Yad Vashem drops US partner after $80 million endowment unpaid

Yad Vashem said it will end its longstanding affiliation with the American Society for Yad Vashem, created in order to assist with funding.

Visitors seen at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem on April 16, 2023, ahead of Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Visitors seen at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem on April 16, 2023, ahead of Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Yad Vashem terminated its long-established association with the American Society for Yad Vashem, with the controversy centering on the charge that the ASYV has not been adequately transferring donations meant for Yad Vashem’s programs and activities.

According to Yad Vashem, the ASYV’s “endowment” fund has swelled to over $80 million, yet only a mere $1m. has been relayed annually to the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

This brewing tension ignited debates in political corridors, with prominent figures like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly considering the removal of chairman Dani Dayan.

The decision comes against the backdrop of Yad Vashem’s struggles with financial deficits and a broader restructuring, in response to a world in which the number of living Holocaust survivors is diminishing.

The ASYV is a body that was created to assist with funding, part of its broader organizational realignment, according to a letter seen by The Jerusalem Post. Dayan, in the letter dated July 30, cited changing global dynamics and the decreasing number of Holocaust survivors as context for the tensions.

 Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan speaking at The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference on June 5, 2023. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan speaking at The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference on June 5, 2023. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

He wrote: “Significant and substantial changes, of global magnitude, have increasingly challenged members of the remembrance community around the world.” A large challenge was the “stark reality of a world bereft of Shoah survivors.”

According to the letter, as part of its restructuring, Yad Vashem actively sought renewal, financial stabilization, and developmental plans, ensuring its message continues to resonate for future generations.

The Post revealed in February that Yad Vashem was expected to have a deficit of NIS 42.7m. by the end of the 2023 calendar year.

Reducing staff and increasing salaries

For the past year, the organization’s senior management has communicated to its more than 500 employees that many would be laid off and sent to retirement, some of whom will not be replaced. The organization reduced its staff by 20% and increased the salaries of the remaining staff. Furthermore, support from the Israeli government has been bolstered.

Dayan wrote: “We have come to understand that our continued affiliation with the American Society for Yad Vashem may be incompatible with our refocused vision.” He assured that both entities would closely collaborate during the transition, ensuring that their mission remains uninterrupted.

In an exclusive statement to the Post, Yad Vashem said the “Directorate approved Yad Vashem’s new strategy of taking direct responsibility for all its activities worldwide here [in Jerusalem] directly from the Mount of Remembrance. We have done so in order to ensure that every dollar raised in the name of Yad Vashem is used for Yad Vashem programs and activities.

“It should also be stressed that by strengthening the direct contact between Yad Vashem and its donors we are actually increasing their involvement and impact. Over the years, the ASYV has deposited many of the donations collected on behalf of Yad Vashem into an accumulated fund it refers to as an ‘endowment’ fund,” it added. “Due to the generosity of American donors to Yad Vashem, the accumulated funds have in recent years reached amounts exceeding $80m., but the ASYV has been forwarding only $1m. annually to Yad Vashem from this fund.

“Yad Vashem has taken this change, after lengthy consideration and deliberation, even pre-dating Dayan’s chairmanship, precisely out of commitment to the legacy and intentions of the Yad Vashem supporters and friends worldwide,” Yad Vashem concluded.

In a letter dated Sunday, the ASYV responded with concern to the move, citing over 40 years of successful collaboration and significant contributions to Yad Vashem. The letter highlights several allegedly “troubling behaviors” observed since Dayan took the post, including a “lack of transparency, disregard for agreements, and increasing hostility.”

Should the disaffiliation proceed, ASYV outlined some potential changes, like halting active fundraising efforts and reiterating their legal rights to their longstanding name and intellectual properties. The organization added that it would ensure any funds they receive continue to support Yad Vashem’s mission. However, ASYV voiced distress over what it perceived as Yad Vashem’s “diminishing commitment to Holocaust education and commemoration in the US,” particularly “in a time of rising antisemitism.”

The letter underscored the severe negative implications of the disaffiliation, from substantial financial losses to the dismantling of educational initiatives and the erosion of decades-long partnerships.

Two days later, on Tuesday, Yad Vashem stated that “as part of Yad Vashem’s efficiency plans and efforts to improve its global impact, Yad Vashem has carefully reviewed its international partnership agreements and has subsequently decided to assume direct responsibility for all activities worldwide directly from Jerusalem.

This shift aims to maximize Yad Vashem’s global mission and further its goals to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and its lessons for future generations. This decision is central to the organization’s comprehensive renewal plan as we begin to face new challenges to Holocaust remembrance in a generation without survivors.”

Leonard Wilf, immediate past chairman of the ASYV, told the Post that he is “extremely proud of ASYV’s decades-long record of accomplishments. I am honored to be part of a dedicated, hard-working team that works collaboratively with our partners at Yad Vashem to advance our shared mission. There is no excuse for Dayan’s recent actions, which have eroded decades of collaborative achievements and will cause irreparable harm to Yad Vashem.”

He added his expressed gratitude “for the efforts and support provided by the ASYV. Even as our relationship evolves, Yad Vashem continues to appreciate the contributions and dedication of our American supporters towards our important mission.”

On Thursday, reports swirled in Israeli media that Netanyahu’s government was intending to take steps to remove Dayan from his post. N12 reported that Sara Netanyahu was displeased when Dayan invited pop singer Keren Peles to perform at the Yad Vashem memorial ceremony, and approached the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene. N12 added at the time that it is “worth noting that Peles has, on multiple occasions, criticized the government and its legal reforms.”

Netanyahu later denied these reports.

Meanwhile, sources close to Yad Vashem raised concerns about ASYV’s financial operations, claiming that a significant portion of its funds goes towards operational budgets, with only a fraction reaching Yad Vashem.

However, an insider close to ASYV provided a detailed breakdown of the 2020 expenses: $16m. was allocated for programming, $1m. for general management and operations, and $2m. for fundraising. Of the $16m. dedicated to programming, $14.725m. was channeled to Yad Vashem, with the remaining $1.25m. supporting US-based programs.

This source emphasized that the 990 report lumps together US programming and funds sent to Israel under the umbrella term “mission-related.” They also highlighted that fundraising expenses, including their annual dinner, cannot be reported as just the net number, adding that it is important to note that these figures don’t reflect contributions to the endowment made during this period.

The publicly available 990s show a $1.28m. deficit for ASYV in 2019 and a surplus of $9.1m. in 2020. Yet, these numbers don’t capture the full picture of ASYV’s contributions to Yad Vashem. The insider explained that these numbers are based on accrual accounting and not cash.

In 2020, ASYV received several large, multi-year pledges. These were recorded as receivables, resulting in a surplus by the year’s end. In contrast, 2019 saw inflows from restricted donations, which, due to commitments to Yad Vashem projects, were booked as liabilities, leading to a deficit. Nevertheless, in 2019 and 2020, ASYV transferred $12.59m. and $14.7m. respectively to Yad Vashem. They also made contributions to the ASYV endowment and advanced their educational programs annually.

The source affirmed that ASYV’s average grant to Yad Vashem over the past three years has risen to $17.5m., even as it continues to invest in endowments and programming.