Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, such as Education Minister Yoav Kisch (Likud), have made it clear they intend to remove Dani Dayan from his post as chairman of Yad Vashem, igniting a firestorm of controversy, according to a number of reports in the Israeli media.
On Thursday, N12 reported that Sara Netanyahu “was displeased when Dayan invited pop singer Keren Peles to perform at the Yad Vashem Memorial Day ceremony. She subsequently approached the Prime Minister's office to intervene,” according to the report. N12 added, “It's worth noting that Peles has, on multiple occasions, criticized the government and its legal reforms.”
Sources in Yad Vashem told the Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu wasn’t happy with Dayan’s approach to boycott extreme-right-wing politicians, as well as for him being “too independent.” In addition, he was critical of Netanyahu in the past, warning that the Prime Minister has neglected the relations with North American Jewry.
According to N12, “It was known to the Prime Minister's office that the agreement with Peles was settled months before her public show of support for the protests. Nonetheless, they reached out to Yad Vashem before the ceremony to ensure no provocations took place. An insider from the Prime Minister's office revealed that due to Dayan's inability to align with the office's directives, a decision was made to relieve him of his duties, citing ‘management deficiencies.’”
One of the names mentioned for a possible Likud candidate for chairperson is former MK Keren Barak. Sources at Yad Vashem affirmed this claim. The Post approached Barak a number of times on Thursday and she declined to comment. Later, N12 reported that an additional candidate for the job is veteran Israeli singer and actor Yehoram Gaon.
Decisions under Dayan
This move is steeped in Kisch’s accusations of “unauthorized parties [voting] at meetings of the Yad Vashem board,” with claims that board members not “duly appointed and... approved by the committee for reviewing appointments,” such as former MKs Colette Avital, Shai Piron, and Shuli Mualem, have been participating.
Kisch’s outspoken stance challenges the legitimacy of decisions made under Dayan’s stewardship. He emphasized that “the participation and votes of unauthorized parties in Yad Vashem management meetings constitute a serious omission by Dani Dayan.” Kisch pointed out that he and the director general of the Education Ministry, “who are also members of the Yad Vashem board, were never invited to the board meetings.”
Dayan, with political connections to National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar and a personal history in the party as a candidate, responded to the accusations saying that “some of them are unfounded and others are false.”
Rising in Dayan’s defense, Sa’ar took to X (formerly Twitter): “The intention to oust Dayan from the position of chairman is illegal, full of extraneous considerations and mainly harms this important and sacred national institution... He fulfills his role in a distinctly statesman-like manner.”
Associates of the Yad Vashem chairman have disclosed to the Post that Kisch initiated a directive, in a poorly orchestrated attempt, to unseat Dayan with the aim of installing a former Likud MK in his stead. While probing for inconsistencies in Dayan's role, only minor technical concerns arose, primarily about the membership validity of Avital, former Minister Piron, and Mualem within the management of the institution.
"These concerns raised by Kisch were addressed and dismissed in a subsequent response, proving them unfounded," the source said. "It's disconcerting to witness political motives casting a shadow over such a respected institution," the source concluded.
Born in Argentina, Dayan is an entrepreneur, diplomat and politician. He served as the Consul-General of Israel in New York in 2016 for an extended term and became the chairman of Yad Vashem in August 2021. Dayan is known for his advocacy of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and held the position of chairman of the Yesha Council from 2007 to 2013.
After endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister in 2013, he was appointed chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, representing the Israeli settlement movement internationally. Following a diplomatic contention regarding his ambassadorial appointment to Brazil, Israel reassigned Dayan to New York.
Dayan was considered a highly appreciated diplomat during his years in New York. Despite concerns that he would be political, due to his past positions, he worked in a highly diplomatic manner. Dayan was popular among both conservative and liberal Jewish organizations and leaders. He also did extensive outreach work to the Hispanic communities in the US.