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IDF hawk calls for shift in attitude to Arabs

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November 24, 2016 23:17

Major General Yair Golan's military CV does not mark him out as an obvious target for Israel's right wing. The thin and austere paratrooper, currently serving as the IDF's deputy chief of staff, was twice reprimanded when he was a senior commander in the West Bank. Once for negotiating with settlers over the eviction of an illegally seized building in Hebron; and a second time for using Palestinian civilians to try to convince a terrorist to give himself up.

More recently, in the Gaza conflict of 2014, he supported the view that Israel should temporarily re-occupy large parts of the Strip.

So it was surprising to many when on the eve of Yom Hashoah, Maj Gen Golan said in a public speech: "If there's something that scares me in remembering the Holocaust, it's identifying repulsive trends that took place in Europe in general and particularly in Germany, then 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and seeing evidence of them here among us today."

General Golan has since clarified that "he had no intention of comparing the IDF and the state of Israel with processes that took place in Germany" but he has not apologised.

While the IDF has had its fair share of generals who have dabbled in politics while in uniform, it would be a mistake to see his controversial statement from a left-right perspective. Indeed, while he was denounced, twice, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he received backing from Likud's Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon.

General Golan has simply joined a growing group of senior figures, both within the defence establishment and on the right, who are concerned about trends in the army and wider Israeli society.

Most prominent among them is President Ruvi Rivlin, a Likudnik from birth, who has repeatedly warned against anti-Arab racism. Three months ago, the IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot, spoke out against the over-eagerness of some soldiers to shoot and kill Palestinian attackers, even when they are no longer posing a threat. Then, Mr Yaalon spoke out against Sergeant Azaria, currently on trail for manslaughter. Mr Netanyahu was much more equivocal, even phoning the soldier's father to promise his son would be treated fairly.

Not that long ago, the defence minister was Mr Netanyahu's closest ally, the two of them running Israel's security policy together, with scant regard for the rest of the cabinet. In 2014, it was Mr Netanyahu who headed the moderate wing in the government, resisting calls to greatly expand the Gaza operation. But since last year's election, he has identified his political base amidst the less tolerant parts of the "national camp" and shifted sharply rightwards.

General Golan may now regret the timing and wording of his speech. It has certainly jeopardised his previous pole position in the race to be the next IDF chief of staff. But he seems to have no regrets in joining what he sees as a battle for Israel's soul.

November 24, 2016 23:17

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