Yair Golan
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Major General Yair Golan, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff
A senior military general has backtracked after appearing to draw parallels between "horrifying events" in Europe in the 1930s and modern Israeli society. Major General Yair Golan, the Israel Defence Forces' (IDF) Deputy Chief of Staff, was speaking at a Holocaust memorial service when he made the unexpected statement. However, following strong criticism of his comments, he has since denied he was attempting to make a direct comparison between Israel, its armed forces and Nazi Germany.

"It's scary to see horrifying developments that took place in Europe begin to unfold here," Maj. Gen. Golan told an audience of politicians and dignitaries. "Because if there is one thing that is scary in remembering the Holocaust, it is noticing horrific processes which developed in Europe - particularly in Germany - 70, 80, and 90 years ago, and finding remnants of that here among us in the year 2016."

"The Holocaust, in my view, must lead us to deep soul-searching about the nature of man. It must bring us to conduct some soul-searching as to the responsibility of leadership and the quality of our society. It must lead us to fundamentally rethink how we, here and now, behave towards the other."

"There is nothing easier and simpler than in changing the foreigner," the officer said, according to the Jerusalem Post and other reports. "There is nothing easier and simpler than fear-mongering and threatening. There is nothing easier and simpler than in behaving like beasts, becoming morally corrupt, and to act sanctimoniously."

"On Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is worthwhile to ponder our capacity to uproot the first signs of intolerance, violence, and self-destruction that arise on the path to moral degradation," Maj. Gen. Golan said.

In a further striking comment, he also appeared to criticise certain members of the IDF, while defending the organisation's record for its ability to "investigate severe incidents without hesitation".

While not directly referencing it, many believed the Major General was referring to the case of 18-year-old Sgt Elor Azaria. The soldier was charged with manslaughter after shooting dead an apparently wounded and unarmed Palestinian attacker. The consequent fallout has polarised Israel. "We very much believe in the justice of our cause, but not everything we do is just," Maj. Gen Golan said. "We are certain of the high level of morality in the IDF as an organization, and we do not ignore exceptions by individuals."

The IDF has recruited a top lawyer to work on the prosecution of Sgt Azaria. The attorney, Nadav Weisman, is a senior partner on one of Israel's most prominent legal firms and experienced in military legal cases, Israel National News reported.

The Major General continued: "On Holocaust Remembrance Day, as we remember the six million of our people who were slaughtered in Europe, it is incumbent upon us to remember the 6.5 million, those living now, and to ask ourselves what is the purpose of our return to our land, what is appropriate to sanctify and what is not, what is proper to praise and what is not."

He later told IDF radio he "had no intention" of comparing Israel and its security services with events in Nazi Germany, i24News reported. "The comparison is absurd and lacks any foundation, and there was no intent to draw such a parallel or to criticize the civilian leadership," Maj. Gen. Golan said. "The IDF is a moral army that maintains a purity of arms and respects human dignity."