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#################### Geoff Seidner
A young descendant of Holocaust victims pays her respects at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
In a reflection of the deep divisions plaguing Israel, a general has set off a controversy after appearing to liken the atmosphere in Israel to that of Nazi-era Germany during a speech marking the country’s Holocaust memorial day.
The comments, coming on one of the country’s most sensitive and sacred days, enraged nationalists. The episode also underscored the rift between hardliners in the government and the security chiefs — who tend to be more pragmatic on relations with the Palestinians.
In a speech to mark Thursday’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, deputy chief of staff Major General Yair Golan said the Holocaust should prompt Israelis to “think deeply” about their society.
“If there is anything that frightens me in the remembrance of the Holocaust, it is discerning nauseating processes that took place in Europe in general, and in Germany specifically, back then, 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and seeing evidence of them here among us in the year 2016,” he said.
Although military figures are supposed to steer clear of politics, General Golan’s comments reflected the concerns of Israeli liberals about the deterioration of Jewish-Arab relations and the increasing mutual antipathy as a result of a wave of Palestinian violence. Since September, 28 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian stabbings, shootings and car rammings. Nearly 200 Palestinians have also been killed, most of them attackers.
“There is nothing simpler and easier than hating the foreigner. There is nothing easier and simpler than arousing fears and intimidating,” General Golan said.
He called on Israelis to “discuss our ability to uproot from among us buds of intolerance, buds of violence, buds of self-destruction on the path to ethical deterioration”.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party, called on General Golan to correct his comments or be seen as comparing Israeli soldiers to Nazis. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said General Golan was “a little confused” and that his statement reflected “a lack of understanding, if not a disrespect, of the Holocaust”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon to express displeasure. Mr Yaalon, a former army chief, said he had “full faith” in General Golan and decried “the worrying and bothersome campaign to politically damage the army and its officers”.
The military issued a clarification, saying General Golan did not intend to compare Israel and its army to “the horrors” of Nazi Germany. “This is an absurd and baseless comparison that he never would have made and it was never his intention to criticise the Israeli government,” the military said. It said it “holds the value of human life as a guiding value”.
Labour leader Isaac Herzog called General Golan brave. “This is what ethics and responsibility sound like,” he said.
Israel Democracy Institute president Yohanan Plesner said General Golan had delivered an important message about the need to confront “isolated events” of extremism in Israeli society and to set a moral example. But he said that given the “extremely high sensitivity” of the Holocaust, his comments struck a raw nerve.
Mr Netanyahu himself has been criticised for invoking the Holocaust when talking about Iran and its nuclear program.
And last year, he drew criticism for suggesting that a Palestinian leader had persuaded the Nazis to carry out the genocide.
Earlier this year, chief of staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot came under fire from hardliners for calling on soldiers to use only “necessary force” against attackers.
The military is widely seen as Israel’s most trusted institution, with favourability ratings of about 90 per cent among the Jewish population.