Yad Vashem is a hallowed national institution that memorializes one of the darkest chapters in Jewish and human history.It is a memorial that serves several different purposes.First, it is just that – a memorial. A place where Holocaust survivors, their descendants, and people from around the world can reflect and remember. Secondly, it is an educational institution dedicated to ensuring that the story of the Nazi extermination of six million Jews is not forgotten and is appropriately documented.And thirdly, it is a place to honor the Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews, exemplifying what is noblest in mankind.For all of these reasons, Yad Vashem must remain above politics and not turned into another Israeli institution where those who run it are picked and dismissed because of their political affiliation.
Placing Yad Vashem on the political spectrum would alienate Israelis
To politicize Yad Vashem would rob it of its ability to unite and would alienate large segments of Israelis and those from around the world who visit it.
Also, only by staying above politics will Yad Vashem be viewed as an institution that provides unbiased and fact-based information to visitors, students, and scholars. That, too, is crucial.It is for these reasons that we are pleased to hear reports that the government appears to be stepping away from firing Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan, who previously served as the head of the Yesha Council and as Israel’s consul-general in New York.According to media reports, Education Minister Yoav Kisch has for months been trying to get rid of Dayan, who ran unsuccessfully on Gideon Sa’ar’s Likud-breakaway New Hope list in 2021. Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett and his education minister, Yifat Shasha-Biton, appointed Dayan to the Yad Vashem position a year later.While Kisch accused Dayan, in a letter made public last week, of mismanagement of the Holocaust memorial, these allegations have been dismissed by Dayan and the Yad Vashem’s directorate.Instead, other reasons have emerged. These range from speculation that it has to do with Dayan’s inviting singer Keren Peles – who has been a critic of the judicial reform – to perform at a Yad Vashem ceremony, to coalition displeasure that Dayan has boycotted extreme right-wing politicians, to a rupture in Dayan’s relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.While Netanyahu appointed Dayan as consul-general in New York in 2016, after Dayan’s appointment as ambassador to Brazil was scuttled because the Brazilians did not want a former “settlement leader” in that post, Dayan joined Sa’ar’s party in 2021, a move that obviously did not endear him to Netanyahu.But none of that should have any bearing on his job at Yad Vashem, and until last week, no one had complained publicly about Dayan’s performance. Dayan was an effective consul-general, who connected with diverse segments of the Jewish and general populations, and is respected for his professionalism and integrity.It is ironic that someone whose appointment in New York drew criticism because he was a settlement leader, is now being defended by officials in the US, EU, and some on the Left.
This is not the first time that the position of Yad Vashem chairman has been controversial. In 2020, Netanyahu dropped his nomination of retired brigadier-general and former government minister Effi Eitam after this nomination sparked international opposition because of Eitam’s hard-right political views and statements he made in the past about the need to “expel” many Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria.Just as having a man with that rhetorical track record heading the Holocaust memorial would have harmed the institution’s reputation and been a mistake, so, too, would it be a mistake to fire Dayan for what appears to be political motivations.We agree with Ellen Germain, the US special envoy for Holocaust issues at the State Department, who said of Dayan’s dismissal in a social media post on Saturday: “Maintaining the independence of such institutions around the world is key as we face efforts to distort and deny the facts of the Holocaust.”