The choice of the far-right former cabinet minister Lt. Col. (res.) Effi Eitam as chairman of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center is typical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conduct. He misses no opportunity to sow discord and deepen the chasms between right and left. No person or institution is outside the political battlefield. In the context of the prime minister’s struggle, even Yad Vashem is that battlefield, where the war must be pursued to the last drop of statesmanlike conduct.
A few months ago Avner Shalev, who has been Yad Vashem’s chairman for 27 years, announced his imminent retirement. Of all the people in Israel, the prime minister chose as his candidate to replace him a man who supports the transfer of Palestinians, who called Israeli Arab citizens a “ticking bomb” and called Arab Knesset members a fifth column that should be barred from Israeli politics and even expelled to the Gaza Strip.
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In recent years Netanyahu has meticulously chosen people for positions according to the degree to which the appointment would increase his voter base, regardless of the candidate’s suitability. Eitam is just the subcontractor for this policy. The prime minister did the same thing when he appointed Miri Regev as culture and sports minister, Ayelet Shaked and then Amir Ohana as successive justice ministers and Yariv Levin as Knesset speaker. Now it’s Yad Vashem’s turn.
The only hope lies in the fact that this time Netanyahu has encountered opposition from outside the political arena, an opposition that is confident in the rightness of its cause and that will not surrender to him. An international campaign is now being waged in the form of a petition against Eitam’s appointment that has been signed by 220 professors and other academics, historians, renowned Holocaust scholars and Holocaust survivors from various countries. The Anti-Defamation League has also called for the appointment to be withdrawn. Among the protesters is Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. historian known for her fight against the British Holocaust denier Prof. David Irving.
Those who protest the appointment believe, rightly, that the appointment of a person with a worldview like Eitam’s undermines the values the Israeli remembrance institution should inculcate. “Eitam’s hateful rhetoric toward Israeli Arabs and Palestinians stands in opposition to the stated mission of Yad Vashem,” the petition states.
“Appointing Effi Eitam as Chair of Yad Vashem would turn an internationally respected institution into a mockery and a disgrace,” the signatories warn. The leadership of the Historical Society of Israel also joined this call.
Despite the campaign, on Tuesday the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee of the Israel Corporations Authority approved the appointment, which will soon be submitted to the cabinet for a vote. To protect Yad Vashem, the cabinet must fiercely oppose Eitam’s appointment.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.