JERUSALEM — For years, his identify was synonymous with intolerance and right-wing extremism.
So when Israel’s conservative-led authorities nominated Effie Eitam to be chairman of Yad Vashem, the nation’s official Holocaust memorial and one its most hallowed establishments, it prompted an uproar.
Mr. Eitam, a 68-year-old retired brigadier basic and former minister, has spent the final decade within the non-public sector. However his provocative statements from the early 2000s advocating the mass expulsion of Palestinians from the occupied West Financial institution and barring Israel’s Arab residents from politics linger on the public record.
The appointment may have “devastating penalties,” mentioned Israel Bartal, a professor of recent Jewish historical past on the Hebrew College of Jerusalem, who mentioned he could be pressured to chop all contacts with Yad Vashem’s analysis institute after years of cooperation. “An institute headed by an individual with such excessive opinions and controversial human values won’t ever be taken severely throughout the world educational neighborhood,” Mr. Bartal mentioned.
Holocaust survivors, Jewish organizations and a global array of historians have denounced the appointing of such a contentious determine to go Yad Vashem. They are saying that along with recognizing the Nazi genocide of six million Jews as a novel occasion, the establishment can be accountable for upholding common ethical values and educating folks about anti-Semitism and racism.
But regardless of the pushback, a authorities appointments committee vetted and authorised Mr. Eitam’s candidacy in mid-November. Solely a cupboard vote now stands between him and the publish.
“That is greater than a colossal mistake — it’s a tragedy,” mentioned Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of recent Jewish historical past and Holocaust research at Emory College in Atlanta who has written a number of books on the topic. “Appointing Eitam to this place could be a blot on Yad Vashem’s repute and Yad Vashem’s document.”
Mr. Eitam and Yad Vashem declined to touch upon the appointment.
However Mr. Eitam’s defenders say he’s the sufferer of a kneejerk left-wing marketing campaign purely as a result of he’s right-wing and non secular. They view him as a warfare hero and an skilled supervisor who may steer Yad Vashem out of a extreme monetary disaster that has been compounded by authorities funds cuts and a drop-off in donations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The upshot is that Yad Vashem, an virtually sacred establishment that world leaders are anticipated to go to whereas in Jerusalem, has gotten caught up within the political and tradition wars of a polarized nation the place the dominant right-wing battles the liberal left and is more and more at odds with the extra liberal streams amongst world Jewry.
Worse, consultants say, it comes at a time when anti-Semitism is resurgent and far-right forces in different elements of the world are selling Holocaust denial.
“You don’t play politics with the Shoah, and that is taking part in politics with the Shoah,” Professor Lipstadt mentioned, utilizing the Hebrew time period for the Holocaust.
She is certainly one of 750 historians, Jewish research consultants and cultural figures who signed a petition protesting the appointment, which was submitted to Yad Vashem’s board of trustees and Israel’s Parliament this month.
Yad Vashem’s present chairman, Avner Shalev, 81, is a revered, apolitical figurehead. He introduced in June that he was stepping down after a 27-year tenure.
Zeev Elkin, the minister with accountability for Yad Vashem from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud get together, selected Mr. Eitam with Mr. Netanyahu’s full help.
Nonetheless, authorities approval will not be imminent. Due to coalition infighting, all senior appointments are frozen, and Benny Gantz, who leads the centrist Blue and White get together in Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, is prone to block Mr. Eitam’s development by denying him a majority if it involves a cupboard vote.
However Mr. Elkin and Mr. Netanyahu insist that he’s nonetheless their sole candidate.
Mr. Eitam, a resident of a settlement within the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, grew up as a secular Jew and have become observant after the 1973 Center East warfare.
He was adorned for his function in one of many warfare’s most determined battles and later took half in a raid to free primarily Israeli hostages in Entebbe, Uganda. Mr. Netanyahu’s older brother, Yonatan, a legendary determine in Israel, was killed whereas main the raid.
Through the first Palestinian rebellion within the late Nineteen Eighties, when he was a brigade commander, a few of his troopers have been prosecuted for beating a Palestinian man to demise. The troopers mentioned that they had beat him on the commander’s orders.
Finally, Mr. Eitam acquired a extreme reprimand, and his promotion to the rank of brigadier basic was lengthy stalled. But his navy profession spanned almost three many years.
Mr. Elkin, the minister accountable for Yad Vashem, denounced what he known as an “ugly” and “hypocritical” marketing campaign spearheaded by political forces who by no means objected to appointments from the left wing of the political spectrum.
“True, he made a number of unsuccessful remarks,” Mr. Elkin mentioned of Mr. Eitam in a phone interview, “however that was 15 or 20 years in the past.” Mr. Elkin additionally mentioned that a few of these statements had been taken out of context.
Mr. Elkin cited as a reference level Joseph “Tommy” Lapid, a Holocaust survivor and acerbic chief of a liberal, secular, centrist get together who went on to grow to be chairman of Yad Vashem’s advisory council. Mr. Lapid as soon as mentioned that Palestinians “may start to suppose” of the consequences if 10 automotive bombs have been to go off in 10 Palestinian cities and kill 500 Palestinians.
“That’s a extra stunning assertion to my thoughts,” Mr. Elkin mentioned, “and no person opposed his appointment.”
One chief of the marketing campaign towards the appointment is Colette Avital, a former Israeli diplomat and Labor get together lawmaker who now chairs the Heart Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, an umbrella group for 58 Holocaust organizations. She mentioned she had recommended different candidates to Mr. Elkin from the political proper.
“There are individuals who don’t signify the left however can undertaking a picture of tolerance, understanding and moderation,” she mentioned. Relating to the claims towards Mr. Lapid, she mentioned, “Two wrongs don’t make a proper.”
Different apolitical our bodies have criticized Mr. Eitam’s nomination, together with the Anti-Defamation League and a few Yad Vashem donors.
“Yad Vashem ought to keep above Israeli politics and preserve its irreproachable document and ethical excessive floor,” Joel Herzog of the Swiss Associates of Yad Vashem wrote in an e mail.
Critics are baffled as to why Mr. Elkin settled on Mr. Eitam. But it surely may sign a desired shift that might convey the establishment extra according to the federal government after some latest run-ins.
In 2018, Yad Vashem issued a stinging critique of a joint assertion by the prime ministers of Israel and Poland that was meant to resolve a rift between the international locations over a Polish law criminalizing some statements on the Holocaust. Complicating issues, Yad Vashem’s chief historian, Prof. Dina Porat, was concerned in drafting the joint assertion, apparently in a non-public capability.
Supporters of Mr. Eitam mentioned that he may undertaking a extra muscular, Jewish and Zionist-centric picture from Yad Vashem for Israel’s battle towards anti-Semitism. Mr. Elkin mentioned Mr. Eitam’s complete military profession had been dedicated to the lesson of the Holocaust summed up by the phrase “By no means once more.”
“That’s one thing elementary in his character, the essence of his character,” Mr. Elkin mentioned.