Kowtowing to the Right, Netanyahu Targets IDF General for Holocaust Day Speech

The prime minister took aim at two targets - Maj. Gen. Yair Golan and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon - during Sunday's cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, May 8, 2016.
Roen Zvulun/AFP

In ordinary times, in a country blessed with responsible and prudent leadership, controversial remarks by a senior army general – which were clarified and corrected by him – would be off the agenda four days later, and we would move on to the next scandal.

But in the Israel of 2016, when any general or lieutenant general not singing the government’s propaganda tune is suspected of being a mole or is marked as a target for elimination, and when the next scandal is the state comptroller’s report into the security cabinet’s handling of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t hesitate to drop his last vestiges of statesmanship and confirm the kill of the deputy chief of staff only two days before Memorial Day.

The media and political storm that followed Maj. Gen. Yair Golan’s remarks at a Holocaust Remembrance Day event last Wednesday were primed to die a natural death. One might have expected the prime minister to exhibit some restraint and not exploit the weekly cabinet meeting to rekindle the flames, or add yet another drop of poison into the cup of hemlock the political right is gleefully offering Golan – simply because he dared admit that Israel is tainted with sickening racist and fascist phenomena. Instead of charging on the wounded, keep silent. And if you must say something, let it be in a more calming direction, to heal the rift and get back to routine.

But, of course, that’s never an option. It’s needless to reiterate that Netanyahu is always glancing toward the hard right – the area code of Habayit Hayehudi – as well as to the relevant wing of Likud. That’s where he’s aiming. When Netanyahu sees a crack, he’ll widen it. If he sees a slit, he’ll enlarge it. When he sees a rift, he’ll deepen it. When the opportunity falls in his lap to make some political hay, even if only for the short term, he’ll be happy to go with his full routine – somber face; furrowed, Luciferian brows; stinging and hurtful words – and seize the chance.

And if the price to be paid is the public skewering of an Israel Defense Forces general, so be it. And if the price includes keeping the issue on the agenda and increasing the international damage caused to Israel (since all haters of the Zionist state used Golan’s words as weapons against it), so be it. And if the ludicrousness of accusing Golan of “cheapening the Holocaust” – when the accuser himself has already worn to death the political and cynical use of the Holocaust – screams to the heavens, so what? The end justifies the means.

During the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu shot one bullet at two birds: Golan and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The premier’s relationship with the latter is tense and bitter since the Israeli soldier’s shooting of a subdued terrorist in Hebron in March, during which time the prime minister has abandoned his defense minister to the attacks of the furious right.

One can only imagine what Ya’alon thought when he heard Netanyahu attack Golan in the cabinet after he, Ya’alon, had backed Golan – and despite the clarification that he, Ya’alon, had demanded Golan issue on Netanyahu’s orders. One can assume the defense minister thought Thursday’s clarification had put the issue to rest, and wasn’t expecting to be spit in the face at the cabinet table.