Netanyahu, Elkin: Step back from joining in Holocaust denial

Anyone with any responsibility, whether direct or indirect, for beating a civilian to death is not fit to lead an institution of Holocaust memory.

Effie Eitam
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin have put forward the candidacy of Effie Eitam for the post of chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate.
This proposal constitutes outrageous disrespect for the memory of the Holocaust as well as desecration of the sanctity of Yad Vashem as the world’s leading center of Shoah memory and memorial.
Eitam was an officer in the Israel Defense Forces and commanded the fabled Givati Brigade. In 1988, four soldiers under his command took two Palestinian brothers captive and beat them repeatedly; one died. The soldiers were court-martialed, convicted of assault, and sentenced and demoted in rank.
In their defense at the trial, the soldiers said that in administering the beatings, they were following the orders of Eitam, their commanding officer. The military court said that evidence was inconclusive as to whether he gave the orders directly, and it did not order him to be tried.
The court concluded, However, that “Eitam’s violent behavior became the norm [in his brigade] and was taken as an example by those under his command.” Subsequently, the IDF placed a reprimand in his record – a very serious blemish for a senior officer – and recommended that he be denied a promotion.
Anyone with any responsibility, whether direct or indirect, for beating a civilian to death is not fit to lead an institution of Holocaust memory, a tragedy in which thousands of Jewish civilians were beaten to death.
In 2000, Eitam was denied promotion to the General Staff. He quit the IDF and gave a lecture at which he declared that the Israeli army can conquer the West Bank and Gaza “and expel the population overnight. It is not a problem to do this. We have a problem of [not] having the will to do this.” [Jerusalem Post, December 27, 2000.]
Eitam joined the National Religious Party and served as a Knesset member between 2003 and 2009. He repeatedly called for expulsion of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria.
Anyone who openly calls for ethnic cleansing is unfit to lead an institution dedicated to preserving the horrors of Nazi ethnic cleansing and mass murder. In 2008, he addressed the Arab MKs in Knesset saying: “The day will come when we will banish you from this house.”
Elkin was quoted in the media defending his choice. He said that people told him that any politician, past or present, is unfit to lead Yad Vashem. Elkin replied that as a politician himself, he rejects the idea that being a politician disqualifies a person from leading a cultural institution.
I AGREE with Minister Elkin. Properly done, politics is a noble profession that should strengthen anyone’s CV. The problem is what kind of politician one is. Eitam is unfit because he demonized minorities, threatened transfers and proposed anti-democratic practices such as expelling Arab MKs from the Knesset.
Appointing Eitam to lead Yad Vashem is the equivalent of appointing Meir Kahane (who was also a politician) to run such an institution. In 1988, a wall-to-wall coalition of parties – including Likud – acting on the suggestion of the Supreme Court, passed a law barring Kach, Kahane’s party, from participating in elections. The grounds for the disqualification were that Kach had preached negation of the democratic character of the State of Israel – including advocating discrimination against Arabs – and inciting racism.
If Netanyahu and Elkin go through with the appointment of Eitam, this will equate them with Holocaust deniers. A neutral outsider could legitimately say: any people who suffered discrimination, ethnic cleansing, violent persecution and mass murder would never let a would-be ethnic cleanser or violent discriminator became the leader of a Holocaust memorial center.
My equivalence may sound extreme, as Netanyahu and Elkin detest Holocaust deniers in every fiber of their being, but appointment of such a person is the moral and intellectual equivalent of joining those who say that the Holocaust never happened. More specifically, they join with those deniers who say that the Shoah has no lessons or moral implications for humanity.
This appointment signals taking the Holocaust so lightly as to betray the moral revulsion at inhumane policies felt by all who take the Holocaust to their heart.
In the United States and around much of the globe, the Holocaust is understood as the unchallengeable icon of pure evil – in a world full of ethical relativism and debunked moral exemplars.
THE APPOINTMENT of a leader – whose personal behavior shows that the norms derived from the catastrophe by a repentant humanity are not taken seriously – is an attack on this universal opinion held by humankind, and it would present a field day to the most vicious haters of Israel who take every opportunity to dishonor Jewry by claiming that the Jewish state is now acting like the Nazis did.
This is because Yad Vashem is the central memorial to the Shoah created by Jews; because it houses the greatest collection of memories, testimonies and lists of the dead; and because its seniority, the Yad Vashem staff, are often consulted by other Holocaust memorial centers – or national centers of genocide memory such as in Rwanda and Cambodia – for advice, guidance on exhibitions or help. This function as a world leader will be destroyed.
Those sincerely dedicated professionals will shun a person whose values and record contradict the purpose and value of the cause of the memory of the Shoah.
Because its scholarship and displays have never betrayed the need to tell only the truth and avoid propaganda and distortion, Yad Vashem has achieved a reputation as a tower of truth, moral integrity and unchallenged secular sacredness. This reputation and stature has been seventy years in the making.
In no small measure, Yad Vashem embodies the world’s recognition of the ultimate evil of the Final Solution and the force of the universal statement: “Never again.”
No prime minister or minister – who are, after all, in their roles only temporarily – have the right to squander the moral legacy of the Shoah – of the survivors, of the victims – by making such an unworthy appointment.
The writer served as (Executive) Director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, which proposed the creation and wrote the program of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He served as chairman of the museum from 2000-2002.