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PM scolds Ya’alon over IDF deputy chief’s Holocaust remarks

Yair Golan sparks controversy after appearing to compare Israel to Nazi Germany in Holocaust Remembrance Day speech

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan lays a wreath at a memorial during a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum as Israel marks the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5, 2016. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)
Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan lays a wreath at a memorial during a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum as Israel marks the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5, 2016. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reprimanded Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon over the IDF deputy chief of staff’s Holocaust Remembrance Day speech on Wednesday, during which he appeared to compare Israel to Nazi Germany.

During a “tense” late-night phone call on Wednesday, Netanyahu told Ya’alon that Maj. Gen. Yair Golan’s remarks were “unacceptable,” Hebrew media reported.

Amid criticism of his comments by senior politicians as well as an outcry on social media, Golan on Thursday walked back his statement, 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.

Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan speaks at Holocaust Remembrance ceremony on May 5, 2016 (Channel 10 news)
Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan speaks at Holocaust Remembrance ceremony on May 5, 2016 (Channel 10 news)

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office told the TV station that Netanyahu welcomed Golan’s statement.

“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, and said the army would have issued a statement on Golan’s remarks regardless.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (L) speaks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) on December 8, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (L) speaks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) on December 8, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

Controversy over Golan’s comments continued to snowball Thursday even after the IDF issued his clarification, with some politicians expressing dismay over both the content of his claim and its timing, and others backing him.

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.”

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.

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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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