In a speech for Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan said that he identifies processes in Israel today that are similar to those that took place in Europe prior to the Holocaust.
In a strongly worded speech uncommon for a military commander, Golan warned against trends of growing callousness and indifference towards those outside of mainstream Israeli society.
He called for a “thorough consideration” of how society treats the disadvantaged and “the other” in its midst.
The Holocaust, he said, must bring Israelis to “a deep reflection” of the character of man but of their character as well. “It should bring us to deeply consider the responsibility of leadership, and the quality of a 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.
“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.”
He called for society to make use of Holocaust remembrance to “nip the buds of intolerance, the buds of violence, the buds of self-destruction on the road to moral degradation.”
Just as the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur is a day for private self-examination and repentance, he said, Holocaust Remembrance Day should serve as a national day of reflection.
Israel must ask itself how it wants to fulfill its purpose as a light unto the nations, he said. “Only a memory of this kind will serve as a living, breathing memorial to our people… a fitting memorial, a true memorial.”
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.
“Our road has been and will be that of truth and of assuming responsibility, even if the truth is difficult and the responsibility heavy.
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.
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich was also critical of Golan’s speech, saying “what frightens me is absurd and twisted comparisons that taint the memory of the Holocaust, particularly when they come from important figures such as the deputy chief of staff.”
Meanwhile opposition leader Isaac Herzog rallied behind the officer, tweeting that Golan was a brave commander. “The malcontents who will now begin railing at him should know: This is what morality and responsibility sound like.”