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International furore over government attempt to oust Yad Vashem head

TJI Wrap
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International furore over government attempt to oust Yad Vashem head

Published: 5 September 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Deborah Lipstadt, US Holocaust Museum, EU antisemitism co-ordinator, 173 Holocaust scholars all fight back in support of Dani Dayan

An attempt by the Netanyahu government to remove Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan has ignited a firestorm of controversy, setting off new concerns about intervention by Israel’s government.

On Thursday, Israeli media reported that Sara Netanyahu had asked the government to intervene when Dayan invited pop singer Keren Pele, an outspoken critic of the government, to perform at the Yad Vashem Memorial Day ceremony.  Sara Netanyahu has denied the reports.

But Dayan, who was appointed by the previous government in 2021, has a longstanding  conflict with the Netanyahus and the right-wing coalition over relations with far-right parties in the Diaspora.

Although he  lives in a West Bank settlement and previously served as head of the Shomron Regional Council, Dayan represented the professional position of Yad Vashem, which opposes the "whitewashing" of parties of an antisemitic nature or those that work to deny the Holocaust.

 This insistence placed him on a collision course with the government and contributed to the desire of Netanyahu and Education Minister Yoav Kisch to replace him. Dayan has also been critical of Netanyahu’s handling of relations with North American Jewry.

Dayan has been strongly defended by key figures in Holocaust scholarship. A letter from 173 prominent Holocaust scholars and educators called on Kisch and the government to make sure that Dayan and Yad Vashem be allowed to continue Yad Vashem’s mission unhindered.

“As the members of the international community of Holocaust scholars and educators, we watch with great concern the recent attacks by the Israeli Minister of Education on Dani Dayan, the Chairman of Yad Vashem, the foremost institution of Holocaust commemoration, remembrance, and research. Mr Dayan, appointed in 2021, has served his institution with great distinction, allowing Yad Vashem to maintain and to reinforce its independent and non-partisan character.

“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. Each attempt to seek political control over Yad Vashem 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,” the letter read.

The letter was signed by esteemed scholars including Professor Yehuda Bauer, Dr Jan Grabowski, Professor Christopher Browning, Dr Samuel Kassow, and Professor Israel Bartal.

The Biden administration’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Ellen Germain, and Envoy on Antisemitism, Deborah Lipstadt, and the European Union’s coordinator on combating antisemitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, also spoke out in support of  Dayan and of Yad Vashem’s scholarship and independence.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington also put out a statement in support of Dayan. "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," it said.

Israel tries to oust Yad Vashem head under Sara Netanyahu's influence (Jerusalem Post)

Holocaust scholars call on Israel to maintain Yad Vashem's independence (Jerusalem Post)

Biden Administration defends embattled Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum chief (Haaretz)  

Yad Vashem officials warn Israel's education minister not to fire Holocaust Museum chief (Haaretz)  

U.S. Antisemitism Envoy Lipstadt praises Yad Vashem amid ousting scandal (Haaretz)  

US, EU officials concerned over alleged government bid to oust Yad Vashem chairman (Times of Israel)

U.S. Holocaust Museum comes out against Netanyahu's effort to depose Yad Vashem chief (Haaretz)  


British Jewish leaders: Israel must strengthen its democracy and escape its dangerous cycle (Jerusalem Post)
Finding a way through the current crisis is a matter of existential urgency which affects the very fabric of Israel and Jewish life.

US Jewish organisations urges community to lobby lawmakers for pro-Israel democracy resolution (Haaretz) 
While 17 leading U.S. Jewish organizations recently sent an open letter to members of Congress on the matter, the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area missive represents a new level of focused engagement on the matter.


Israel's education system is in tatters and the minister covets Yad Vashem (Haaretz)  
One can only speculate why there are those in the government who want to take control of Yad Vashem, perhaps the only state institution still left in Israel that commands respect.  

Photo: Dani Dayan at Yad Vashem (Emil Salman)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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