Editorial: Effi Eitam Must Not Head Yad Vashem

Nov. 25, 2020

The inestimable Avner Shalev has headed Yad Vashem, the world’s foremost Holocaust museum and memorial, since 1993. Shalev oversaw great changes at the renowned institution in Jerusalem, including growth, strong fundraising, and great advances in digital research. He took an already well-reputed venue and buffed it to an even higher gloss. Now 81, Shalev is retiring.

Nominated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to replace him is a notorious former Israel Defense Forces general, Effi Eitam. Usually, such a high-level appointment is carefully considered. After all, Yad Vashem is the collective memory to the world of the Six Million Jewish victims of the Shoah. It stands as a clarion call against evil and represents the epitome of human rights and dignity. Surely, the chairperson of such a vitally important institution would adhere to and represent the values of Yad Vashem.

But dozens of Holocaust survivors, Jewish ethicists, academics and others have called on Netanyahu to drop Eitam. To date, the prime minister has remained unmoved.

Who is Effi Eitam? Why is he the most unjustifiable person to lead Yad Vashem? You don’t have to look far.

In 1988, then Commander Eitam was in charge of the Givati Brigade, which had captured an alleged Palestinian terrorist. On Eitam’s orders, brigade members murdered the handcuffed, unarmed prisoner, Ayyad Aqel. The soldiers were court martialed and Eitam received a severe reprimand recommending he never be promoted.

But he did move up the ranks and ended his career as a brigadier general.

It was then on to politics. He served in the right-wing National Religious Party, where he held various portfolios. During this time, and even before entering the political arena, he advocated for the ethnic cleansing of the entire Arab population of what he termed Judea and Samaria. In fact, Eitam has called Arab Israelis, who are citizens of Israel, an “elusive threat” that “by their nature resemble cancer,” an illness “in which most of the people…die because they were diagnosed too late.”

Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Social and Diaspora Affairs, tells this story of Eitam in a Times of Israel piece unsubtly headlined, “Effi Eitam is a deplorable choice to head Yad Vashem”:

“I heard Effi Eitam give a drasha at Fifth Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan shortly after 9/11. He explained to the audience that what happened that day was God’s way to return to the world arena and stir the world to a religious war. I was at that service along with the late Elie Wiesel, who was in utter shock that a Jew was able to utter such assertions.”

Today, we live in a world where Holocaust denial, antisemitism and hate have made giant leaps forward. Appointing Eitam to head the most auspicious example of Jewish dignity, a museum which speaks to the evil of racism, genocide and hate, is reprehensible.

All Jews of good conscience must speak out boldly and clearly in rejecting Eitam, who has blood on his hands and bigotry in his heart, to head Yad Vashem.

Not Yet Hanukkah: A Story of Miracles

By BERNIE FARBER

November is Holocaust Education Month, a time we tell stories of survival. My father, the sole Jewish survivor of his small Polish village, used to say that it took 1,000 miracles to survive the Shoah because 999 were simply not enough.

The following is not only the story of 1,000 miracles, but at its conclusion we will understand what the circle of life is really all about.

In 1939, when Samuel Pisar was 10 years old, both the Nazi and Soviet armies invaded his native Poland. Interestingly, Samuel came from Bialystok, 50 kilometers from my father’s village of Bothki. When Adolf Hitler broke the Nazi/Soviet pact in 1941, Samuel was captured along with thousands of other Jews. He was young and strong and survived incarcerations at Majdanek, Auschwitz and other camps whose only purpose was to murder Jews.

His final camp, Dachau, became the concluding volume in this first chapter of his life. It was the spring of 1945. Young Samuel was out on a Nazi slave labour detail as Allied forces approached. Nazi SS guards gathered the work detail and marched them away from the advancing Americans. They marched for three days with little water or food. Many succumbed. Still young, Samuel stayed alive.

It was on the third day when a number of Allied fighter planes spotted both the Nazis and their slave labour detail. Thinking it was a column of Nazi soldiers, the planes’ pilots descended sharply and strafed the area. Taking advantage of the ensuing confusion, a number of prisoners made a break for the forest. The bombing and Nazi bullets mowed most of them down but young Samuel used up one of his thousand miracles and made it to the safety of the embracing forest.

Starving, emaciated, Samuel hid in an abandoned hayloft. A few mornings later, he was awakened by the sound of a rumbling motor. Cautiously looking out from his hiding place, sure that he would see the dreaded swastika, he saw instead an American insignia.

Washed over with relief, he stumbled from the hayloft in tears of joy. The hatch of the tank popped open and emerging was Corporal Bill Ellington, the son of a former slave and member of the storied 761st Tank Battalion, known for being comprised primarily of African-Americans. They were the original “Black Panthers.”

The son of a former slave and the young survivor of the Nazi death camps held each other while Samuel cried the only words he knew in English, “God Bless America.”

He was just 16, the sole Jewish survivor of his family in Poland when he emerged into what would become the second volume of his life.

Miracles followed Samuel. He was raised by the remnants of his French and Australian family, graduated from the University of Melbourne, and later earned doctorates of law from Harvard and the Sorbonne.

His rise was rapid. He worked for the United Nations and UNESCO and was appointed a special advisor to President John F. Kennedy. He counseled the State Department and worked as legal adviser to both the House of Representatives and Senate. He was one of the youngest, most respected government advisers – so much so that in 1961, through a special act of Congress, Pisar was awarded U.S. citizenship.

His legacy continued. He counselled governments and world- renowned personalities from pianist Arthur Rubenstein to tech whiz Steve Jobs. His passion became human rights and he took up the causes of the novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

He became a trustee of the Brookings Institute, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has addressed international conferences and world leaders at Davos, the International Monetary Fund and the European Parliament.

Samuel was twice married upon his death in July 2015 and left two daughters, one from his first marriage, Leah and Norma, from his second wife, Judith.

Here’s the promised kicker: Samuel also left a step-son from his marriage to Judith: Antony Blinken who, on Nov. 23, was nominated to become U.S. Secretary of State in the administration of President-in-Waiting Joe Biden.

Samuel Pisar was a man of many miracles, maybe even 1,000. May his memory continue to be a blessing.


Bernie Farber
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is publisher and co-founder of the Canadian Jewish Record, Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a writer and human rights advocate. 

You Can Respond to Hate with Hate or Convert it to a Teaching Moment. We Chose the Latter.

Green Party Leadership Candidate Annamie Paul, and her sons, speak on the racism and antisemitism they face

July 27, 2020 – By ANNAMIE PAUL

One of the most significant moments of my life was the day I converted to Judaism. I spent my childhood growing up with Jewish friends, and my mother had always encouraged her children to find their own spiritual path. When my partner, who is Jewish, and I met in law school and decided to get married, I knew that I wanted to live a Jewish life and to raise a Jewish family. I converted over 20 years ago while studying for my Masters at Princeton University. The late Rabbi Jim Diamond – may his memory be a blessing – director of the campus Hillel and a fellow Canadian, supervised my conversion.

As a Black woman, I realized that converting would expose me to further discrimination. The history of my partner’s family – survivors of the Shoah – is a daily reminder of this fact. Nevertheless, the universal humanistic values of Judaism spoke to me and I was ready to take this step.

It has been a joy raising two Jewish sons and watching them celebrate their bar mitzvahs. My husband and I have told them of the solidarity between Black and Jewish communities during the civil rights movement and the allyship based on a common experience of persecution. It is never easy to sit your children down to explain why they will be targets of hate simply for being who they are. Nevertheless, it was our duty prepare them and to never let it weaken their pride.

Black and Jewish peoples need to decide early: Will racism and antisemitism embitter us, or will we work for positive change? I have encouraged my sons to opt for positive change and to model that to them in daily life. We are willing to educate any person who is open, even slightly, to understanding. However, where the heart and mind are closed, I want my kids to refuse to stay silent and to actively resist.

Last week, these principles were put to the test. As a candidate for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada, I was participating in a virtual regional debate. Not long into introductions, the word “N*IGGER” popped up, as did the phrase “f*cking jew.” I cannot know for certain whether these were intended for me – another candidate was named in the Jewish comment – but as I am the only Jew and the only Black candidate in the race, I naturally felt targeted. In any case, it was an unexpected shock. The perpetrators were removed, a reminder of the Green Party Code of Conduct was given, and the debate proceeded.

While this was the first occurrence in an online event, I have been subjected to months of antisemitic attacks. The moment it became known that I was Jewish, I was bombarded with questions about my positions on Israel, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, and the proposed annexation of West Bank territories. Despite having posted public statements on these matters, questions persist. My loyalty to Canada has also been called into question, and I have been accused of taking bribes from Israel, leading a Zionist take-over of the Green Party of Canada and of spreading hasbarah.

My children were watching the debate when the hate speech happened. You are never fully prepared to receive to see such worry in your sons’ eyes. As a family, we faced a choice: Respond to hate with hate, or convert it to a teaching moment. We chose the latter.

My sons helped me craft a tweet that we hoped would draw attention to the hateful incident and provoke a public discussion about racism and antisemitism. The post has been viewed more than 164,000 times and there has been an outpouring of solidarity.

There are clearly many people unwilling to allow hate to go unchallenged. These voices, when combined, can help to change minds and to drown out racism and antisemitism. The Green Party of Canada (GPC) is working to identify the perpetrators and has made it clear that if members were involved, they will be expelled. There is no place for such people in our party. The GPC will need to go further and actively root out discriminatory views, as well as monitor social media more proactively.

Winning the leadership of the Green Party of Canada would send a powerful message to those seeking to spread hate that their time is up. As the first Jewish woman to lead a national party, I would be a strong voice for education on antisemitism where possible, and resistance when necessary – values that I have passed onto my sons, whose voices follow.

Jonas Daniel, age 16:

Last week was the first time I had seen the words “f*cking jew.” The comment named another candidate, but it hit home. Every day, I see my Mom fight for a better future for me and all people in Canada. Whether or not you agree with her politics, you must respect her passion to fight for what she believes is right.

Were she to win, she would be the first Black person and first Jewish woman to lead a major federal party in Canada. That’s important to note, too, because it seems like the more my mother leads, the more resentful people become of her identities. 


Malachai Daniel, age 20:

I grew up embracing the Jewish values of generosity, kindness, and respect for others. I have always felt grateful to have been born into a community that has done so much for the betterment of our world. Since day one, I was taught to carry my Jewish identity not as a burden but as a gift.

Despite my upbringing, no amount of preparation readies you for the scale of the antisemitism we have experienced since my mother entered politics. Daily dog whistles and claims of dual loyalty are taxing our wellbeing. Somehow, being Jewish trumps all my mother is doing to help others and gives some people free rein to question her loyalties based on her religion.

I do my best to shield her, as she did for me growing up, but keeping the antisemitism at bay has proved impossible. This has been an awakening for me. There is so much work to be done, and it is why I wholeheartedly believe we need to break the silence.


Annamie Paul is a leadership candidate for the Green Party of Canada.