“The Holocaust must lead us to think about our public life, and more importantly, it must lead everyone who can, not merely those who want, to carry public responsibility. If there is something that frightens me about the memory of the Holocaust, it is seeing the abhorrent processes that took place in Europe, and Germany in particular, some 70, 80 or 90 years ago, and finding manifestations of these processes here among us in 2016,” Golan said on Wednesday evening at a ceremony at the Masua Holocaust Institute in Tel Yitzhak.
Following scathing criticism of Golan's comments from Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who was present in the audience, and others, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit released a statement saying that “The deputy chief of staff would like to clarify that he had no intention to compare the IDF and the State of Israel to the process that took place in Germany 70 years ago. The absurd comparison is entirely without foundation, and there was no intention to draw such parallels or to criticize the state's leadership. The IDF is a moral army which safeguards the purity of arms and human life.”
During the ceremony, Golan shared his thoughts on the lessons learned of the Holocaust: “The Holocaust, as I see it, must enable us to deeply reflect on the nature of man. It must bring us to deeply reflect on the responsibility of leadership and the nature of society, and it must enable us to think fundamentally about how we, here and now, are conducting ourselves toward orphans, widows and their like."
“Indeed," he continued, "there is nothing easier than to simply hate the other, there is nothing easier than to provoke fears and strike terror; there is nothing easier than barbaric behavior, moral corruption and hypocrisy.”
“On Holocaust Remembrance day, it is appropriate to discuss our abilities to extricate from among us signs of intolerance and violence, signs that we're heading towards self destruction and down the road to moral depravity. In fact, Holocaust Remembrance Day is an opportunity for self-examination. If Yom Kippur is a day for personal self-reflection, then it is appropriate, and even absolutely necessary, that Holocaust Remembrance Day, will also be a day of national self-examination, and in this national self-examination we must consider the effects of those who seek to disrupt the peace."
During his speech, Golan also talked about IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was charged with manslaughter after he shot dead a disarmed and neutralized Palestinian who carried out a stabbing attack moments prior in Hebron. This incident sparked a public debate about the purity of arms.
“Misuses of weapons and violations of the purity of arms have been taking place in the IDF since its institution. The IDF has taken pride, from time immemorial, in our ability to investigate serious incidents without prejudice, to courageously investigate problematic conduct, and to assign full responsibility for the good as well as for the bad. We didn’t justify, we didn’t cover up, we didn’t plaster over the cracks, we didn’t turn a blind eye and we made no excuses. Our way was, and will always be, the way of the truth and responsibility even when the truth is difficult,” Golan continued.
“We sincerely believe in the justice of our ways, but not everything that we do is justified. We trust in the level of morality of the IDF as an organization , but we don’t ignore exceptional cases. We demand from our soldiers exactly that which we demand from ourselves and we stand behind the notion that a personal example will come as second nature to every commander.”
He concluded by saying that “On Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time when we are united and remember the six million of our people who were slaughtered on European soil, we must remember the six million and half a million others who live, and to ask ourselves what is the purpose of our return to our land, what is right to sanctify and what is not and, importantly, how must we use our destiny as a light unto the nations and serve as an example to the world. Only this kind of remembrance could constitute a living, breathing monument to our people - a worthy monument, a true monument.”
Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog praised Golan as a “brave commander. The people who will now start to cry out against him need to know: This is what morality and responsibility sound like. We won’t be deterred by cries and abuse and we will continue to support the IDF and its commanders. Always.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett also tweeted: “Before Holocaust deniers turn these false words to their banner, before our soldiers are compared to the Nazis with support from the top ranks. The deputy chief of staff has erred, and he must rectify it immediately."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon took to his Facebook and Twitter account on Thursday to defend Golan “I have total faith in the Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, a distinguished and valued soldier. The attacks against him and the current criticism against him are deliberate distortions of interpretation of the things he said last night," Ya'alon wrote.
"They are yet more attempts to cause political harm to the IDF its officers. God help us if we allow this to happen. The job of every commander in the IDF, and especially senior commanders, is not only to lead soldiers into battle, but also to outline the way and the values using both a compass and a conscience."