In an unusual speech in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday evening, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen.Yair Golan likened recent developments in Israeli society to processes that unfolded in Europe before the Holocaust.
"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."
"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," he added.
"On Holocaust Remembrance Day we ought to discuss our ability to uproot the seeds of intolerance, violence, self-destruction and moral deterioration," Golan said.
Just as Yom Kippur is a day for personal atonement, Golan said, "it ought to be and in fact it's actually essential" for Holocaust Remembrance Day to be a national day of atonement.
"National atonement ought to include unsettling issues," he said. "A few weeks ago the public began to debate purity of arms, and I'd like to say a few words about that. The abnormal use of weapons and harm to purity of arms have occurred in the history of the IDF since its establishment. The IDF has always taken pride in its ability to investigate difficult events impartially and to take full responsibility for what is good but also for what is bad and unacceptable."
"We didn't justify ourselves, cover up, smooth things over, dismiss with a wink or make excuses. Our path was always that of truth and taking responsibility, even when the truth is difficult and the responsibility weighty. We believe very much in the justice of our path, but not everything we do is just. We trust the IDF's moral standards as an organization, but we do not ignore individual deviations."
Habayit Hayehudi head and Education Minister Naftali Bennett rebuked Golan for his comments. "The deputy chief of staff made a mistake and he must correct it immediately," he said, "before Holocaust deniers will raise these erroneous words as a standard, before our soldiers will be compared to Nazis, God forbid, with legitimization from high above."
Golan clarified overnight on Thursday that he had no intention to compare between the IDF and Israel and processes that took place in Germany 70 years ago.
Such a comparison is absurd and baseless, and there was no intention to create such a comparison or criticize the political leadership, said a statement. The IDF is a moral army that maintains purity of arms and human dignity, it added.