Israel’s 'Germany in the 1930s' General Doesn’t Know His History

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Jewish prisoners led by the SS and local police through the streets of Baden-Baden, Germany, 1938.

Before the dust settles on the attempt to enlarge the coalition by kicking Moshe Ya’alon out of the Defense Ministry and replacing him with Avigdor Lieberman, and before the unfortunate remarks by Maj. Gen. Yair Golan on Holocaust Remembrance Day become embedded in memory as a part of the coalition episode, it should be made clear that Golan was dead wrong.

“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 Holocaust memorial ceremony at Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak.

One wonders if Golan has read the two magisterial books on Nazi Germany and the Jews by Saul Friedlander: “The Years of Persecution” and “The Years of Extermination.” If he had read them, or for that matter others of the many books on the Holocaust and the years preceding the murder of 6 million Jews, he would have found no analogy or traces of similarity between what occurred in Germany in those years and what is happening in Israel today.

His remarks were almost blasphemous. Ninety years ago Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” was published in Germany, a book that in due time became almost required reading for all Germans.

Seventy-nine years ago the Nuremberg racial laws were enacted, and the following year Jews were barred from all professional positions in Germany, to be followed by Kristallnacht, the burning of synagogues throughout Germany. And 71.5 years ago, the Germans were still attempting to kill the last Jews under their control in the infamous death marches.

Seventy years ago Germany was a defeated nation and the full horrors of the Holocaust had been revealed to the world. Throughout all these years Golan would have found no case of a Wehrmacht soldier being put on trial for killing a helpless Jew.

All this is clear to those acquainted with Holocaust history. Friedlander’s two books on the Holocaust and Raul Hilberg’s “The Destruction of the European Jews” should be required reading for senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces.

Deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, during a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, May 5, 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

In Israel these days, there are people who give voice to hatred of all Arabs. There are even those few who give vent to their sentiments by taking the law into their own hands.

But they are on the margins of Israeli society. When they break the law they are prosecuted, judged and punished. The vast majority of Israelis disassociate themselves from them. Need it be said that there is not the faintest resemblance here with Germany in the 1930s or ‘40s?

Golan is obviously ill-informed on the history of the years that preceded the Holocaust and the Holocaust itself. It’s hard to understand just what led him to deliver his remarks on a subject on which he is far from expert. His words, as he must have known, are grist for the mill of Israel’s enemies who are expending great effort to blacken Israel’s name, and who in their anti-Israel propaganda liken Israel’s battle against Palestinian terrorism to the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews. He should have known better.

On a number of occasions recently, Ya’alon called on senior IDF officers to speak their minds freely. This is good advice for them when they participate in IDF forums or in meetings with government ministers. It’s not their job to lecture the general public.

But coming in the wake of Golan’s remarks on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ya’alon created the impression that he did not distance himself from Golan’s remarks. That was a mistake. He should have made clear that those remarks were ill-considered and ill-timed. But that is no reason to replace him as defense minister.

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