Ehud Barak, Yair Golan, and Israel’s ‘New Left’
JNS.org – Maj. Gen. (ret) Yair Golan, former deputy chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, is a gift to the left that keeps on giving.
But don’t take my word for it. Just ask former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who proudly displayed Golan last week in a Tel Aviv press conference that he held to announce his formation of a new party to run in the September 17 elections for the 22nd Knesset.
Barak’s recruitment of Golan to the yet-to-be-named party — whose campaign pledge is to “do whatever it takes” to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — was clear. Older-generation Israeli politicians, particularly failed peace-camp has-beens like Barak, continue to harbor the dated notion that having military men on their ticket is an electoral draw, if not a must.
The idea, from a left-wing perspective, is that a highly decorated IDF uniform serves as a shield against accusations of disloyalty or a lack of patriotism. It is a perfect cloak to enable selling the country down the tubes, as Barak himself nearly did at Camp David in 2000, by offering arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat the moon and the stars. Oh, and swathes of Israeli territory in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Arafat’s response — the launch of a suicide-bombing war against innocent Israelis going about their business on buses, in restaurants, and at shopping malls — led to Barak’s ouster in 2001. Later, he would insist that his overly generous offer to Arafat had been calculated to call the PLO chief’s bluff. But nobody bought it. Or cared. The daily sounds of sirens wailing through the streets on the way to the latest blown-up bodies will do that.
At the time, Barak was the head of the Labor Party, which presented itself as the sane center-left. You know, the successors of the founding fathers of the state. The rightful heirs to the throne, which had been “stolen” from them in 1977 by Menachem Begin and the increasingly riff-raff, right-leaning public.
Ironically, Barak was and has been the only candidate to defeat Netanyahu in an election. That historical 1999 blip, as well as a slew of “yes men” telling the 77-year-old chairman of the medical cannabis company InterCure that only he can save the country, seems to be cause of his current visions of grandeur. Or maybe he’s been partaking of the product he’s been pushing. Trotting out Golan, whose public statements could have been made by Israel’s worst enemies, certainly suggests that his judgment may be questionable.
During a speech on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day three years ago, for instance, Golan, while still in uniform, said: “If there’s something that frightens me … it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then — 70, 80, and 90 years ago — and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016.”
Golan was not referring to the actual signs of pre-Nazi Germany rearing their ugly heads in Europe, however. Rather, he was raising them in relation to the Jewish state.
The Holocaust, he declared, “must make us think deeply about the responsibility of leadership, the quality of society, and it must lead us to fundamental thinking about how we, here and now, treat the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, and all who are like them. There is nothing easier than hating the stranger, nothing easier than to stir fears and intimidate. There is nothing easier than to behave like an animal and to act sanctimoniously. On Holocaust Remembrance Day we ought to discuss our ability to uproot the seeds of intolerance, violence, self-destruction, and moral deterioration.”
He then went on to assert that “it’s essential” for Holocaust Remembrance Day to be a national day of atonement, the way Yom Kippur is a religious one. This breast-beating, he explained, “ought to include unsettling issues,” such as the abuse of weapons by soldiers.
“We believe very much in the justice of our path,” he said. “But not everything we do is just.”
In a radio interview on Sunday with Israel’s public broadcaster Kan, Golan was given a chance to retract his Holocaust comparison. Instead, he doubled down.
“So, [you meant to say that we Israelis] are not equivalent to Nazi society, but only that there is evidence of Nazism in our society?” asked co-host Kalman Liebskind.
“Correct,” Golan replied. “Exactly.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s Channel 2 Online obtained a 10-year-old recording of Golan telling students at the Magen Shaul Pre-Military Academy in Nokdim, “It is the job of those in uniform to risk their lives, so that those not in uniform can live in peace and quiet.”
Had he been referring to IDF soldiers protecting Israeli civilians, this would have been appropriate. But what he said next indicated otherwise.
“Faced with a civilian [Palestinian] population, we justifiably take risks upon ourselves. It is inconceivable for us, in the name of risk avoidance, to decide to mow down an apartment building [where] women and children [could] get killed. … If [an army unit] has to take down terrorists, it must do so in the safest way possible.”
A student then asked him, “If it is a choice between [endangering Palestinian] civilians or your own soldiers, which would you prefer?”
Golan answered, “Civilians. … You don’t kill a 60-year-old woman, even if she’s an Arab.”
Fuming at the mere suggestion that any IDF soldier would kill someone simply for being an Arab, the audience began to grill Golan on what he proposes a soldier do when a 60-year-old woman poses a threat.
“Not every combat situation immediately turns us into right-wingers,” he snapped. “Not every Arab woman is hiding behind a terrorist. I expect commanders to assess situations and take reasonable measures.”
Golan grew more and more impatient with the members of audience for defending soldiers in a dilemma.
“I know what I’m talking about,” Golan retorted angrily, pointing to a past incident in which an IDF officer’s negligence led to the erroneous death of a Palestinian. “What do you want? For us to justify that? Is that the nation in which you wish to live? One that kills unnecessarily?”
He also appeared to contradict his point by railing, “Our men don’t make mistakes? None of you ever made mistakes? Are you exempt from mistakes? If so, this is a saintly community. But you are not saints, and none of us is.”
He concluded by admonishing, “If we want to make any kind of moral complaint to the nations of the world about the Palestinians, we had better be very strict about our own morality first.”
Only radical leftists in Israel and abroad believe that the IDF is ethically reckless, or that the Jewish state is not “very strict” when it comes to monitoring its own morality. Most Israelis are aware that whenever the slightest question arises surrounding the treatment of Palestinians, even terrorists, there are military and criminal investigations and trials, which end in the court-martial of perpetrators found guilty.
Golan’s gall, then, knows no bounds.
The good news is that his extreme positions help to expose Barak’s new political party for what it is and what it should be called: the “New Left.”
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring’.