columnIsrael at War

Labor Party pipe dreams

Outlawing Yair Golan’s despicable activism isn’t the best way to discredit him. He does that all on his own.

Meretz Knesset member Yair Golan speaks during a conference organized by “Commanders for Israel's Security”  in Herzliya on Oct. 2, 2022. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Meretz Knesset member Yair Golan speaks during a conference organized by “Commanders for Israel's Security” in Herzliya on Oct. 2, 2022. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

Patriotic Israelis should rethink their outrage over recent remarks by newly crowned Labor Party chairman Maj. Gen. (res.) Yair Golan. The more open he and his camp are about their ideological identity, the sooner they’ll wind up in the dustbin of history where they belong.  

What the former Meretz MK said earlier this month—a mere three weeks before winning by a landslide in the Labor primary—was in keeping with the radical-leftist positions that he’s never had a problem expressing. And that includes during his tenure as deputy chief of the Israel Defense Forces.

So his pearls of post-Zionism on May 7 at the “Choose Leadership” conference in Ganei Tikva were merely honest. For this, he deserves the credit that isn’t due to the so-called “centrists” to his right whose political views are vague or purposely veiled.

Of course, Golan shares the rest of the opposition’s obsessive compulsion to rid the country of its longest-serving prime minister. But his outlook goes beyond an aversion to Benjamin Netanyahu.

In fact, it’s the character of the Jewish state that he seeks to revise. Toppling Bibi and his coalition is simply a necessary first step.

This is where his latest ire-arousing comments come in. Reiterating his public statements during last year’s street protests against the government’s plans to reform the judicial system, Golan urged engaging in the kind of civil disobedience that “put Netanyahu under crazy pressure.”

Asked by a member of the audience at the small gathering what he meant, he gave an example. For instance, he said, “We don’t do [IDF] reserve duty until there’s a change in this government.”

After the video of this little lecture was aired on Channel 14, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir demanded that Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara launch a criminal investigation into Golan and the NGO Im Tirtzu filed a police complaint against him for sedition.

For a former high-ranking IDF commander—one who, during the Oct. 7 massacre, heroically rushed to the scene of the Nova music festival and rescued several of the ambushed partygoers from certain death—to encourage “conscientious objection” during the war foisted on Israel by Hamas’s Iran-backed terror machine is indeed jaw-dropping. It’s doubtful, however, that he’ll be charged with or prosecuted for behavior that Baharav-Miara herself, as well as others of her ilk, not only legitimized, but mainstreamed.

Nor is outlawing Golan’s activism, however appalling, the best way to discredit him. Doing so might cause even some Israelis who’ve been uncomfortable with his rhetoric over the years to defend his right to free expression.

This isn’t to say that he shouldn’t be called out, loudly and often, for taking advantage of Israel’s liberal society to spew vitriol against specific swaths of it—especially when occupying leading military and civilian roles. On the contrary, he mustn’t be let off the hook for his inexcusable conduct.

Let’s review some of what this constitutes. When he was deputy economy minister in 2022, he referred to residents of Homesh in Samaria as “subhuman.” In the “apology” he was subsequently pressured into issuing, he adjusted his wording.

“Perhaps one can say they are ‘despicable thugs,’” he said. “This is the bitter truth, even if [people] don’t like to hear it.”

Equally shocking was the speech he delivered on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2016, when he was deputy chief of the IDF General Staff.

“If there’s something that frightens me about [this occasion],” he said, “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.”

He wasn’t talking about the antisemitism that had begun to bust out all over the world, however. No, it was the Jewish state on his mind.

The Nazi genocide, he asserted, “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 … 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.”

He went on, “There is nothing easier than to behave like an animal and to act sanctimoniously. On [such a] day, we ought to discuss our ability to uproot the seeds of intolerance, violence, self-destruction and moral deterioration.”

Though the list applies now, as it did then, to him and his radical cohorts, he wasn’t looking in the mirror. He was, rather, fantasizing about his future entry into the political arena.

Shortly before his shoo-in success at taking the reins of the Labor Party—after having lost to Zehava Galon in his 2022 bid to become head of Meretz—Golan doubled down on his past and present language. In an interview last week on Ynet’s political podcast “120 and One,” he bemoaned the “genre of fascist Judaism with bloodlust that’s been created here.” Yes, in Israel, which is fighting for its survival against a death cult posing as a people seeking independent statehood.

His aim, therefore, is to unite the left under one umbrella—his, of course—to revive the sinking status of that far-end of the spectrum. It’s a nice daydream that bears no resemblance to reality.

Meretz didn’t pass the 3.25% threshold in the last Knesset elections. And Labor barely made it through, with a measly four seats.

Still, Golan imagines that by joining forces with his fellow “peace-lovers” of the anti-religious, woke variety, Israel will start being shaped in their image. The good news is that his hopes are certain to be dashed.

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