Amotz Asa-el, Yossi Klein Halevi, and Deborah Lipstadt, are among the chorus of those on the political left who are criticizing the apparent appointment of Effi Eitam as chairman of Yad Vashem. Asa-el wondered in a recent column “… what Yad Vashem guides will tell a visiting group . . . when one of them . . . asks ….while being shown an exhibit of Jews being shoved into trains: But isn’t that what your own chairman says Israel should do with its Arab citizens?” This is a question that can be easily answered by anyone who has had the honor of giving a tour at the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem.
A guide would begin by stating it’s a most unusual question because in all the tours he or she had given not once had anyone asked a question about our wonderful former chairman Avner Shalev and, though he was an exceptional chairman, certainly decisions had been made over the years in the museum and otherwise that angered the political right, but they never took that as an opportunity to demonize the chairman. The guide could add that it’s unfortunate that the question quotes a statement made almost fifteen years ago, in 2006, and nobody has bothered to ask Mr. Eitam what he thinks today.
However, it is also important to put Mr. Eitam’s alleged statement in its proper context. It was made at a memorial for a soldier who was killed in the Second Lebanon War when that war was either still ongoing or had just ended, so emotions were running very high. In addition, the statement was made approximately one year after Jews were once again forcibly removed from their homes. In 2005, 25 Jewish communities in Gaza and Samaria were forcibly evicted by the Israeli government and a year later many were still very upset about the evacuation.
In fact, at that time of the evacuation, some who supported the Gaza communities drew an analogy between the forced evacuation of Jews from Gaza and Samaria with what the Germans did to the Jews of Europe throughout the Holocaust. Yad Vashem, correctly, criticized those people for improperly politicizing the Holocaust by drawing an inaccurate analogy and noting those being forcibly evacuated would not be harmed and be given shelter. (For example Chilling protest at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem Post, 9/1/05)
A guide should point out to the questioners, and Mr. Asa-el, that now the converse is happening. Those who are upset that someone from the political right might become chairman at Yad Vashem are politicizing the Holocaust by drawing an inaccurate and politically expedient comparison between the forced evacuation of Jews by the Germans in World War Two, to either ghettos or directly to the gas chambers, to an isolated and misguided statement appearing to favor the forcible eviction of Arabs to Arab lands.
To conclude, I would add that just as it is wrong to politicize the Holocaust when actions are taken against Jews that anger the political right, it is wrong to politicize the Holocaust when statements are made that anger the political left.
I trust this would answer Mr. Asa-el’s question.