Netanyahu: Israeli General's Holocaust Speech 'Outrageous and Unfounded'

'The deputy chief of staff is an officer with many accomplishments, but his remarks on this topic were completely wrong and are unacceptable to me,' PM says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, May 8, 2016.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu harshly criticized IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan at the beginning of Sunday's cabinet meeting, noting that his remarks on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day were outrageous, unfounded and that they wronged Israeli society.

Netanyahu made his remarks against the background of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's backing of Golan and his speech.

"The comparison that came up from the deputy chief of staff's comments on the processes that characterized Nazi Germany 80 years ago is outrageous," Netanyahu said. "These are fundamentally unfounded things. They shouldn’t be said at any time, and especially not at the time at which they were said. They wrong Israeli society and cheapen the Holocaust. The deputy chief of staff is an officer with many accomplishments, but his remarks on this topic were completely wrong and are unacceptable to me."  

Netanyahu noted that Israel is a "historical wonder" and that everyone is proud of its achievements and of the IDF. "A lot of things were said about Israel in recent days," Netanyahu said. "There is no country without signs of intolerance and of violence, but Israeli democracy is strong. It denounces such signs and takes care of them by means of the law and other measures."

Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli criticized Netanyahu's comments.

"Someone who only recently abolished Hitler's responsibility for the idea to annihilate the Jews would do better not to join the chorus of condemnations against someone who spoke from his heart of the inflammatory discourse in the country, which the prime minister is greatly responsible for himself," she said. Michaeli was  referring to Netanyahu's statement that the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was the one who planted the idea of the extermination of European Jewry in Adolf Hitler's mind.

"Netanyahu has perfected that art of using the memory of the Holocaust for political needs and now doesn’t miss any opportunity to gain political capital from the delegitimization of senior army officials," she added. 

The prime minister arrived at the cabinet meeting following a meeting of Likud ministers in which a number of them harshly criticized the deputy chief of staff's remarks and demanded that he apologize for them.

Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis said at the Likud ministers' meeting that Golan's remarks "are wretched and causing massive harm to Israeli public diplomacy all over the world." Akunis said that the clarification that Golan issued wasn’t enough. "A clear apology and a retraction of the horrific and far-fetched comparisons must be made."

Meanwhile, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev called on Sunday morning on Golan to resign.

"It cannot be that the deputy chief of staff, a uniform-wearing officer, be a part of the delegitimization against Israel, and say things that hurt Israel, its image and its strength at an official speech," Regev said.

"The deputy chief of staff needs be engaged in the army's competence and its preparedness for war, not in false remarks and the comparing of the country's citizens with Nazis. He passed all bounds and must resign from his position."

Over the weekend, Channel 10 reported that National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz attacked Golan during the security cabinet's Friday morning meeting, saying that if a lower ranking colonel were to make such remarks he would have been removed from the army.

On Wednesday night, following the publication of Golan's remarks, Netanyahu spoke with Ya'alon and conveyed his displeasure with Golan's speech, in which he said that there are manifestations in today's Israeli society that are reminiscent of processes that Germany underwent in the 1930s, before the Holocaust.  

Officials from the Prime Minister's Bureau said that Netanyahu asked Ya'alon that Golan issue a clarification of his comments, which was issued a few hours later. "With all respect to the deputy chief of staff, the prime minister thought that he erred in his remarks and it's good that he fixed them," sources close to Netanyahu said.

Despite Netanyahu's stance regarding Golan's comments, Ya'alon himself chose to back the deputy chief of staff. After Golan issued a clarification statement, Ya'alon wrote on Twitter that Golan's remarks were purposely twisted by parties attacking the IDF.

"I have full confidence in the deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, a valued and ethical fighter and commander with many accomplishments," Ya'alon wrote.

"The attacks on him due to intentional, distorted interpretations of something he said yesterday, are an additional attempt of a worrisome campaign to inflict political damage on the IDF and its officers," Ya'alon said. "Woe to us if we let it happen. The role of any commander in the IDF, especially a senior commander, doesn’t end with leading soldiers in battle, but also demands of him to outline a way and values for them using a compass and a conscience."