IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, speaking at a commemoration of the Holocaust, said he sees in today’s Israel evidence of events that took place in Europe before the Holocaust. The ceremony, at the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak, included dignitaries like Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), who were visibly unhappy with what the man who could some day lead the Jewish Army thought about his subordinates.
Maj. Gen. Golan, who is the child of a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was murdered by the Nazis, said that what truly frightens him in recalling the Holocaust is to identify the same blood curdling processes that took place in Germany and in the rest of Europe “70, 80, and 90 years ago, and discovering evidence of their taking place here, among us, in 2016.”
Golan summed up the characteristics he found in both pre-Holocaust Europe and in 2016 Israel as follows: hatred of foreigners, fear mongering, brutalization, rhinocerization and self-righteousness. The one before last term refers to the 1959 play Rhinocéros by Eugène Ionesco, a Romanian exile in Paris, who explains Nazism and Fascism in a satirical tale of a small, provincial French town whose people turn into rhinoceroses.
The Golan statement goes to show that being the child of a Holocaust survivor does not automatically qualify one to be able to make convincing analogies between the state-organized, industrialized slaughter of six million Jews and what amounts to 150 years of a difficult relationship between neighbors in Israel. The comparison, inaugurated by the late professor of chemistry and ingenious commentator on Jewish law and Jewish history, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who coined the term Judonazis, has been rejected with contempt by many Israelis, most notably the late Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin:
In 1993, Prof. Leibowitz was selected for the highest national award, the Israel Prize. Before the award ceremony, Leibowitz was invited to speak to the Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, where his controversial remarks calling upon Israeli soldiers to refuse orders triggered outrage, and PM Yitzhak Rabin threatened to boycott the Israel Prize ceremony. The IP jury convened to withdraw the award from the provocative and intentionally nasty professor, but Leibowitz quickly announced that he would refuse to accept the prize, taking charge of his own public execution.
Maj. Gen. Golan on Wednesday night may have walked into his own public execution, which explains why he and the IDF spokesperson’s office and Army Radio have been swimming the backstroke all of Thursday trying to persuade a livid nation that the deputy chief did not mean the IDF was starting to look like the Wehrmacht.
So, here is what the man next in line to lead the IDF said about the IDF (translated from the full text of his speech, courtesy of Ha’aretz):
Saying that Holocaust Memorial Day must also be a day of national reckoning, Golan suggested such reckoning must include “unsettling phenomena.” Referring to the public debate over the purity of the weapon (a uniquely Israeli term, dating back to the pre-state years, meaning when Jews use their weapons they must do so ethically), he said he wished to comment on the matter.
The most notable “unsettling phenomenon” Golan was citing had taken place on Purim day, when two Arab terrorists stabbed an IDF soldier in the neck at a check post outside Hebron in Judea. The force at the site shot down both terrorists, killing one and neutralizing the other. About ten minutes after the incident, a 19-year-old medic who served with the same unit showed up to help treat the stabbed soldier, and was documented by a B’Tselem video as he shot dead the terrorist who was still living, who was lying on the ground. The IDF and the Defense Ministry reacted at lightening-speed to the video, turning what would have probably resulted in a disciplinary action, if at all, into a murder investigation. The sheer audacity of the military prosecution in attempting to pin a murder charge (which has now been reduced to manslaughter) on a combat soldier aroused a groundswell of popular protest, the likes of which Israel’s security apparatus brass had rarely faced before; and the protest also served to enhance the demarcation between left and right, Zionist and anti-Zionist, ruling elites and everyone else in Israel. When you read Maj. Gen. Golan’s notes below, keep all of that in mind as the subtext.
“Irregular use of weapons, and damage to the purity of the weapon have taken place in the IDF since its founding,” Golan conceded, adding, “The pride of the IDF has always been in our ability to investigate difficult incidents, without bias, to bravely investigate problematic behavior, and to accept full responsibility for the good but also for the bad and the unlawful. We didn’t justify, we didn’t hide, we didn’t paint over, we didn’t wink, we didn’t roll up our eyes to the heavens, we also didn’t make excuses. Our path has been and will continue to be the path of truth and accepting responsibility, even when the truth is hard to take and the responsibility heavy. We believe in the righteousness of our path — but not everything we do is righteous. We trust the morality of the IDF as an institution, but we do not overlook the exceptions. We demand of our soldiers precisely what we demand of ourselves, and we insist that being a personal example be second nature to every commander.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett issued a tweet saying, “One minute before the Holocaust deniers turn these erroneous words into a flag, one minute before our soldiers are compared to Nazis, God forbid, with approval from the brass, [we say] the deputy chief of staff made a mistake and he must correct it at once.”
The IDF released a statement saying, “The Deputy Chief Of Staff wishes to clarify that he had no intention of comparing the IDF and the State of Israel with events that took place in Germany 70 years ago. The comparison is absurd and utterly groundless, and there was no intent to create such a comparison, nor to criticize the political echelon. The IDF is a moral army which observes the purity of the weapon and the dignity of man.”
But, of course, he did just that, he compared the IDF and the State of Israel with events that took place in Germany 70 years ago — in fact, that very reference is a quote from his speech, spoken with a self-righteous tone reserved to the members of the ruling elite when they describe the plebeian masses who foolishly fail to adhere to the wisdom and moral uprightness garnered by decades of being in charge.
Come to think of it, the Golan speech was the perfect analogy for the decadence, hatred of foreigners, fear mongering, brutalization, rhinocerization and self-righteousness — of Israel’s Jewish left, and Holocaust Memorial Day was the perfect time for such an analogy.
The fact that a man who compares his subordinates to Nazis may be considered to replace the current chief of staff, who, for his part, has told the nation that the rabbinic principle of “He who rises to kill you, kill him first” is merely a metaphor and not a moral principle; and that both men are commanded by a Defense Minister who keeps Jews in prison for many months without charges, and uses brute force to evict Jewish dwellers from their homes — while permitting widespread illegal Arab dwellings — those are crucial lessons Jews must learn and absorb, lest we are tempted to believe that what followed the Nazi Holocaust was a full Jewish liberation.
There’s still a whole lot more liberation left to be done.