Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, delivered a public address on the eve of this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.
He spoke at Israel’s Massuah Institute for Holocaust Studies, which is located at Tel Yitzak Kibbutz.
The General could not have chosen a more auspicious location for what Ha’aretz described as an “unusual speech”.
Four days later, General Golan (above, right) was “harshly criticized” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, Ha’aretz reported, told Sunday’s cabinet meeting that Golan’s remarks “were outrageous, unfounded and they wronged Israeli society”.
Ha’aretz‘ report on the Golan speech began:
In an unusual speech in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday evening, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Yair Golan likened recent developments in Israeli society to processes that unfolded in Europe before the Holocaust.
As any critic of Israeli policies quickly discovers, linking Israel today with any reference to Nazi Germany is strictly forbidden by Israel’s propaganda machine.
This did not deter Major General Yair Golan, who declared in his Holocaust Eve speech:
If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then – 70, 80 and 90 years ago – and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016.
Golan said that the Holocaust “must make us think deeply about the responsibility of leadership, the quality of society, and it must lead us to fundamental thinking about how we, here and now, treat the stranger, the orphan and the widow, and all who are like them.”
Then with a blazing passion that sounded more like a Hebrew prophet than a Major General, he added,
There is nothing easier than hating the stranger, nothing easier than to stir fears and intimidate. There is nothing easier than to behave like an animal and to act sanctimoniously. On Holocaust Remembrance Day we ought to discuss our ability to uproot the seeds of intolerance, violence, self-destruction and moral deterioration.
Just as Yom Kippur is a day for personal atonement, it ought to be and in fact it’s actually essential for Holocaust Remembrance Day to be a national day of atonement.
Major General Golan did not travel this road alone.
Four days after Golan’s Holocaust Day Eve speech, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke at Israel’s Memorial Day ceremony to further “his vociferous public dispute with the rest of the right-wing figures and political leaders in Israel”.
In his speech, he said, “Woe to us if we lose our way from our hallowed values that have accompanied us for generations. Compromising these values may well create a slippery slope to the abyss.”
Major General Golan, now 54, is a veteran IDF leader. He assumed command of the Israel Northern Command in July, 2011. He became IDF Deputy Chief of General Staff in December 2014.
Richard Falk, long-time U.S. peace activist and veteran of Middle East United Nations diplomacy, was inspired by General Golan’s speech to post these strong words of support:
I write these words as. . . an expression of appreciation for the Holocaust Remembrance Day speech earlier this month of Major General Yair Golan, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Speaking at Tel Yitzak Kibbutz, where the Massuah Institute for Holocaust Studies is located, General Golan urged that this very special day of observance in Israel be treated as an occasion for soul-searching.
He placed this call in an extraordinary context by suggesting that conditions in Israel were disturbing in ways relevant to the Holocaust, horror of horrors.
Focused almost exclusively on politics during an American presidential race, we lose sight of the potential for peace and justice among military leaders, who know the cost of war.
As Major General Golan reminds us: “There is nothing easier than hating the stranger, nothing easier than to stir fears and intimidate. There is nothing easier than to behave like an animal and to act sanctimoniously.”
It is never too late for some serious political soul searching in a world where we have discovered again and again, that war is never the answer.
The picture of General Golan, above, is from the Israeli Defense Force.