Lowliest Guards on the Israeli Totem Pole

How 'Blaming the Shin-Gimmel' Entered Vernacular

Man In a Glass Booth: The phrase shin-gimmel refers to a battalion guard. But it has also come to mean a scapegoat.
Thinkstock
Man In a Glass Booth: The phrase shin-gimmel refers to a battalion guard. But it has also come to mean a scapegoat.

By Philologos

Published February 10, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

I’m not sure, however, that I would have stuck to my guns if the pilot in question had been pointing a gun at me. That’s what happened years later, on the night of November 25, 1987, to a young soldier named Roni Almog, who was the shin-gimmel at a paratrooper base in northern Israel.

Unbeknown to him, two gliders flown by members of Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine had managed to cross the border undetected from Lebanon and then land in Israel. The pilot of one was killed immediately. The pilot of the other made it to the base that Almog was guarding and opened fire. Almog panicked and ran away, and the Palestinian entered the base and killed five of the paratroopers before he was shot.

An investigation was held. The entire blame was laid on Almog, who was court-martialed and sentenced to a year-and-a-half in prison. Although no one doubted that he should have been punished, there was criticism of the investigators for not bothering to ask how the gliders had escaped radar detection in the first place. This grew fiercer when it was revealed that there had been advance intelligence of the attack but that forces on the ground had not been put on the alert — and to compound matters,

Almog’s father then successfully snuck unnoticed into the headquarters of Israel’s Northern Army Command in order to prove that its bases were inadequately protected and that no shin-gimmel should bear sole responsibility for their penetration.

The expression “blaming the shin-gimmel” resulted from “the night of the gliders,” as the event came to be known. Subsequently, it entered the Israeli vernacular as a general way of referring to putting the onus for a mishap on someone at the bottom of an organizational hierarchy while whitewashing those at the top.

“They’re out to get the shin-gimmel again,” began a newspaper article demanding that defense minister Ehud Barak, and not just naval officers, be held to account for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turkish civilians running the blockade on Gaza were killed. “I haven’t stopped at the shin-gimmel,” state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss announced last year, in publicizing his report on the Carmel forest fire in which 44 Israelis died.

Eyal Epstein occupied a higher office than does your ordinary shin-gimmel. Still, Nehemiah Strassler’s meaning was clear: Don’t blame the deputy when those above him, including the boss who fired him, are at fault, too. Unfortunately, if you’re looking to pass the buck, it’s easiest to let it roll downhill.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.