With political mudslinging beginning to stain the slowly emerging September election campaigns, former prime minister Ehud Barak entered a potential minefield on Tuesday morning, saying he agreed with controversial comments made by a high-profile recruit to his new party comparing certain trends in Israeli society to some in pre-World War II Germany.
“Yair Golan told the truth about the processes that are happening in our country, which happened in Europe 90 years ago,” Barak, speaking on 103FM radio, said of the former IDF deputy chief of staff who was unveiled last month as a founding member of his Israel Democratic Party.
Golan ignited a firestorm of criticism after telling an audience during the 2016 state Holocaust memorial ceremony that he saw trends in Israel today similar to those in Europe prior to the Holocaust, warning against growing callousness and indifference toward those outside society’s mainstream.
“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 in a strongly worded speech uncommon for a military commander.
Golan, a well-regarded officer who has held a number of top positions during his 37-year IDF career, called for a “thorough consideration” of how society treats the disadvantaged and “the other” in its midst.
His comments drew immediate censure from across the political spectrum, with even those sympathizing with the general’s intent saying his choice of words and his timing were poor.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leading a barrage of criticism from the right, castigated the general, calling his comments “outrageous” and saying that they “create contempt for the Holocaust.”
“There is nothing easier than hating the other,” he said. “There is nothing easier than raising fears and sowing terror. There is nothing easier than becoming callous, morally corrupt and hypocritical.”
Golan, amid the outcry, quickly clarified his comments, saying he had not intended to compare Israel to Nazi Germany. “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 at the time.
According to Barak on Tuesday, the comments were the main reason that Golan was not subsequently appointed to lead the army despite being considered a strong favorite. “It ended his chances of being appointed chief of staff, it is unacceptable to me,” Barak said in a critique of what he called an “atmosphere of fear” surrounding Netanyahu’s administration.
In his first interview since joining Barak’s new party, Golan said last week that although he sees himself as being on the left of the political spectrum, he is not a “leftist,” distancing himself from a term that in Israel has become an insult.
Announcing his return to the political arena at the head of the new Israel Democratic Party, Barak, who was prime minister in 1999-2001 and retired from politics in 2013, vowed to defeat Netanyahu in September, saying that he was “a threat to Israeli democracy.”
The political jousting between the two ramped up further Tuesday when Netanyahu published a video on social media questioning the latter’s relationship with US billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sex-trafficking in minors.