The World Union joins together with the Israel Reform Movement (IMPJ), the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ, North America), and ARZENU-the International Federation of Reform Zionist Movements, to express our opposition to the plan to appoint former Minister and MK Brigadier General (retired) Efi Eitam to the position of Chairperson of the Executive of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. The appointment would go against the values of this institution, its important role in Israel and the world, and would be contrary to the central message at the heart of Holocaust memory and research into the worst disaster in the history of the Jewish people.
There is no question that Mr. Efi Eitam has an impressive record as a soldier and officer who among other achievements received the medal of valor during the Yom Kippur war, and took part as a commander in the Entebbe Rescue Mission. Additionally, we are aware of his public activities on many fronts, and the fact that a significant segment of the Israeli public chose him to represent them in Israel’s parliament and government. That said, Mr. Eitam has not demonstrated any prior professional expertise in relation to the Holocaust, and preserving the memory of the Holocaust.
However, far more troubling is his reputation for publicly taking anti-democratic and inhumane positions during both his military career, and his years as a minister. These included calling for purposeful attacks against civilian populations during war, support for the expulsion of Palestinians from Judea and Samaria, and delegitimization of the Arab Israeli population’s right to equality and representation. Some of his statements were defined by the Israel Attorney General as incitement to racism.
The memory of the Holocaust is fundamental in shaping the character and values of Israeli society and Jewish identity in recent generations and for the foreseeable future. This memory must stand as a permanent beacon, warning of the significant danger of anti-Semitism, hate for the Jewish people, and of “the self-evident right of the Jewish people to be a nation, as all other nations, in its own sovereign state” (Israel’s Declaration of Independence). No less important, this memory also plays a critical role in promoting universal values such as the sanctity of life, equality, protection of human rights and with that the obligation to stand against expressions of racism, xenophobia, cruelty, and injuring the innocent.
The life record of the Chairperson of Yad Vashem must reflect in actions and statements all of these central values and embody them in leadership of the institution. Mr. Eitam’s actions and public statements prove he is not capable of meeting those responsibilities. Appointing him to this key position will diminish the standing of Yad Vashem, which is of crucial importance to Israel, World Jewry, and all humanity.
Therefore, together with organizations, communities and many leaders who have expressed their view on this subject, we request that the Prime Minister withdraw from his intention to appoint Mr. Eitam to the position of Chairperson of Yad Vashem. We call on the Prime Minister to appoint instead, a person whose record and character reflects the message and lessons of Holocaust remembrance. Doing this will prevent significant public disgrace, and ensure that the institution which carries the memory of the Holocaust and heroism, will continue to reflect the words of the Prophet Isaiah from whose prophecy came its name:
“…and I bestowed upon you in my home and land a hand and a name (Yad Vashem)… and my home will be a sanctuary for all people” (Isaiah 56:5)
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President – Union for Reform Judaism
Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman, Chair of the Board – Union for Reform Judaism
Carole Sterling, Chair of the Board – World Union for Progressive Judaism
Rabbi Sergio Bergman, President – World Union for Progressive Judaism
Dekel Houmash, Executive Director – ARZENU-International Federation of Reform Zionist Movements
Rabbi Lea Mühlstein, Chair – ARZENU-International Federation of Reform Zionist Movements
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, President and CEO – Israel Movement for Reform Judaism
Yair Lootsteen Adv., Chair of the Board – Israel Movement for Reform Judaism