'Compared Israel to Nazis': Defense Chief Takes Sides in Battle for Next Israeli Army Head

Avigdor Lieberman slams right-wing 'defamation campaign': 'Golan is an excellent officer and courageous commander'

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Maj. Gen. Yair Golan in the Hebron area, 2016
Dana Shraga / Defense Ministry

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded Monday to a campaign being waged against the army's former deputy chief of staff to prevent his appointment to chief of staff.

"Maj. Gen. Yair Golan is an excellent officer and courageous commander who devoted his life to the security of the State of Israel," Lieberman wrote on Twitter. "The defamation campaign against him in recent days is inappropriate and will have no effect on the appointment of the chief of staff."

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Lieberman's remarks came in response to a campaign launched by the right-wing group Im Tirtzu on Sunday, which claims that Golan is not worthy of the post of chief of staff.

In a letter the organization sent to Lieberman, signed by hundreds of bereaved families, it said that "Maj. Gen. Golan's statements paint a troubling picture of a commander who is willing to take unnecessary risks with our soldiers' lives while comparing our country to Nazi Germany." The letter further stated that "a person who considers our children's blood cheap cannot command the IDF."

Golan came under a great deal of criticism two years ago over his speech at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, in which he compared processes in Israel to those that took place 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," he said at the ceremony.

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) criticized Golan, writing at the time: "What frightens me are these is false and distorted comparisons that harm the memory of the Holocaust, especially when they come from important people like the deputy chief of staff." Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked added that this indicates contempt of the Holocaust.

In a 2017 interview published on the IDF website, Golan said: "I was horrified when I saw cases in which force was used to take someone's life not in accordance with moral standards." Golan added in the interview: "On the day they gave me a weapon I understood that I could, on the basis of my decision, to take someone's life. Does this seem trivial to you? This is a serious matter, and I want to know that in the State of Israel, in the IDF, when we use weapons, we do it because it is the most correct and just thing."

Golan served in the past as the commander of the Nahal Brigade, the commander of the Home Front Command and the commander of the Northern Command. He is perceived by the IDF as an independent and opinionated officer, and was groomed for a long career in the IDF from the beginning.

Lieberman needs to select the next army’s chief of general staff. The term of Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot ends on January 1, 2019. The four most likely candidates are the current deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi; his predecessor, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan; the former head of the Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, and former Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir.