Amid leadership controversy, Yad Vashem appoints Ronen Plot as acting chairman

PM has struggled to get controversial ex-general Effi Eitam confirmed to top position at Holocaust museum, a move further delayed by fall of government

Ronen Plot attends an Economy Committee meeting at the Knesset on May 20, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
Ronen Plot attends an Economy Committee meeting at the Knesset on May 20, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum on Tuesday named Ronen Plot to serve as its acting chairman, a spokesperson said, amidst an ongoing stalemate and controversy over the appointment of a new chairperson.

The decision to appoint Plot, technically to the position of deputy chairman, came as the Knesset was dissolved Tuesday night, sending Israel to fresh elections. The fall of the government means that efforts to appoint a permanent head of the institution would not be possible for several months until after a new government is formed.

Plot, the mayor of the northern town of Nof HaGalil, will serve as acting chairman once Avner Shalev retires at the end of the year.

Plot is best known for changing the name of the town from Upper Nazareth, to avoid confusion with the mostly Arab Nazareth, famous for being the hometown of Jesus.

Shalev said he would assist Plot during during his tenure as acting chairman, adding in a statement, “I extend my warm appreciation to Ronen Plot for his consent to take this responsibility upon himself, as a volunteer, and wish him much success.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had tapped far-right politician Effi Eitam to the post but the appointment was held up amid widespread outrage and coalition wrangling over the appointment of senior officials.

EffieEitam speaks during the Gush Katif conference at the Tel Aviv Museum on March 23, 2017. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Eitam is a former decorated general in the Israel Defense Forces and was a cabinet minister who led a right-wing religious Zionist party. His critics say he is unfit to lead the Holocaust institution because he called for most Palestinians in the West Bank to be expelled and for Arab Israelis to be excluded from the country’s political system. Eitam also was reprimanded by the IDF’s chief of staff because soldiers under his command beat a Palestinian to death. His supporters point to his experience as a general and political leader.

Last month, a broad coalition of Jewish studies scholars and directors of Jewish and Holocaust museums signed a petition opposing the proposed appointment of Eitam. The petition had 750 signatures, including Susannah Heschel and Deborah Lipstadt. The list also includes the current or former directors of the Buchenwald memorial and Jewish museums in Budapest, Warsaw, Munich, and elsewhere.

“Eitam’s hateful rhetoric towards Israeli Arabs and Palestinians stands in opposition to the stated mission of Yad Vashem,” the petition read. “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.”

Earlier this month, Eitam rebuffed widespread criticism against his selection, saying some of his comments had been misinterpreted.

“People say that when the allegations are baseless and unfounded, there is no point in responding. But I am here to respond,” Eitam told the Kan public broadcaster in an interview, saying he has a deep connection to the Holocaust and its memory.

Yad Vashem Security guard stands at the empty Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem on April 19, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I have always opposed any talk of a transfer,” Eitam argued, referring to the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank. “Anyone with an ounce of integrity can look through my interviews and see that.

“But I did say one thing, and I stand behind it: If a war is declared upon us by people, communities, or groups that want to turn Israel into a terror arena, we shall fight with all our might, decisively.

“Expelling the Arabs of Judea and Samaria is not a goal, it’s a consequence,” he said, referring to Palestinians in the West Bank. “There may come a situation — a tragic one — as part of violent fighting, in which a civilian population will be harmed.”

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