Grumpy Old Man: Bad timing, right message

Describing some of what’s happening here is necessary, though invoking the Holocaust should be off limits – to all.

Ya’alon takes part in the weekly cabinet meeting (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ya’alon takes part in the weekly cabinet meeting
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When MK Oren Hazan opens his mouth, I always picture a cop who’s been sent out to handle curious passersby: Move on, nothing to listen to here. Like what Hazan said last week after the IDF’s deputy chief of staff stirred the embers of the Holocaust with controversial remarks, and Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon came to the general’s defense.
“Somebody,” Hazan said, “needs to remind Bogie that we live in a democracy, not a military regime. The IDF is not a junta. Its job is to implement the decisions of the civilian leadership and not to disagree with it and chart its own policy.”
In one way, the self-esteemed freshman lawmaker is absolutely right: The army, while allowed at its upper echelons to make recommendations to the country’s civilian leaders, is charged with executing the policies they decide on. And indeed, the policy of our civilian leadership of late at least seems to be aimed at looking away from, if not promoting outright, what Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan called “horrifying processes that occurred in Europe, particularly in Germany, 70, 80 and 90 years ago.”
If a career soldier is sufficiently unhappy with government policies, he or she is welcome to find another career, at which point such unhappiness can be freely expressed. But let’s face it: The “horrifying processes” Golan was referring to go way beyond decisions on the future of Israeli settlements in the West Bank or whether Iran’s nuclear facilities are to be taken out; they reflect what might be a deep change taking place at the core of our society that does not bode well at all.
UNFORTUNATELY, THE Holocaust is dragged out too often as a metaphor for social and political ills, real or perceived.
Critics of Israel liken us to the Nazis for the way we treat Palestinians. More than a few of them, I’m sure, lack proper knowledge of history, but enough of them know full well that what made the Nazis Nazis was their systematic, farflung program of genocide, a charge no educated, sane person can level at Israel no matter how ugly or wrong its occupation over the Palestinians can be.
Just as unfortunately, though, we, too, like to use the Holocaust as a cudgel: The Iranians are the new Nazis, Arafat was worse than Hitler. We hear such statements coming from people in positions of responsibility no less than we do from people in the streets. It only cheapens the Holocaust, the memory of the millions who perished, and the tool that this memory can and should become in preventing further Holocausts.
Yes, we get bent out of shape when we see and hear it used against us. It’s bad enough when it comes from without, but when it comes from within – from an IDF general in a high position of responsibility and authority, no less – we go nuts.
Golan’s mistake was in making his remarks during an official gathering for Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s a day that should belong to the victims, much as a funeral belongs to the deceased. It is up to those most deeply affected to decide whether certain remarks should or should not be made, for it is a moment when emotions are at their rawest. It is for this reason that the families of dead soldiers or victims of terror often ask our leaders to stay away and not turn what is supposed to be a deeply private and respectful moment into a public political statement.
Golan should have waited, even if only a day, to make his own particular statement. He also could have sharpened his remarks to emphasize what he really wanted to say about the worrying signs coming from our society.
We are, after all, awash in Smotriches, Marzels and Gopsteins, and while I would never dredge up names from the Third Reich by way of comparison, the fact that so many of us champion their beliefs or just choose to remain silent as they spew their venom would justify an entire lecture.
What’s more, as No. 2 in the IDF, the general has every right to publicly express worry about people’s ethical and moral behavior, especially when he’s one of those in charge of young people running around with all matter of deadly weaponry. Let’s not forget that most of them are barely out of high school, where some obviously spent their days smoking in the bathroom, shooting spitballs at the backs of teachers or bullying weaker kids, simply because they could.
This kind of behavior does not come from a vacuum. The utterances and actions of highly visible people with despicable beliefs percolate down through society so that a Palestinian at a checkpoint is afforded less humanity because somewhere, at some time, a young soldier heard that Palestinians deserve nothing more.
There are also those who say that Golan’s remarks have further damaged Israel’s image abroad. Yes, our critics out there have been given fresh fodder. Can’t argue with that. But scratch a little deeper and you’ll often find that the people disparaging Golan for this reason are willing to take the argument a step farther to say that we ourselves should not debate the matter either – if there is anything to debate at all.
Rubbish. There’s plenty to debate. And the debate should take place outside in the sunshine, for most of us are not soldiers in uniform with tape over our mouths. The debate should be sufficiently loud, too, though conducted with deference and respect. Nothing is accomplished if the din becomes unbearable.
GENERALLY, I’M not a great fan of our defense minister. But in recent months, he has been a beacon of decency in the dark muck surrounding much of our political leadership.
“Keep speaking your minds,” Ya’alon urged soldiers at a Defense Ministry event earlier this week. “Do so even if your comments are not part of the mainstream, and even if they stand in contrast with the ideas adopted by senior command or the government...
A good military is one in which commanders, junior and senior, feel secure in their ability to speak their mind at any time, knowing they will not be harmed.”
Maj.-Gen. Golan’s career has probably been harmed, perhaps irreparably.
But these are not quite the noises of a junta, wouldn’t you say Mr. Hazan?