The Anti-Defamation League has joined the campaign against the appointment of Effi Eitam, a former far-right politician and military commander, to the top position at Yad Vashem, citing his “problematic moral record.”
It is unusual, if not unprecedented, for the American non-profit that monitors antisemitism around the world to intervene in appointments in other Jewish organizations.
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But in a letter sent this week by Carole Nuriel, director of the ADL office in Israel, to Yad Vashem Council Chairman Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, she wrote: “We feel the need to express our concerns about the appointment of Mr. Eitam and to ask that you use your stature and leadership to strike out his candidacy and to find a more suitable candidate for the job.”
Eitam was recently nominated for the high-profile post of chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate (the chief executive position in the organization) by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud minister Zeev Elkin. Elkin's portfolio includes jurisdiction over Yad Vashem, the national institution for Holocaust remembrance in Jerusalem.
Eitam commanded the Givati infantry brigade during the first intifada. His military career was shrouded in controversy due to the actions of his soldiers, who said they were following Eitam's orders. After he retired from his military career, he served as a National Religious Party Knesset member from 2000 to 2004, resigning from his ministerial post in protest of the Ariel Sharon government's plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip.
In her letter, Nuriel listed some of the reasons the ADL was concerned about the appointment. “We find that several statements made by Mr. Eitam over the years are problematic, including his call for the mass deportation of Palestinians from the West Bank and his description of Arab Israelis as a fifth column,” she wrote.
“The name of Mr. Eitam has also been connected with an incident in the eighties when soldiers under his command beat to death a Palestinians prisoner. His problematic moral record is deeply disturbing for those individuals and organizations dedicating to inculcating the lessons of the Holocaust, including Yad Vashem and the ADL.”
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In the letter, Nuriel notes that although the ADL does not, as a matter of practice, interfere in appointments of this nature, “We feel the need to make our voices heard in light of the candidacy of Mr. Eitam.”
Before his appointment comes up for a final vote in the cabinet, Eitam must be vetted by a special committee tasked with screening candidates for top jobs in the public sector.
As recently reported in Haaretz, the appointment has sparked outrage among prominent Holocaust survivors in Israel, the organizations that represent them and members of the so-called “second generation.”
Eitam, 68, is meant to replace Avner Shalev, who has served as chairman of Yad Vashem since 1993 and recently announced his plans to retire at the end of the year. Shalev had served as the IDF’s chief education officer, and before assuming the helm at Yad Vashem, he headed the Culture Authority at what was then the Ministry of Education and Culture. Shalev’s predecessor was Yitzhak Arad, a historian of the Shoah and survivor himself, who led the institution for 21 years.
Born on Ein Gev, a secular kibbutz on the shores of Lake Kinneret, Eitam embraced a rigidly Orthodox lifestyle after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Married with eight children, he currently lives in an agricultural community in the Golan Heights and heads the Israeli subsidiary of New Jersey-based Genie Energy.
In a recent conversation with Haaretz, Elkin defended the appointment saying that Eitam brought important administration experience to the job and that his political affiliation was not a reason to disqualify him.