Remembering the Holocaust and its legacy is crucial for Israel and the world. Fittingly, Israel gives the education about the Holocaust high priority. However, often the way we treat the Holocaust is detrimental to this precious memory, to preventing anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
This attitude fixates us in a state of trauma, rather than opening us up to learning which may help prevent repetition of history. The appointment of Brigadier General Efi Eitam as chairman of Yad Vashem highlights this view and must be clarified. For the sake of full disclosure, he was one of my instructors in the IDF Company Commanders Course.
The conventional ethos in Israel is to ignore the universal lessons of the Holocaust: the dangers of nationalism, violation of minority rights and hostile treatment of others.
Appointing Efi Eitam plays to the core of this approach: the belief in Jewish supremacy, the view that the Arabs should not be here and if so, only as simple laborers. He was not chosen only because he is a former senior army officer.
Efi Eitam represents a minority of the senior commanders of the IDF, Mossad and Shaback, who believe the only lesson from the Holocaust is that they are ordained to protect Israel, while ignoring the universal lessons.
Crucial as it is, making the Holocaust and its lessons accessible to the young generation of Israel and the world demand a new paradigm. The viewpoint that the Holocaust belongs only to us, ignoring genocide suffered by other peoples and treating anti-Semitism as if it were a different category than xenophobia and racism in general, makes learning from the Holocaust inaccessible. In the words of the 2003 Holocaust Survivors Manifesto: "The Holocaust belongs to the universal heritage of all people of culture.”
Acting upon this manifesto demands appropriate leadership for Yad Vashem. To fulfill its important humanist educational role requires a leader with humanist values, one who has compassion for the weak and downtrodden, even if they are not Jewish, who is empathetic to the suffering of others, a leader who can form international alliances with international elements facing similar challenges.
Efi Eitam’s appointment as Chairman constitutes repetition of the paradigm where the State of Israel aligns with populist racist elements around the world, whose viewpoint is precisely what led to anti-Semitism and the perception of white supremacy. These same elements now see Israel as an ally since Muslim immigrants or other minorities concern them more than Jews.
Yad Vashem should recognize as "Righteous Among the Nations", also those who saved non-Jewish victims of genocide. The world should recognize and pay them tribute for their opposition to hatred and evil, their courage to act, to save humanity. Yad Vashem should join with other organizations that deal with other genocides - Armenian, Rwanda and elsewhere in the world. Only then will we be able to engage millions of young people who cannot fathom why we are trying to create a monopoly on suffering and victimization.
Israel must understand that Jewish racism is detrimental to the memory of the Holocaust. Precisely because we were once victims of this crime, it is our responsibility to set an example. Israel should be of model of tolerance, an educator promoting minority rights, shunning racism, and hatred. Efi Eitam’s appointment to the position of Yad Vashem Chairperson conveys exactly the opposite message.
Nadav Tamir, a former diplomat, is Ambassador to Israel of The Gariwo Organization established by Gabriele Nissim to combat hatred and evil by highlighting the role of people who saved lives and showed personal and public courage.