Eitam Yad Vashem appointment approved by committee

Controversial potential appointment of new Yad Vashem chairman now needs government approval.

HALL OF Names, Yad Vashem.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
HALL OF Names, Yad Vashem.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
An internal government committee approved on Tuesday the controversial candidacy of former hard-right politician Effi Eitam to take up the position of Yad Vashem chairman.
Eitam’s candidacy now needs to be brought to the cabinet for governmental approval. Eitam is a former IDF general and right-wing politician who has made comments in the past endorsing the forcible population transfer of Palestinians and in favor of blocking Arab-Israeli participation in the Israeli political system. He has also come under criticism due to an incident in his military career in 1988, during which soldiers under his command beat a Palestinian captive to death during a military operation in Gaza.
Eitam was nevertheless selected by Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud to fill the role of Yad Vashem chairman, which will soon be vacated by current chairman Avner Shalev.
Elkin, speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night, defended Eitam’s candidacy, and said he is a statesmanlike figure who would be apolitical in his management of Yad Vashem. He appeared unaware, however, of Eitam’s comments regarding expelling Palestinians from the West Bank and removing Arab-Israelis from the political system.
Regarding the latter, Elkin asserted that Eitam was referring to the Arab political parties and not Arab-Israelis in general.
Asked about Eitam’s comments that Israel needed to expel Palestinians from the West Bank, Elkin said merely “I am not Effi Eitam’s spokesperson.” The minister condemned, however, opponents of Eitam who have criticized the appointment as “politicizing” Yad Vashem, saying that left-wing political figures have held senior positions at the organization.
He referenced the late Shinui Party leader Tommy Lapid, who was former chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, and himself a Holocaust survivor.
“Tommy Lapid said very severe things about Jewish communities, specifically the ultra-Orthodox, worse than anything Eitam has said, and no one said he shouldn’t serve at Yad Vashem,” said Elkin. “I don’t see why there should be a principle that only left-wing politicians can serve at Yad Vashem,” he continued.
He also noted that Colette Avital, who runs the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors and has led a campaign against Eitam, was herself a former Labor MK and was fined in 2017 for providing personal information of Israeli Holocaust survivors to Yesh Atid, which was also fined over the incident by the Justice Ministry.
“Effi Eitam is a statesmanlike figure with a lot of management experience as a former IDF general and government minister. Yad Vashem is facing financial collapse because of the coronavirus crisis, and anyone for whom the institution is beloved should wish to see a new chairman appointed as quickly as possible to prepare a new budget for it,” said Elkin.
Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid condemned the committee’s approval of Eitam, saying that Eitam’s appointment, if approved by the government, would “play into the hands of antisemites, whom he and many others are fighting.
“My opposition to the appointment of Effi Eitam is due to his past, his comments, and the reprimand he received from his [IDF] commanders,” said Lapid on Tuesday evening. “There is no reason to appoint a person to this position who will overturn the last consensus we have in our lives, which are so full of dispute.”
Abe Foxman, a former director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor himself, said that Eitam’s appointment would be “a sad day for Israel,” adding that there are many more qualified people than him for the post.
“For a country, which has so many qualified people to head up one of the most sensitive institutions in Israel, to appoint as a chairman to Yad Vashem someone who has expressed racist, bigoted views would be a shanda [shameful] and a disgrace, and a slap in the face to Holocaust survivors and victims,” said Foxman. “Yad Vashem is an institution which memorializes and speaks in the names of Holocaust victims, it is a memorial to their memory, and carries the lessons of the Holocaust into the future. To have someone who is frankly a bigot to lead it is hypocrisy.”
Foxman said that he hopes government ministers from parties other than the Likud would oppose Eitam’s appointment, if it comes to a vote in the cabinet. Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz has declined to comment as to his party’s position on Eitam’s appointment.
Eitam has declined requests for an interview.
In 2006, at a memorial event for a soldier killed in the First Lebanon War, Eitam said that Israel would need to “expel the large majority of Arabs of Judea and Samaria. [Things are] impossible with all these Arabs here, and we cannot give up on the territory.”
At the same event, Eitam said Arab-Israelis need to be “removed from the Israeli political system,” describing them as “a fifth column,” and saying that “we cannot continue to allow such a large and hostile presence within the Israeli political system.”