The Israeli army’s deputy chief of staff drew rebukes from hawkish Israeli ministers on Thursday for comparing pre-Holocaust Germany to trends in Israel today.
Speaking at a Holocaust remembrance day ceremony at a Holocaust study centre in central Israel on Wednesday evening, Maj General Yair Golan said, “If there is something that frightens me in Holocaust remembrance, it is ghastly trends that took place in Europe in general, and in Germany specifically, 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and finding a sign of them here among us, today in 2016.”
He added that Israelis on Holocaust remembrance day should “discuss our ability to uproot from among us buds of intolerance, buds of violence, buds of self-destruction on the path to ethical deterioration.” He did not specify, but he made reference to a case in March in which a soldier was charged with manslaughter for shooting a Palestinian attacker as he lay wounded on the ground in the West Bank, saying “not everything we do is right” but that Israel’s army does not cover up “problematic activity.”
Education minister Naftali Bennett called on Golan to correct his statement, else he be seen as comparing Israeli soldiers to Nazis and giving credence to Holocaust deniers. Justice minister Ayelet Shaked said Golan was “a little confused” and his statement reflected “a lack of understanding, if not a disrespect of the Holocaust”.
On the other hand, centre-left opposition leader Isaac Herzog called Golan brave. “This is what ethics and responsibility sound like,” he said.
The Israeli military said on Thursday that Golan did not intend to compare Israel and its army to “the horrors” of Germany 70 years ago.
“This is an absurd and baseless comparison that he never would have made and it was never his intention to criticize the Israeli government,” the Israel Defence Forces, or IDF, said in a statement. “The IDF holds itself to high standards of conduct and holds the value of human life as a guiding value.”
Israel is marking its annual Holocaust remembrance day, in memory of the 6 million Jews killed by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.
Ceremonies were held around the country beginning Wednesday evening, including a main ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended. Major General Golan spoke at the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, a museum and seminar centre dedicated to discussing the significance of the Holocaust in contemporary society and culture.
Israelis came to a mournful, two-minute standstill Thursday morning to remember the dead. As sirens wailed throughout the country, pedestrians stopped in their tracks and motorists pulled over on highways and roads and stood next to their cars. Names of those killed were read in a ceremony at Israel’s parliament.
The Holocaust remains an open wound in Israeli society and is central to Israel’s national identity. Thousands of Israeli high school students make annual trips to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camp sites in Europe, and foreign leaders routinely visit Israel’s Holocaust memorial. Israeli officials also frequently draw parallels between the Holocaust and contemporary events, which has stirred controversy.
Netanyahu has long been criticized for invoking the Holocaust when talking about current affairs, alluding to it especially when discussing Iran and its nuclear program. Last year, Netanyahu sparked uproar in Israel for suggesting that a World War II-era Palestinian leader persuaded the Nazis to adopt their Final Solution to exterminate 6 million Jews. Holocaust experts and survivors slammed Netanyahu’s comments as historically innacurate. Netanyahu tried to use a historical anecdote to illustrate his claim that Palestinian incitement surrounding Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site goes back decades.