Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.- Gen. Yair Golan walked back his statements linking present- day Israel and pre-war Nazi Germany on Wednesday, but it was too late; the reverberations went too far.
Golan’s speech dominated the public discourse, and unfortunately, in some cases, overshadowed the actual meaning of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The Holocaust should bring us to ponder our public lives and, furthermore, it must lead anyone who is capable of taking public responsibility to do so, because if there is one thing that is scary in remembering the Holocaust, it is noticing horrific processes which developed in Europe – particularly in Germany – 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and finding remnants of that here among us in the year 2016,” was the section of Golan’s speech that sparked the controversy.
Golan said he did not mean to compare Israel or the IDF to the Nazis. Yet the Nazis fall into the time frame he discussed. Even accepting his clarification, “Germany 70, 80, 90 years ago” was just too close for comfort to a Nazi comparison for many, especially on Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we’re mourning the six million Jews they murdered. The Holocaust is still an open wound for Jews around the world, and anything close to cheapening its memory is throwing salt in that wound.
And then there’s the shanda fur die goyim
Golan faced accusations of comparing Israel to Nazis, which is not what he meant to do, but again, it’s not hard to see how one would make that logical leap about his remarks. This twisted message was regurgitated over and over again in the foreign press and highlighted in anti-Israel forums as proof of Israel’s evils. Members of the UK Labor Party have been suspended for making comments tying Israel to Nazis, and now an IDF general is doing it – the headline writes itself. And, since Israel’s presence in the West Bank commands disproportionate attention in the news pages, it was often presumed that Golan was talking about that, though the full text of the speech indicated otherwise.
Those who hate Israel often compare its behavior to that of the Nazis, and, as Golan said in his clarification, that is an absurd comparison. It seems ridiculous to have to explain, but apparently some people need reminders: The indisputable fact is that there is no, nor has there ever been, a systematic genocide of Arabs or anyone by Israel, like the one Nazi Germany perpetrated to the Jews. In addition, what is going on in Israel now is a century-long conflict, starting with Arab massacres of Jews even before the Holocaust; this conflict is between two warring sides, as opposed to the Holocaust, in which the Nazis rounded up and killed six million Jews who were not involved in any kind of war or violence against Germany.
And those are just the most obvious differences.
The bitter irony of an IDF general being embraced by anti-Semites, on Holocaust Remembrance Day of all days, is almost too great to grasp, and the expectation that someone in as senior a position as Golan would not be insensitive and shortsighted enough to allow that to happen is a reason that his comments were considered to be an egregious error by many.
The unfortunate thing is that Golan’s speech had a commendable message that was completely overshadowed by the way he chose to send it.
A close reading of Golan’s remarks (much of which is quoted on today’s front page) seems to indicate that he was referring to violence in the political discourse, highlighting the dangerous potential of not accepting those different from oneself, in light of the stormy public debate over the court-martial of Sgt.
Elor Azaria, who is being tried on charges of manslaughter after shooting dead a Palestinian terrorist who had already been subdued.
Golan called for soul-searching, for responsible leadership and for thinking about how we treat one another. He spoke out against “fear-mongering and threatening...behaving like beasts, becoming morally corrupt and sanctimoniousness,” and said we must “uproot the first signs of intolerance, violence and self-destruction.”
This is, of course, a fairly universally accepted lesson of the Holocaust – not to accept bigotry and certainly not to let such sentiments be translated into actions.
Then Golan emphasized the importance of purity of arms, which, according to the IDF doctrine is to only use weapons and force to the extent necessary in a mission and maintain humanity even in combat, avoiding bodily harm to noncombatants’ as well as to their dignity and property.
It’s safe to say most Israelis agree with this message, as well, though they may interpret it in different ways.
And finally, Golan expressed pride in the IDF judiciary, for enforcing the purity of arms.
Defending Golan, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said IDF commanders, especially the senior ones, do not just lead soldiers into battle; rather, they should “outline a path and values with a compass and a conscience,” and Golan seemed to be trying to do just that in his speech.
Golan’s message was thought-provoking, but appropriate for a leading general in an IDF going through turbulent times in the public eye. It’s too bad the Germany comparison meant no one paid much attention to it.