US Holocaust Museum, scholars slam ‘political’ motives to replace Yad Vashem head

Israeli government faces backlash over reported plans to replace chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum.

By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, dozens of Holocaust scholars, and others have come to the defense of Dani Dayan, the chairman of Yad Vashem, following reports saying the Israeli government wants to replace him as head of the country’s widely visited Holocaust memorial and education center for political reasons.

“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,” the US Holocaust Memorial Museum said in a statement. “This work needs many respected global partners such as Yad Vashem and the vital leadership of Dani Dayan.”

According to Israeli media reports from last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government want to replace Dayan, who was appointed to his post in 2021. Sources at Yad Vashem told the Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu is unhappy with Dayan’s boycott of far right politicians and thinks he’s “too independent.” Dayan, the former Israeli consul-general to New York, has also been critical of Netanyahu in the past.

Israeli media said that Israel’s Education Minister Yoav Kish is contemplating removing Dayan for allegedly mismanaging the Holocaust museum and following allegations of mistreatment of employees. Kish further criticized Dayan over the appointment of three of Yad Vashem’s board members and reportedly wants to replace Dayan with a political ally, former Knesset member for the ruling Likud Party Keren Barak.

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Some Israeli reports suggest that the government truly wants to oust Dayan because he opposes Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform. Dayan also invited singer Keren Peles, who performed at protests against the judicial overhaul, to Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Remembrance Day event.

An open letter penned by 123 Holocaust scholars that was published on Sunday slammed the criticism directed at Dayan. It said that Dayan “has served the institution with great distinction, allowing Yad Vashem to maintain and reinforce its independent and non-partisan character,” according to reports.

“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 scholars wrote. They added that Yad Vashem’s independence from the Israeli government “is more crucial than ever,” especially “when the memory of the Holocaust finds itself under increased pressure, [and] when various institutions and governments become involved in Holocaust distortion and denial.”

Ellen Germain, the special envoy for Holocaust issues at the US State Department, addressed the criticism on Saturday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. She tweeted that the US “values the crucial work of @YadVashem & its director’s leadership as we work together on Holocaust education, remembrance, & research. Maintaining the independence of such institutions around the world is key as we face efforts to distort/deny the facts of the Holocaust.”

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Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, wrote on Sunday that she has “long valued the work of institutions like Yad Vashem,” and that the Israeli museum’s “painstaking and invaluable research on the Shoah is in no small part due to its professionalism and independence.”

Dr. Yizhar Hess, vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization, said that Yad Vashem should not be “desecrated for political gain or on personal whims,” and that Netanyahu’s government “has no respect for any institution.”

“The damage caused by the capricious attempt to remove Yad Vashem’s chairman is already clear,” he added. “Holocaust researchers from around the world, leaders of Diaspora communities, and even the US State Department — they all look at this government with astonishment. The government is trying to eliminate the anchor that still exists in the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.”

Hess added: “Yad Vashem, in many ways, belongs to the entire Jewish people and its politicization endangers one of the few places where the sense of solidarity between Israel and Jews in the Diaspora remains strong. Only an irresponsible government would endanger this.”