Dozens of academics oppose new controversial Yad Vashem chair

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Effi Eitam is a former IDF general and right-wing politician who has made comments in the past endorsing ethnic cleansing.

HALL OF Names, Yad Vashem.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

HALL OF Names, Yad Vashem.

(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Renowned Jewish historian, Deborah Lipstadt, together with nearly 160 academics, historians, museum curators, Holocaust survivors and others have signed a petition opposing the appointment of Effi Eitam as the new chairman of Yad Vashem.

Eitam is a former IDF brigadier-general and right-wing politician who has in the past made comments endorsing the forcible population transfer of Palestinians and has spoken in favor of blocking Israeli Arab participation in national politics.

He has, however, been selected by Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin to fill the role of Yad Vashem chairman which will soon be vacated by incumbent, Avner Shalev.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Lipstadt said Eitam’s appointment would politicize and tarnish Yad Vashem and that Israeli government ministers would bear responsibility for such consequences, should he be appointed.

In their petition, the historians, curators and Holocaust experts noted that Yad Vashem’s declared goal is “not only documentation, research and education but also prevention – of barbarity and future acts of genocide,” and that its International School for Holocaust Studies aims to combat “antisemitism racism and exclusion” within society at large.

“This urgent mission – to encourage civil society to actively watch, involve and intervene wherever racism and hatred threaten religious, ethnic or other groups and communities – is now at risk of being handed over to the outspoken right-wing extremist and historically illiterate politician Effi Eitam,” wrote the petitioners.

“We are shocked by this outrageous proposal and protest against it in the strongest possible terms. Eitam’s hateful rhetoric towards Israeli Arabs and Palestinians stands in opposition to the stated mission of Yad Vashem.

“Appointing Effi Eitam as Chair of Yad Vashem would turn an internationally respected institution devoted to the documentation of crimes against humanity and the pursuit of human rights into a mockery and a disgrace.”

Along with Lipstadt, the signatories include Chief Curator of the Core Exhibition at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett; Chief Curator of the new permanent exhibition of the Jewish Museum Berlin in Germany, Cilly Kugelmann; Executive Director of the World Society of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants, Lea Sigiel-Wolinetz and numerous other academics and historians from prestigious universities around the world.

In her comments to the Post, Lipstadt said that Yad Vashem was “a supremely important and highly respected institution,” and that Eitam’s appointment would compromise that standing, since he has made comments which she said “run in opposition to some of the lessons of the Holocaust,” pointing specifically to remarks he made about expelling Palestinians from the West Bank.

“An institution with the reputation and the importance and significance of Yad Vashem should not be politicized. It denigrates the institution, it denigrates everything that it does, and such an appointment threatens to politicize Yad Vashem, and that would be a tragedy,” said Lipstadt.

She described Yad Vashem as “the jewel in the crown” of Holocaust memorial and research centers, and said there many other possible candidates which government ministers could turn to.

“They will bear the responsibility of denigrating the reputation of a world class institution,” said Lipstadt if Eitam is appointed.

Eitam did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2006, at a memorial event for a soldier killed in the First Lebanon War, Eitam said that Israel would need to “expel the large majority of Arabs of Judea and Samaria.”

At the same event, Eitam said Israeli Arabs need to be “removed” from the Israeli political system,” describing Israeli Arabs as “a fifth column,” and that “we cannot continue to allow such a large and hostile presence within the Israeli political system.

Eitam has also come under criticism due to an incident in his military career in 1988, during which soldiers under his command beat a Palestinian captive to death during a military operation in Gaza.

The soldiers involved said Eitam had given orders to beat captives, and the Military Advocate General reprimanded him over the incident, although did not prosecute him.

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