In his Holocaust Remembrance Day speech on Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan said he recognized a similarity between modern Israeli society and events that happened in Europe and Germany before the Holocaust. Israel should salute the Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff for his brave words.
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“If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance, it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe ... and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016,” Golan said. Following attacks by right-wing government ministers and Knesset members, the IDF Spokesman subsequently issued a clarification, stating that Golan didn’t mean to compare the army and Israel to developments in Germany 70 years ago, and that “the comparison is absurd and completely baseless.”
Golan, who was probably shocked by the right’s criticism of him, rushed to cover his tracks – to the point where it’s now difficult to understand his intent. But despite the blurring clarification, one should pay close attention to what Golan said. Even if he wasn’t aiming directly at the IDF or the state, he spoke about characteristics and phenomena that should concern every Israeli who worries for the fate of society and the country.
We need to recognize that society and the country – and, yes, even the army and security services – have gone through serious developments in recent years that could plunge Israel into a new and dangerous reality. During this time, the public discourse has turned violent and heavy-handed thanks to government incitement, with common and frequent manifestations of pre-fascist phenomena.
The nationalist public discourse is accompanied by antidemocratic legislation, whose goal is to weaken and systematically dismantle the mechanisms of balance and criticism against the state, which is an extremely worrying sign.
The judiciary, civil society, left-wing NGOs, and the world of culture, the arts and the media all face a real threat against their independence and ability to function. Expressions of hatred, incitement and violence toward foreigners and Arabs have also become acceptable and the norm, and this has happened with the encouragement of the Israeli government.
Al these characteristics, and many others, must remind us of things past. One of the most important lessons of the Holocaust was ignoring the early signs that brought the Nazi regime to where it ended up. Maj. Gen. Golan wanted to warn against this. We shouldn’t criticize or attack him. Rather, we should listen to him and examine Israel under this light.