Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Thursday sharply criticized the army’s deputy chief of staff as “confused” and showing “contempt for the Holocaust” over comments he made appearing to compare Israel with Nazi Germany.
Controversy over Maj. Gen. Yair Golan’s comments at the main state ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day Wednesday night continued to snowball Thursday morning even after he appeared to walk back his statement, with some politicians expressing dismay over both the content of his claim and its timing, and others backing him.
“The deputy IDF commander, in my opinion, was confused,” Shaked (Jewish Home) told Israel’s Army Radio from Poland, where she is slated to participate in a ceremony at the Auschwitz death camp later Thursday. “His words mainly indicate a lack of understanding, not to mention a contempt for the Holocaust.”
“There is nothing in the world that should be compared to this story [the Holocaust],” she added.
On Wednesday night, Golan told the audience during the central state ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial that he saw trends in Israel today that are similar to those in Europe prior to the Holocaust, warning against growing callousness and indifference toward those outside of mainstream Israeli society.
“If there is something that frightens me in the memory of the Holocaust, it is identifying horrifying processes that occurred in Europe…70, 80 and 90 years ago and finding evidence of their existence here in our midst, today, in 2016,” Golan said at the event.
He later denied likening Israel to Nazi Germany in the speech, following criticism.
“I had no intention of making that comparison,” Golan said in a statement sent out by the IDF.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home), who on Wednesday called on Golan to retract his comments, praised the officer for clarifying that he was not making a comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany.
“That is fitting. He made a mistake, he corrected it,” he wrote in a message posted to his Twitter account. “This is not the time for in-fighting. Let’s respect this day and be together.”
Several other politicians said they agreed with Golan’s comments, though they didn’t like their timing.
“I think the message was correct, the time and place were not right,” said MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), a former IDF general. “We need to deal with these things every day [ethical issues] but on Remembrance Day we should turn down the volume of the self-criticism and instead lean toward remembering and learning lessons.”
MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) wrote on Twitter that he could see where Golan was coming from.
“Yet the comparison to Germany was unfounded and out of place. Definitely not on Holocaust Remembrance Day,” he tweeted.
MK Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union lamented the criticism Golan has faced which, she indicated, has overshadowed the valuable message he was trying to send.
“Instead of hounding the deputy IDF chief, whose conscience is [one] of values and who represents a moral army that checks itself, it is more important to listen to the things that his heart cried out,” she said in a statement.
MK Issawi Frej of the Meretz party was more forceful in his defense of Golan, saying he had been criticized for speaking uncomfortable truths.
“On Holocaust Remembrance Day one can call for everyone to take account, British, French, Swedes, the UN and anyone else. Just one thing is forbidden! To ask that Israeli society also do soul searching, on its racism and its brutalization.”