123 Holocaust experts: Gov’t attack on Yad Vashem chief threatens memory of 6 million

Educators from around the world voice ‘great concern’ over coalition’s ostensible effort to dismiss Dani Dayan and replace him with a political appointment

Yad Vashem chief Dani Dayan in the Hall of Names at the Jerusalem museum, undated. (Alex Kolomoisky)
Yad Vashem chief Dani Dayan in the Hall of Names at the Jerusalem museum, undated. (Alex Kolomoisky)

Over 120 Holocaust educators from around the world issued an open letter over the weekend expressing “great concern” over the government’s alleged desire to dismiss Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum director Dani Dayan and replace him with an ally of the ruling Likud party.

The 123 signatories included Prof. Barbara Engelking, Prof. Yehuda Bauer, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Prof. Dina Porat, Prof. Jeffrey Herf, Prof. Jan Grabowski, Prof. Dalia Ofer and Prof. Alvin Rosenfeld.

Lamenting the “recent attacks” on Dayan by Education Minister Yoav Kisch, the educators warned that an attempt to assert political control over the institution “is a clear threat to the memory of six million victims of the Shoah, and a challenge to the legitimacy of an institution which enjoys tremendous, and well-deserved prestige, worldwide.”

They said that “today, when the memory of the Holocaust finds itself under increased pressure, when various institutions and governments become involved in Holocaust distortion and denial, the independence of Yad Vashem is more crucial than ever.”

And they stressed that Dayan “has served his institution with great distinction, allowing Yad Vashem to maintain and to reinforce its independent and nonpartisan character.

“We call on the education minister and the government of Israel to make sure that Chairman Dani Dayan and Yad Vashem be allowed to continue their mission unhindered.”

Education Minister Yoav Kisch in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum also tweeted its support for Dayan on Sunday

“With Holocaust denial on the rise as knowledge is on the decline, our cause to secure the memory of six million Jews has never been more important. This work needs many respected global partners such as Yad Vashem and the vital leadership of Dani Dayan,” the museum wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

On Saturday, Dayan also received backing from the Biden administration’s special envoy for Holocaust issues.

“The US values the crucial work of Yad Vashem and its director’s leadership as we work together on Holocaust education, remembrance, and research. Maintaining the independence of such institutions around the world is key as we face efforts to distort/deny the facts of the Holocaust,” wrote Ellen Germain, the US Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues at the State Department, on X.

Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Union’s coordinator on combating antisemitism, also joined the outcry. “The World Holocaust Center @yadvashem is a key partner for the European Union when it comes to #Holocaust research,” she said on X. “Its expertise and #independence of its leadership are essential in times of #Holocaust #distortion and attempts to politicise #Shoah remembrance.”

Dayan, a former head of the Yesha council for West Bank settlers and former Israeli consul-general to New York, previously ran for the Knesset with Gideon Sa’ar’s opposition New Hope party, but failed to win a seat. He was appointed as head of Yad Vashem in 2021 by the previous government under then-prime minister Naftali Bennett.

In recent months, Education Minister Yoav Kisch of the ruling Likud party has been angling to remove Dayan, according to reports in the Hebrew-language media.

Kisch sent Dayan a letter accusing him of mismanagement at the Holocaust museum, a charge Dayan has staunchly denied. Kisch confirmed the report on the letter to Channel 12 on Thursday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kisch are hoping to replace Dayan with Keren Barak, a former MK for their Likud party, the report said.

The network also tied Kisch’s move to the Holocaust museum hosting singer Keren Peles — who has spoken out against the government’s policies and has performed at anti-overhaul protests — on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The unsourced report said the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, was angered that Dayan had invited Peles to perform at the official ceremony in April marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. Netanyahu reportedly was upset with Peles for her outspoken support for demonstrations against the government and its judicial overhaul plan. The premier’s office said the report was false.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the main Holocaust memorial day ceremony held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, April 17, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Dayan has refuted Kisch’s allegations and threatened to take the matter to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.

In his letter to Dayan, Kisch raised concerns over three board members, each of whom were appointed by the previous government: former MK Collette Avital, former MK and former education minister Rabbi Shai Piron, and former MK Shuli Moalem.

Kisch claimed that their appointments were never reviewed by the appropriate selection committee and therefore were illegitimate.

Their presence at board meetings, he wrote, “is a serious failure on your part as chairman of Yad Vashem, calling into question the legality of all the decisions made at management meetings since you were appointed to your position.”

Dayan wrote back that meetings were held according to regulations and that since the board members in question had not been ousted, there was no reason to prevent them from attending.

An unnamed source close to Dayan told Hebrew media Thursday that Kisch was making a “clumsy” attempt to oust Dayan and replace him with a political ally.

The source claimed that “because of Dayan’s integrity [Kisch] did not find any fault and latched onto several technical matters” — principally the presence of board members Avital, Piron, and Moalem, the source said.

Kisch recently had to backtrack on an attempt to install a political appointee as head of the Israel National Library after a massive outcry alleging the move would destroy the independence of the national institution.

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