Dani Dayan, the former Israeli Consul General in New York and the former head of the umbrella group for the settlement movement, has been nominated the next chairman of Yad Vashem, the country’s official institution for Holocaust remembrance.
Dayan was recommended by Israel’s Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, but the appointment still requires confirmation by a special committee and then by the entire Israeli government before it will become official.
Shasha-Bitton’s intention to appoint Dayan to lead Yad Vashem was reported two weeks ago in Israeli newspaper Maariv. Two sources with knowledge of the nomination process told Haaretz on Monday that his name has officially been presented to the committee as the Education Minister’s candidate for the position. Dayan will replace Avner Shalev, who was the chairman of Yad Vashem from 1993 until his retirement at the end of last year. Since his retirement, Yad Vashem has not had a permanent chairman for almost a year.
The previous Israeli government, led by former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, had a different candidate to lead Yad Vashem – former minister and Member of Knesset Efi Eitam, whose nomination was strongly opposed by prominent Holocaust researchers and by Colette Avital, head of the Israeli umbrella organization of Holocaust survivors. Eitam’s nomination unraveled after Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who held the same position in the previous government, came out against it.
Dayan’s nomination isn’t expected to attract similar criticism, even though he is also a former politician who led the Yesha Council, an organization representing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, from 2007 to 2013. Avital, who opposed Eitam, said last month in an interview to Israeli radio station 103FM that she is “very supportive” of Dayan. She explained that her opposition to Eitam was based on “the fact that he had extreme racist statements against Arabs,” and that “racism has no place at Yad Vashem.”
Dayan’s previous public position was Israel’s Consul General in New York, a role to which he was appointed by Netanyahu in 2016, and which he fulfilled until the summer of 2020. Dayan established close working relationships with liberal and left-leaning groups and leaders in the American Jewish community during this period, despite his right-wing views. Dayan was praised by prominent figures in the non-Orthodox Jewish movements for his support of religious pluralism in Israel, which put him at odds with the government and the Prime Minister who appointed him.
In the last Israeli election, Dayan was placed on the list of Knesset candidates for New Hope, the party of Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar. Dayan, who supported Netanyahu in the 2015 election, explained that while he appreciated the former Prime Minister, he believed it was time for Israel to part ways with him and choose new leadership. For this, he became a target for harsh criticism from Likud politicians and supporters of Netanyahu. Dayan was left out of the Knesset after New Hope won 6 seats, not enough for him to become a Knesset Member.
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After the election, when Netanyahu was trying to persuade Sa’ar and New Hope to join a ‘pure right-wing government’ under his leadership, Dayan wrote an article in Haaretz explaining why he opposed that idea. “Maybe it’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s success in pushing aside the danger of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. He deserves credit for that. But to create the Israel I want to see at this time, with the current priorities, extreme conservatism is an obstacle, not a partner,” he wrote.
He added that “Netanyahu’s dream government, entirely right-wing, would be bad for Israel not only because of the man who would lead it, a gifted man currently doing more harm than good. Such a government must not be formed also because of the ideology that would guide it.”
A spokeswoman for Shasha-Biton told Haaretz that based on Dayan’s experience as the Consul General in New York, as well as his past membership in Yad Vashem’s managing council, his appointment to lead the institution “will have a unique and important contribution to Yad Vashem.”