Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a stern public rebuke to the military deputy chief of staff.
Maj-Gen Yair Golan said on the eve of Thursday’s annual Holocaust Day that he detected trends in Israeli society suggestive of “nauseating processes” that occurred in 1930s Nazi Germany.
Mr Netanyahu said the comments were outrageous, cheapened the Holocaust and caused harm to Israel.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said he had “total confidence” in Gen Golan.
“If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance it’s the recognition of the nauseating 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,” the deputy chief of staff said on Wednesday.
“There is, after all, nothing easier and simpler than hating the foreigner… arousing fears and terrifying.”
But Mr Netanyahu said Gen Golan’s remarks were “utterly mistaken and unacceptable to me”.
“The comparison drawn in the words of the deputy chief of staff regarding events which characterised Nazi Germany 80 years ago is outrageous,” he said.
“They do injustice to Israeli society and cause a belittling of the Holocaust.”
Correspondents say right-wing members of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition have called for Gen Golan’s resignation, accusing him of dishonouring the dead.
But Defence Minister Yaalon said the criticism was an attempt to cause political harm to the military.
“The attacks against [Gen Golan] and the current criticism against him are deliberate distortions of interpretation of the things he said last night,” he added.
The remarks come at a time of heightened tension between Israelis and Palestinians.
A wave of stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs over the past eight months have left 29 Israelis dead.
More than 200 Palestinians – mostly attackers, Israel says – have also been killed in that period.
There has been debate and controversy over Israelis’ response to the attacks.
In March, an Israeli soldier was filmed shooting dead a wounded Palestinian. He has been charged with manslaughter.
There has been some public sympathy for the soldier but Mr Yaalon backed the military establishment in prosecuting him.
In October last year, an Eritrean immigrant was shot and beaten to death by an angry crowd after being mistaken for an Arab militant in the town of Beersheba, prompting concern about mob reactions to people thought to be suspicious.