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Yad Vashem museum looks to drop American charity that provides 30% of its budget

An American charity that provides Israel’s Yad Vashem museum with about a third of its budget said it may disaffiliate — a move the museum appears to welcome — following disagreements with museum chairman Dani Dayan.

The American Society for Yad Vashem commented in a statement on Tuesday on a long-simmering dispute, accusing Dayan of trying to “raid” the society’s finances. The charity’s statement on this subject, which could mean a stop to most of its funding for the museum, follows separate reports last week of an alleged plan by Prime Minister Benjamin to replace Dayan, who was appointed as head of Yad Vashem by former prime minister Naftali Bennett.

The statement by the American Society for Yad Vashem, whose annual contributions of about $15 million make it the state museum’s second-largest funder after the Israeli government, follows moves by Yad Vashem to disaffiliate from the charity and claim its endowment of about $80 million.

Yad Vashem’s 2022 budget totaled about $48 million, 42% of which came (Hebrew URL) from the government.

“Since his appointment two years ago, Dayan has upended a productive 43-year partnership, attempting to raid an endowment built for the perpetual support of Yad Vashem and trample on the legal, fiduciary, and other responsibilities of the organization,” read the statement by the society, which was established in 1981 to support the museum financially and otherwise.

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“Assuming Yad Vashem does not reverse course, we would sadly be forced to pursue an orderly disaffiliation process,” read a letter sent on Sunday to Dayan by the society’s co-chairs, Adina Burian and Mark Moskowitz. Also undersigned on the letter is the society’s entire board, which includes major Jewish philanthropists Mark Wilf, chairman of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel, and his brother Leonard, as well as David Halpern and Caroline Massel.

Incoming chairman of the Jewish Agency board of governors, Mark Wilf, left, shakes hands with incoming chairman of the Jewish Agency’s executive, Doron Almog, after they both were elected on July 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Jewish Agency)

Moskowitz said that Dayan’s actions are causing the disaffiliation, calling it “a grave mistake that we fear would harm a venerated institution that is the epicenter of Holocaust education and remembrance.” Moskowitz added: “Now is the time for strengthening bridges and not dismantling them.”

Disaffiliation effectively would end the work of the charity, people who are familiar with its activities told The Times of Israel, as it would complicate its fundraising activities both practically and legally.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the main Holocaust memorial day ceremony held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, April 17, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Queried by The Times of Israel, a spokesperson for Yad Vashem confirmed that a decision to disaffiliate is being pursued. As part of its “efficiency plans and efforts to improve its global impact,” the museum “has carefully reviewed its international partnership agreements and has subsequently decided to assume direct responsibility for all activities worldwide directly from Jerusalem,” the spokesperson wrote.

This shift, the spokesperson said, “aims to maximize Yad Vashem’s global mission and further its goals to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and its lessons for future generations.” Yad Vashem expresses “deep gratitude for the efforts and support provided by the American Society for Yad Vashem,” the spokesperson added.

In a letter dated August 29, Yad Vashem CEO Tzvika Fayirizen told the society that its endowment “should now be transferred to Yad Vashem” as per “donor intent in mind, and given our disaffiliation.”

The society has declined to hand over such funds, citing legal constraints.

President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and others at a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, on Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 18, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

“Without getting into exact figures, the data as presented by the leadership of the American Society for Yad Vashem is not precise and is misleading,” the Yad Vashem spokesperson added, but declined to elaborate.

Fayirizen also wrote in his letter that “the American Society for Yad Vashem shall not use a name that contains the trademark ‘YAD VASHEM’ as of January 1, 2024.”

Dayan, 67, took over in 2021 from Avner Shalev, who had served as chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate since 1993. The appointment of Dayan, a former leader of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and the Israeli ex-consul general to New York, followed reports that Netanyahu had been favoring appointing Effi Eitam, a former general and outspoken political hawk, for the job.

Deborah Lipstadt, nominated to be the US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, with the rank of ambassador, speaks during her Senate Foreign Relations nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Last week, uncorroborated reports that Netanyahu is seeking to replace Dayan prompted an unusual response by American and EU officials who expressed faith in Dayan, and implied they oppose his replacement.

Deborah Lipstadt, the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that “Yad Vashem’s painstaking and invaluable research on the Shoah is in no small part due to its professionalism and independence.” US Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Ellen German also backed Dayan, writing: “The US values the crucial work of Yad Vashem and its director’s leadership,” adding: “Maintaining the independence of such institutions around the world is key as we face efforts to distort/deny the facts of the Holocaust.”