Vowing to reject Holocaust ‘distortion,’ Dani Dayan appointed head of Yad Vashem

Former Israeli consul-general to New York says he’s taking on role with ‘awe and reverence’; appointment comes at key time for Holocaust remembrance amid spat with Poland

Dani Dayan. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Dani Dayan. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Dani Dayan, the former Israeli consul-general to New York, was appointed on Sunday to serve as the next chairman of Yad Vashem, and said in a statement that he would “validate fact-based historical truths” and “safeguard the memory” of the Holocaust.

“Leading Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, is more than a position; it is a mission and one I take on with awe and reverence,” Dayan said, thanking Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton for appointing him.

“Yad Vashem is not just a commemorative endeavor. On our shoulders rests the responsibility to research and educate, to document and disseminate, to validate fact-based historical truths about the Holocaust and reject all forms of distortion, in order to safeguard the memory of the Shoah and to ensure that the Jewish people and humanity will forever continue to remember this event,” Dayan said.

“As time passes, our work becomes more challenging, albeit more vital, than ever before,” he said.

Dayan, a former head of the Settlers Council, ran for Knesset this year with Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, but failed to make it into parliament when the party did not win enough seats.

The Yad Vashem position has been unfilled since Avner Shalev resigned last June.

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)

Last year, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated he would appoint Effi Eitam, a former right-wing minister, to head the museum. However, groups representing Holocaust survivors expressed concern his appointment could tarnish one of the world’s leading institutions for Holocaust remembrance and open it up to criticism from the Palestinian-led boycott movement as well as those who question or deny the Nazi genocide.

Netanyahu himself has come under fire internationally and from Yad Vashem for embracing right-wing leaders in Europe who offer political support to Israel while giving voice to a distorted view of the Holocaust.

The museum has run into financial difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic, and has also faced controversy over its handling of politically sensitive issues regarding Russia’s and Poland’s involvement in the Holocaust.

Dayan’s appointment comes at a key time for remembrance of the Holocaust, a week after a row between Israel and Poland gained traction over a new Holocaust restitution law passed by Warsaw. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid slammed criticism of Israel by Poland’s prime minister and its Foreign Ministry, lambasting their comments as “antisemitic threats” in an ongoing back-and-forth between the countries.

Earlier this year the memorial museum said that it was “profoundly concerned” by a Polish court ruling that two prominent Holocaust researchers must apologize for disseminating claims about a man they said helped kill Jews during World War II.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Yad Vashem regularly hosted visits by students, soldiers and other tour groups, as well as the country’s annual Holocaust remembrance day ceremony. Visiting world leaders nearly always pay their respects at Yad Vashem for the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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