Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected an IDF general’s controversial remarks comparing Israel to pre-war Nazi Germany on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan ignited a firestorm of criticism after telling an audience during a Holocaust memorial ceremony Wednesday night 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,” he said.
Netanyahu called the comments “outrageous” at Sunday’s cabinet meeting and said they “create contempt for the Holocaust.
Golan’s remarks, Netanyahu said, “are fundamentally baseless. They didn’t need to be said at any time and certainly not at the time they were said. They do injustice to Israeli society and create contempt for the Holocaust. The deputy chief of staff is a highly decorated officers but his statements on this matter were completely erroneous and unacceptable to me.”
At the meeting, Culture Minister Miri Regev railed at Golan, saying “It’s unacceptable that a deputy chief of staff would be part of the delegitimization of Israel. He crossed every line and he must resign his post.”
Before the weekend, the prime minister also reportedly upbraided Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon for Golan’s comments, which earlier drew criticism from other government officials both for their timing and content.
“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 Wednesday night event.
Golan on Thursday walked back his statements amid public outcry, saying his address was not meant to compare the actions of Israel or the IDF to those of the Nazis.
“It is an absurd and baseless comparison and I had no intention whatsoever of drawing any sort of parallel or to criticize the national leadership,” Golan said in a statement communicated by the IDF Spokesperson’s unit.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday said Netanyahu welcomed Golan’s retraction, according to a Channel 2 report.
“With all due respect to the deputy chief of staff, the prime minister believes he erred in his remarks, and so it’s good that he explained them,” PMO sources said.
According to Channel 2, IDF officials insisted Golan’s clarification had nothing to do with Netanyahu’s reprimand to Ya’alon, and said the army would have issued a statement on Golan’s remarks regardless.
In sharp contrast to Netanyahu, Ya’alon dismissed the widespread criticism of Golan, saying he had “full confidence” in the “valued and accomplished” deputy chief of staff.
“These attacks on him are intentional, distorted interpretations of something he said yesterday, and are part of a wider, alarming campaign to cause political damage to the IDF and its officers,” Ya’alon said in a statement on Thursday.
“We cannot afford to let that happen,” he added. “The job of every IDF commander, especially a senior commander, is not just to lead soldiers into battle, but also obligates him to lead the way in establishing values.”
The strained conversation between Ya’alon and Netanayhu was reported as an indication of deteriorating relationship between the two.
Earlier Thursday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked sharply criticized Golan as “confused” and showing “contempt for the Holocaust,” while opposition leader Isaac Herzog praised Golan for exhibiting “morality and responsibility.”
While his critique of Israeli society was likely aimed at support for Jewish extremist actions, Golan specifically touched upon the issue of moral flaws within the army, saying the strength of the IDF was its ability to thoroughly investigate and punish wrongdoers “and take responsibility for the good and the bad,” without justifying their actions or attempting to cover them up.
“We believe truly in the justness of our path, but not everything we do is just,” he said.
Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.