Israeli General Compares Modern Israel to 1930s Germany

Shir Hever of the Alternative Information Center says Golan is an elite member of the military and his statements on Holocaust Remembrance Day is sparking a national debate

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

In an unusual speech in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Major General Yair Golan likened recent development in Israeli society to processes that were unfolding in Europe before the Holocaust.

Joining us now to discuss the general’s comments is Shir Hever. Shir is joining us from Heidelberg, Germany. Shir is an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, a Palestianian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit-Sahour. Thank you so much for joining us, Shir.

HEVER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

PERIES: So, Shir, before we get into analyzing what the general actually said and what has caused all this controversy causing him to actually now back track and issue an apology, before we get into that give us a description of what this day honors and the significance of it in Israel.

SHEVER: The Holocaust Memorial Day is extremely important to the Israeli culture. First of all, Israel has decided on a different date than the international Day of Remembrance, in order to separate its own ceremonies and to distinguish them, and also to make them much more nationalist.

The Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel has taken on a very nationalistic character with a lot of Israeli flags and with a very high participation of the military, so actually it’s completely usual to have speakers in the main ceremony who are senior military officers, like General Golan himself. That’s something that maybe all the viewers are aware of, how militaristic this ceremony has become inside Israel and the message that is conveyed through this militaristic nature of the ceremony is that Israel leads an army today in order to prevent another Holocaust.

The justification of the Israeli military and military force is that otherwise another Holocaust would happen. And of course, this is not what I believe in but just to put things in perspective.

PERIES: Now gives us a sense of what is it that made major General Yair Golan actually said that caused all of this controversy.

SHEVER: So, the part of this speech that caused all of the uproar is that he said, if there was one thing that scared me about Holocaust memory it is identifying revolting trends that took place in Europe in general and Germany particularly, 70, 80, 90 years ago, and finding evidence of them amongst ourselves today in 2016. After all, there is nothing easier and simpler than hating the stranger. There is nothing easier and simpler than fear mongering and sowing terror. There’s nothing easier and simpler than to become thuggish, morally bankrupt, and self righteous. This is a translation of that by Dahlia Scheindlin in +972 magazine.

And I think that this statement by itself is not particularly controversial, it’s not particularly subversive. But within the Israeli context, it was immediately perceived as a sort of comparison as if Israel is like Nazi Germany, or almost Nazi Germany in the years preceding the rise to power of the Nazi Party, and there was therefore massive wave of criticism against Golan, including by senior ministers in the cabinet and by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who continued to call on Yair Golan to issue a further apology even after Golan issued his apology.

PERIES: Shir, Golan is a significant figure in the Israeli military and he has a certain profile, so what he says obviously has resounding effect in the country, tell us more about him.

HEVER: So first of all, Yair Golan is quite well known in Israel. He’s a very clear member of the Israeli military elite. He is respected and extremely high ranking. His prior position before he became vice to the chief of staff, was to be the high commander of the military forces in the occupied West Bank. So actually, he was a colonialist military officer in charge of controlling an occupied population.

And I had the opportunity actually to listen to him when he gave the talk in the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, and he spoke about his job as the head of the military forces in the West Bank, and he said very frankly that they were building the wall of separation in the West Bank and that the instructions that the military received from the government were not to build the wall out of security consideration, because he said we could provide security by cheaper and better and more efficient means than the wall, but the wall was there to separate the populations.

The wall was built in order to prevent Israeli and Palestinians from meeting each other, from becoming friends, from falling in love and getting married, from conducting business with each other. Those were his words. And everyone in the room when he said that were quite astounded. Not by the fact, because I think nobody, everyone in the audience was aware of this reality, but the fact that he acknowledged it, by the fact that he was so honest. And that’s something that also you hear a lot in the Israeli media these days, that Yair Golan has a reputation of saying what’s on his mind without really thinking about the repercussions, and it’s very likely that this speech that he gave last Wednesday is going to cost him his career.

PERIES: And are there people supporting what he was trying to communicate in this speech? Is this a trigger for debate taking place in the country ?

HEVER: It did trigger a debate. There are people that support him, especially people from the left spectrum of the Israeli political map. People that you don’t usually hear supporting military officers, which are more keen on military solutions for Israel’s political problems. But of course the state makes it easy for people to sort of support a general or to hang out the words of a general, so that it’s easier for them to get across to the mainstream in Israel. And there are a lot of messages of support in the media for making this statement.

I think Yair Golan also used the word in his statement when he said that the military is becoming, or that Israeli society is at a risk of becoming like beasts. That’s a Hebrew expression that was recently used by an Israeli minister of defense, Moshe Ya’alon, within the framework of saying, look, we can’t let soldiers just open fire on unarmed civilians all the time, because we will lose control, we will become like beasts. And I think that should be understood within the context of Israel being a colonial society, a colonial society in which Yair Golan himself, Moshe Ya’alon, the minster of defense, and the large part of the public perceive themselves as the master.

They are the masters, and they have to somehow separate themselves from the Palestinians and one of the ways by which they can separate themselves from Palestinians is to create the illusion that they are very enlightened occupiers, or careful with the use of weapons. Yair Golan also mentioned in that speech the concept of the purity of arms, which is a concept that is often evoked by the Israeli military to say, we don’t just use our guns to kill, but we use them only to kill in justified circumstances. That is obviously not true, but that is a statement and idea that helps these people feel superior.

PERIES: Shir Hever, this has triggered an interesting discussion and debate which we hope to carry on here at the Real News, and I hope you join us again, thank you.

HEVER: Thanks for having me

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

SHAR

End

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