Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
Israeli Holocaust survivors demonstrate outside the Jewish Agency building against Effi Eitam's nomination as the new chairman of Yad Vashem on November 24.

Back in June, Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center, announced he would be stepping down after 27 years in the post. Two months later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered the position to Brigadier General Effi Eitam, who used to head the Mafdal Party and was a member of Knesset from 2003-2009.

Ever since the announcement, a wave of protest from the political Left has marred the nomination, which must be approved by the government. Eitam told The Jewish Press the decision was supposed to be finalized two weeks ago, but the matter has turned into a political carnival owing to the fact that the Blue and White Party has to agree to all new government appointments as per the Gantz-Netanyahu rotation agreement.

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“All new appointments are up on the trading block – ‘this appointment for me, this appointment for you’ – like kids trading candy,” he said. When asked what lay behind the opposition, Eitam replied that he isn’t giving interviews until the issue is resolved. A spokesperson for Yad Vashem also refused to discuss the matter, saying the decision was out of its jurisdiction.

Meir Indor, chairman of the Algamor Victims of Terror Organization, says he’s organizing a group letter in support of Eitam and sending it to the Minister of Higher Education, Zeev Elkin (Likud), whose office is in charge of Yad Vashem operations.

“There is a new form of terror against Israel,” he told The Jewish Press. “It is carefully planned war of intellectual terror, led by the leftist elite in Israel and heavily funded by foreign, anti-Israel organizations. These radical liberal groups…have found their way into all segments of Israeli society and government with their tentacles reaching into the educational system and army. Their goal is to turn Israel into a liberal secular society and strip away its Jewish character.”

Indor is a reserve lieutenant colonel in the IDF. “During the [1982] war on the Syrian front,” Indor said, “while waiting for orders to move forward, Lieutenant-General Effi Eitam gave a pre-battle talk to the reserve commanders. The inspiration of his words accompanied us throughout the war.

“He told us, ‘I enlisted to serve Tzahal and Medinat Yisrael and to become a career soldier with the clear understanding that there was a price to pay that could include my life. I am a soldier of the nation. You are too.’

“We all knew that as a young officer in the Yom Kippur War, he stopped an advancing Syrian tank force with a bazooka and machine gun while rescuing wounded Israeli soldiers. He won a medal for distinguished service for this valor. There can be no question regarding his dedication to the Jewish nation.”

The strapping ex-soldier has a formidable physical appearance and walks with a look of determination. On the personal level, he is surprisingly gentle and soft-spoken. I once spent a Shabbat with him and his family at their home in the community of Nov on the Golan Heights. His library of history books was expansive, as was his knowledge of Torah.

I asked Indor what the arguments against Eitam’s nomination were. He replied:

“One is the absurd charge by Daniel Blatman, a professor of history at Hebrew University, that Eitam has no understanding of the Holocaust and thus lacks the ability to lead and promote the institution created to preserve its memory. The fact is that his grandparents were murdered in their home in Latvia, and his mother served as a nurse in the Red Army for four years in the fight against the Nazis.

“Another empty charge is the old libel that Eitam is a fascist racist opposed to the Arabs in Israel and thus disqualified to represent an institution that emphasizes the importance of morality, tolerance, and peace.”

I asked Indor if he had spoken to Eitam and, if he had, how Eitam has been reacting to the brouhaha. He told me:

“The last thing you could accuse him of is being a crybaby and a complainer. Like many veteran combat soldiers, he has a stoic approach to life’s trials and challenges. This isn’t his first run in with the leftists and their witch hunts. At the height of his military career, Eitam was a secular kibbutznik from Ein Gev on the eastern shore of the Kinneret. People predicted that he was heading to become a future IDF Chief of Staff.

“When he unexpectedly became a baal teshuvah, the media attacked him mercilessly. One wrote that she couldn’t stand to look at ‘the large beard and big purple kippah of the Givati division commander.’ He was falsely accused of commanding his soldiers to beat an innocent Palestinian to death, a slander that has resurfaced again…. From then on, his way up the military ladder was blocked.

“The same tactics are being used now to delegitimize his appointment as head of Yad Vashem. Yair Lapid opposed the nomination, citing Eitam’s ‘radical statements,’ even though his father, Tommy Lapid, when he held the same position, would speak out freely against charedim and Arabs. The Anti-Defamation League in America also joined the chorus against Eitam, citing his ‘problematic moral record.’”

In the letter to Elkin, Indor writes: “The appointment of the Yad Vashen director is not the personal battle of Brigidier General Effi Eitam, but a national issue. Behind the efforts to sabotage the nomination lies the wish to de-Judaize the Holocaust and transform it into just one of many international cases of genocide. All efforts of this sort to distort history and erase the horror perpetrated against the Jews must be uprooted.

“The attempts to deny the anti-Jewish root of the Holocaust, and to transform it into a type of ‘universal malfunction’ that could be perpetrated by any country, including Israel, against its enemies needs to be derailed before it gains international momentum….

“Precisely a man who has fought bravely for our country, and who values the unique character and heritage of the Jewish people – traits epitomized by Effi Eitam – is the right man for the job.”

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Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.