In a highly unusual move, the Israeli army has issued a statement in defense of one of its leading generals.
“Maj. Gen. Yair Golan has served in the Israel Defense Forces for 38 years in every field of battle, and his contribution to the security of Israel is great,” the army wrote in a statement. “Any attempt to sully the good name of an IDF commander and his operational contributions is unacceptable.”
What prompted the defense was a petition submitted Sunday by more than 100 families whose sons and brothers and husbands have fallen in combat, asking Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to remove Golan from consideration as Israel’s next IDF chief of staff.
These bereaved families don’t question Golan’s courage or experience. In 1997, he was wounded in a shootout with Hezbollah terrorists, but continued to command his troops. Over the years he has held many top posts, including head of Northern Command and deputy chief of staff.
But being a brave soldier and commander is not enough to qualify as IDF chief of staff, a position of enormous influence in the armed forces and, in a society as security-conscious as Israel, in society at large. The person who fills the post is supposed to keep above the political fray and have good moral judgment.
Over the years, Golan has sparked controversy on a number of occasions, with statements that were obviously meant to appeal to the political left. In 2006, in a speech that could have been delivered by a Meretz Knesset member, he spoke of the importance of soldiers exercising caution in the use of firearms, so as not to harm innocent noncombatants.
Golan, at the time commander of the Yehudah and Shomron Division, said it was “intolerable” that soldiers place Palestinian civilians in harm’s way instead of themselves.
“In the presence of civilians we take upon ourselves risks, and rightly so,” he said. “It’s unacceptable that in the name of preventing risk we would decide that now we are going to mow down an apartment building. You would kill women, children, those involved.
“If an army unit needs to take risks in order not to harm bystanders, yes, it will take those risks not to harm bystanders.”
Such statements are egregious for two reasons. First, it is an insult to the intelligence and morality of Israeli soldiers to lecture them on indiscriminately killing women and children, as if their commander believes the worst lies told about them by extreme leftist groups like Breaking the Silence.
Second, Golan’s sermon signals soldiers that, when in doubt, they should make themselves vulnerable to attack rather than defend themselves. Such an approach can, chalilah, cost the lives of young Jewish soldiers, prompting the bereaved families’ petition.
“A worrying picture emerges from these statements of a commander who is prepared to take unnecessary risks with the lives of his soldiers,” they wrote. “As bereaved parents, siblings and spouses these quotes very much concern us. A man who thinks the blood of our children is cheap cannot protect or command them.”
Golan’s next major brush with controversy came in 2016, when he chose Holocaust Remembrance Day, in a prepared speech he delivered at the official ceremony at the Kosel, to compare Israel to Nazi Germany.
“If there is something that frightens me in the memory of the Holocaust, it is identifying horrifying processes that occurred in Europe … 70, 80 and 90 years ago and finding evidence of their existence here in our midst, today, in 2016,” he said.
The remark sparked an uproar, with good reason. But Golan, while acknowledging that he “didn’t realize it would go to the very political place that it went,” refused to retract it.
To make the odious comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany, at the Kosel, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, in a prepared speech one must suffer from a horribly skewed vision of Israeli society and a lack of common sense and good judgment.
At the time there was speculation that his remarks were aimed at protesting the groundswell of public support for an IDF soldier who shot a wounded terrorist in Chevron, fearing that he might strike again. If he meant to hold Israeli soldiers to a higher standard then he should have said so, without invoking the Holocaust.
We have a problem, in Israel and the United States, among the right and the left, of cheapening the Holocaust by using it in political contexts. President Donald Trump’s critics in particular have compared his policies to those of the Nazis.
Such references are a distortion of history and an insult to the memory of the 6 million Kedoshim.