Saturday 17 March 2018

Israeli army deputy chief draws fire over Holocaust comment

Israelis stand still next to their cars as a siren sounds in memory of victims of the Holocaust, in Tel Aviv (AP)
Israelis stand still next to their cars as a siren sounds in memory of victims of the Holocaust, in Tel Aviv (AP)

The Israeli army's deputy chief of staff has drawn a rebuke from Israeli ministers for comparing pre-Holocaust Germany to trends in Israel today.

Major General Yair Golan, speaking at a Holocaust remembrance day ceremony at a kibbutz in central Israel, 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."

Education Minister Naftali Bennett called on Golan to correct his statement. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said he was "confused."

The Israeli military said Maj Gen 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 criticise the Israeli government," the Israel Defence Forces (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 six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.

Ceremonies were held around the country beginning on Wednesday evening, including a main ceremony at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended.

Maj Gen 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.

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".

Ms Shaked said his statement reflected "a lack of understanding, if not a disrespect of the Holocaust".

But centre-left opposition leader Isaac Herzog called Maj Gen Golan brave. "This is what ethics and responsibility sound like," he said.

Israelis came to a mournful, two-minute standstill on Thursday morning to remember the dead. As sirens wailed throughout the country, pedestrians stopped in their tracks and motorists pulled over on roads and stood next to their cars. Names of those killed were read in a ceremony at Israel's parliament.

Press Association

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