Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan denied Thursday he likened Israel to Nazi Germany in a speech for Holocaust Remembrance Day the night before, after sparking a firestorm by saying Israeli society today was similar to pre-Holocaust Germany
“I had no intention of making that comparison,” Golan said in a statement Thursday morning.
Golan told the central state ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial Wednesday night that he identified trends in Israel today that are similar to those that took place in Europe prior to the Holocaust.
“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.
Following criticism of the comments by senior politicians as well as an outcry on social media, Golan said Thursday that his speech was not meant to compare the actions of the IDF and the State of Israel with 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 spokesman’s department. “The IDF is a moral army that respects the rules of engagement and protects human dignity.”
In his strongly worded speech, uncommon for a military commander, Golan warned Wednesday against trends of growing callousness and indifference toward those outside of mainstream Israeli society, as the country marked a day of Holocaust remembrance.
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.
Education minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett called for Golan to immediately retract his statements.
“A moment before our soldiers are compared to Nazis, with ‘endorsement’ from up high — the deputy chief of staff has erred and must rectify it immediately,” he said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Isaac Herzog rallied behind the officer, saying that Golan was a brave commander and had the right to speak his mind.
“The malcontents who will now begin railing at him should know: This is what morality and responsibility sound like,” he said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.