Eighty-two years after Kristallnacht, Holocaust survivors, American Jewish organizations and top Holocaust educators have denounced a proposed new head of Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to those killed in the Shoah or Holocaust. Yad Vashem is also considered the moral authority on genocides worldwide.
That’s why, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named former far-right politician and military commander Effi Eitam to the post of chairman of Yad Vashem, Jewish leaders around the world reacted strongly.
“Yad Vashem is one of the jewels in the crown of Israeli institutions,” said Deborah Lipstadt, Emory University Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies. She said that, given Eitam’s “fringe views, views that separate and divide rather than unite,” his nomination is a “colossal mistake.” She told the AJT that she plans to voice her opposition to the controversial nomination.
She would not be the first. Carole Nuriel, director of the Israel office of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote a letter to Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, asking that he “use your status and leadership role to push for Mr. Eitam’s nomination to be rescinded in favor of a more appropriate candidate.”
She cited his “problematic moral record,” which included Eitam’s call for the “mass expulsion of West Bank Palestinians and labeling of Israeli Arabs a fifth column. He has also been linked to a case in the 1980s involving soldiers under his command beating to death a Palestinian prisoner.” Nuriel said that this background “has special resonance among those individuals and organizations striving to impart the lessons of the Holocaust, including Yad Vashem and ADL.”
According to Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the southern division of the ADL in Atlanta, “While it is unusual for ADL to comment on appointments like this, Yad Vashem is such a paramount institution that we felt it necessary to share our concerns about Mr. Eitam’s record. His problematic record speaks in contrast to the timeless lessons of the Holocaust that organizations like Yad Vashem and ADL stand for.”
In addition to ADL’s letter, prominent Polish Holocaust survivor, historian and journalist Marian Turski wrote a letter to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, warning that Eitam’s appointment as chairman of Yad Vashem would “greatly undermine Yad Vashem’s authority around the world.”
In his letter, copied to Rabbi Lau, Turski wrote: “Faced with the global rise of nationalism and populism, a renewed wave of antisemitism and the return of Holocaust denial propaganda, the chairman of Yad Vashem needs to have impeccable moral authority. When the moment comes to stand up against xenophobia, racism and antisemitism in the international arena, who the chairman of Yad Vashem is will be extremely important if we don’t want Yad Vashem to be limited only to the state of Israel but to remain a leading worldwide moral authority.”
Turski, 95, is a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald and has lived in Warsaw since World War II.
According to Israeli press, Eitam must be vetted by a special committee that screens candidates before his appointment can be voted on by the Israeli cabinet.
The nomination by Netanyahu and Likud minister Zeev Elkin resulted from the announced retirement of Avner Shalev. It also came just weeks before the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which took place on Nov. 9, 1938, and which heralded the violent persecution of Germany’s Jewish community.