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Air force takes flak for elaborate Google flyby stunt

Dozens of soldiers mustered in the midday heat to produce clip in former CEO’s honor, to the ire of lawmakers and parents

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

The Israel Air Force came under fire from critics Tuesday for deploying dozens of soldiers for a complex video welcoming former Google CEO Eric Schmidt involving elaborate choreography and the use of two jets, with some saying the film involved improper use of the troops.

Over 100 airmen formed the Google logo standing between two trainer fighter jets on the tarmac at the Hazerim Air Force base near Beersheba and were filmed from overhead with a drone in honor of Schmidt’s recent visit.

The film was leaked by Israel Radio reporter Carmela Menashe late Monday, unleashing a firestorm of criticism.

A father of a serviceman who partook in the video said that last Monday the troops were ordered to muster on a promenade and arrange themselves for the filming.

Eric Schmidt. (Guillaume Paumier, CC-BY/Wikimedia)
Eric Schmidt. (Guillaume Paumier, CC-BY/Wikimedia)

“There they did all sorts of shapes on the order of the base drill sergeant and it was filmed,” the unnamed father told Israel Radio. “It was all done at two in the afternoon in the peak heat of Beersheba, which is a very hot place. They didn’t bother to give them anything to drink. The whole thing took an hour and a half after a day of traveling to get back to base.”

“I don’t think that this is what soldiers ought to do in the army,” he said.

Responding to reporters’ inquiries about the video, Paul Solomon, head of Google Israel’s PR, wrote on Twitter that the company knew nothing about it.

“See, sometimes even Google doesn’t have all the answers,” he quipped.

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich said it was shameful that the whole base was mobilized just to “dance before the management of a private company that came to visit, and bowed before it and pleased it with a model’s flourishes.”

“What’s next? Will the soldiers line up in the shape of the Nike logo? Tanks in the shape of the Bamba baby?” she said in a Facebook post.

From across the aisle, Likud MK Amir Ohana also joined the chorus of critics, saying the role of the IDF is to provide security, not act as cheerleaders.

Meretz MK Ilan Gilon called for an immediate meeting to discuss the issue

“It’s the initiative of the air force base as part of the visit arranged there,” the IDF Spokesperson said in a statement. “The issue will be investigated and the findings published.”

Schmidt, now the head of Google parent company Alphabet, visited Israel last week, to mark 10 years since Google’s Israel office was opened.

While in Tel Aviv, he praised the Israeli high tech scene, saying it was bested only by Silicon Valley.

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