Israeli military hero to head Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial

Eitam described himself as a “unifier” and consensus builder, and said his full record would be fairly reviewed.

By World Israel News Staff and AP

Israel plans to nominate a former general and cabinet minister to head the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, officials said Tuesday.

Effie Eitam, 68, became famous during the Yom Kippur War when as a platoon leader he fought with his sergeant to stop Syrian tanks from penetrating the Golan Heights’ Nafah base. For his heroism, Eitam received Israel’s Medal of Distinguished Service. He rose to the rank of brigadier general.

Eitam, a former leader of the National Religious Party, is also a staunch advocate of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. In 2004, he quit the government in protest of the disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip, which involved the forced relocation of some 8,000 Jews in 2005.

Eitam lives in the Golan Heights, which Israel won from Syria in the 1967 war. The U.S. under the Trump administration recently recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the region.

Higher Education Minister Zeev Elkin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, selected Eitam for the post, Israel’s Haaretz daily reported. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the appointment, which has not been made public, said Netanyahu supports his candidacy.

In an interview, Eitam said Netanyahu offered him the job two months ago but said he has heard nothing since then. He indicated he would be interested in the post if the appointment becomes official. A parliamentary committee would have to give final approval.

Eitam described himself as a “unifier” and consensus builder, and said his full record would be fairly reviewed.

“Those people who will have to make the decision, no doubt they will consider all the aspects of the nomination and they will come to a decision,” he said.

Eitam would replace Avner Shalev, 81, who announced his retirement earlier this year after leading Yad Vashem for 27 years. A spokesman for Yad Vashem declined to comment.

Visiting world leaders nearly always pay their respects at Yad Vashem for the 6 million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during the Second World War.

Some have criticized the choice of Eitam given statements he is said to have made about Arabs.

Colette Avital, a former Israeli diplomat and lawmaker who heads the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel and sits on the far-left of the Israeli political spectrum, expressed concern over Eitam’s nomination.

“Yad Vashem is really the embodiment of an institution that speaks on behalf of minorities,” she said. “It’s really very difficult to accept statements like the ones he made.”

“There are enough people, whether it’s BDS or whether it’s people that deny the Holocaust and so on, who will say ‘Look, the guy, how can he speak on behalf of Holocaust survivors when this is what he says about the Arabs?’” she said, referring to the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Avital’s statements will seem as ironic to some as she has signed a letter calling for Ireland to pass a BDS bill boycotting companies based in Judea and Samaria.

Eitam’s appointment may help Netanyahu domestically as he goes on trial for corruption and seeks to solidify his right-wing base, but it could worsen the divide between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, particularly Jewish Americans, who tend to be more liberal.