

“The far left is always keen to slander IDF fighters. This sort of thing should be denounced by the entire political spectrum. If the cameras hadn’t been there, the incident would not even have happened,” the minister charged,” alluding to the cameras that left-wing organizations distribute to Palestinians to record the actions of soldiers and settlers.

It won’t be long until the usual politicians will clamor for Bennett and his party to be removed from the coalition.

But the soldiers supporting David aren’t willing to be tools in a political agenda.

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