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.
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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.
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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


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