IDF general hits back at critics over his nomination to head Yad Vashem

Former IDF general says he never advocated the transfer of Palestinians from Judea and Samaria, only ‘decisive’ victory over terrorists.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Effie Eitam hit back for the first time Sunday at those who disapprove of the government appointing him to head the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

In an interview with Kan 11’s Kalman Liebskind, he denied that the move was merely politically motivated, to help the Likud get the support of the right-wing, national-religious community.

Eitam played a leadership role in the 2000s in the National Religious Party and National Union Party, and served as a minister in several capacities. He is also known for having resigned Ariel Sharon’s government in protest of the plan to expel the Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip in 2005.

“My connection to the Shoah [Holocaust] is deep and alive,” said Eitam, whose mother’s family was murdered in the Holocaust. “It’s the way I grew up and raised children, grandchildren and soldiers,” he said.

Some 160 academics and Holocaust historians have joined a few American Jewish organizations, left-wing Israeli politicians, and some Holocaust survivors in condemning the pick. They say that Eitam’s past statements advocating a strong hand against Palestinian terrorists, and his belief that the Arabs who sit in the Knesset are a fifth column, reflect a worldview that is unacceptable and would hurt Yad Vashem’s standing.

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“His long-known views [show that] he is not worthy to head an institution that is supposed to educate, among other things, towards tolerance, openness, universal values, memories of sacrifice,” said Prof. Daniel Baltman, who was interviewed separately on Channel 11.

Baltman, who signed a petition against the appointment, added that “Someone who speaks about the superiority of the Jewish people” and “advocates transfer” of the Arab population is not a worthy candidate.

Eitam specifically addressed the issue of transferring Palestinians out of Judea and Samaria to other Arab countries in his interview.

“I have always opposed any talk of a transfer,” he said. “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 an arena of terror, we should fight with all our might, and decisively.”

“Expelling the Arabs of Judea and Samaria is not a goal – it’s a consequence” of such a scenario, he said.

Eitam, who won Israel’s Medal of Distinguished Service for his actions in stopping the Syrian attack on the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War and ultimately commanded a division in South Lebanon, was also unapologetic about his views regarding Arab MKs.

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While he believes that most Arab citizens want to integrate into Israeli society, and that they should have “full rights,” he gave the example of five Arab parliamentarians who illegally met President Bashar Assad in Syria in 2006 as “a situation that no democracy can abide.”

Minister of Higher Education Ze’ev Elkin, who nominated Eitam, defended his pick after the appointment was approved by the appropriate governmental committee last month.

“Effie Eitam is a statesmanlike figure with a lot of management experience as a former IDF general and government minister,” he said. “Yad Vashem is facing financial collapse because of the coronavirus crisis and anyone for whom the institution is beloved should wish to see a new chairman appointed as quickly as possible to prepare a new budget for it.”

Eitam’s appointment now awaits formal Cabinet approval. Blue and White head Benny Gantz has expressed his opposition to the nomination.