Netanyahu slams top general over Nazi comments

Israeli prime minister rebukes top general Yair Golan over his comments implicitly comparing Israeli society to Nazi Germany

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 8, 2016.

In a rare public rebuke of a serving general, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scolded Israel's deputy military chief for suggesting that Israeli society was showing signs of Nazi-like behavior as several hundreds of Russian-Israeli World War II veterans marched in Jerusalem on Sunday to mark the 71st anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany.

Major General Yair Golan said, in an address delivered on Wednesday on the eve of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, the commemoration "must bring us to reflect deeply on the nature of man, even when that man is ourselves."

"If there is something that frightens me with the memory of the Holocaust, it is identifying horrifying processes that happened in Europe, and specifically in Germany, 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and finding testimony to them amongst us, today, in 2016," he said.

"There is, after all, nothing easier and simpler than hating the foreigner... arousing fears and terrifying," he added.

Golan's comments were widely interpreted as comparing behavior of some in Israel with that of the Nazis, who killed six million Jews in the Holocaust of World War II. In his speech the general made reference to a soldier who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian assailant, who was lying on the ground, in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, in March.

"The comparison that arose from the deputy chief of staff's comments on the processes that characterized Nazi Germany 80 years ago is outrageous," Netanyahu said. "They wrong Israeli society and cheapen the Holocaust."

In rebuking Golan, Netanyahu echoed criticism by far-right coalition partners. He has not commented on the general's future, but Miri Regev, a cabinet minister from his right-wing Likud party, called on Golan to resign.

"The deputy chief of staff is an outstanding officer, but his remarks on this issue were utterly mistaken and unacceptable to me," he pointed out.

The chief-of-staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, angered politicians in February with remarks warning young soldiers not to use excessive force in subduing suspected Palestinian assailants.

A wave of unrest that erupted in October has so far killed 203 Palestinians and 28 Israelis.

Most of the Palestinians killed were alleged to be carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, Israeli authorities say.

Rights groups have called on Israel to stop using "lethal force" against attackers, and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom has accused the Jewish state of carrying out "extrajudicial executions."

In March an Israeli soldier was caught on video shooting to death a wounded Palestinian assailant, an incident condemned by a senior United Nations official as "gruesome, immoral and unjust."

The soldier, an infantry sergeant, has been charged with manslaughter.

And there have been concerns about Israeli civilian mobs attacking people they deem suspicious.

Notable was a case in October, when an Eritrean immigrant was shot by a security guard at a bus station after being mistaken for an Arab assailant in an attack that killed an Israeli soldier.

Footage of the man bleeding as an irate crowd rained blows on his head and body prompted soul searching among some Israelis over their response to a wave of attacks as well as their treatment of African migrants.

TRTWorld and agencies