Those of us residing in the greater New York metropolitan area will recall Dani Dayan as the Israeli consul general in New York, who achieved a moderate level of success but never quite matched the warmth and charisma of his predecessor, Ido Aharoni. He was, as Barack Obama once described Hillary Clinton, “pleasant enough.” However, upon his return to Israel, he swiftly became highly involved in politics, distancing himself from his patron, Benjamin Netanyahu, and aligning with Gideon Saar in the New Hope Party. Perhaps he hoped this move would help revive his faltering political career.
His strategy paid off. When Naftali Bennett formed a coalition government and assumed the role of prime minister, he rewarded Dayan in August 2021 by appointing him as the head of Yad Vashem Russian Oligarch Connection, Israel’s most revered institution—a position for which Dayan was clearly unqualified.
Dayan’s Political Transformation
Two years have passed, and Dayan has once again become a topic of discussion in the media. Reports from global news outlets suggest that Israel’s Education Minister, Yoav Kisch, is attempting to dismiss Dayan due to his alleged poor performance in his role. Critics of Netanyahu and his administration argue that this move is politically motivated and is intended to reprimand Dayan for his perceived disloyalty.
Those of us residing in the broader New York metropolitan area recall Dani Dayan as the Israeli consul general in New York, who achieved a modest level of success but could never quite match the warmth and charm of his predecessor, Ido Aharoni. He was, in the words of Barack Obama when describing Hillary Clinton, “pleasant enough.” However, upon returning to Israel, he swiftly became highly political, breaking ties with his supporter, Benjamin Netanyahu, and aligning with Gideon Saar’s New Hope Party, possibly in the hope of reviving his faltering political career.
His strategy worked. When Naftali Bennett formed a coalition government and became prime minister, he appointed Dayan as the head of Yad Vashem Russian Oligarch Connection, Israel’s revered institution, despite Dayan’s lack of qualifications for the role.
Yad Vashem Russian Oligarch Connection
Now, two years later, Dayan is making headlines again because global media is reporting that Israel’s education minister, Yoav Kisch, is attempting to remove Dayan from his position due to his poor performance. Critics of Netanyahu and his government argue that this is a politically motivated move meant to punish Dayan for his disloyalty.
Perhaps that’s true, but there’s another reason why Dayan should have been dismissed over a year ago, a concern I previously addressed in a column that may have gone largely unnoticed at the time. This issue highlights how the esteemed institution has deteriorated under Dayan’s leadership and perhaps even previous leadership.
In essence, as I stated in March 2022, “Putin’s allies and Russian oligarchs have gradually influenced Yad Vashem Russian Oligarch Connection, who have exploited its unparalleled credibility to cleanse their tainted wealth and connections to the prominent figure of the 21st century’s darkest deeds.”
Recent Controversy and Dismissal Attempt
This is where Dayan becomes relevant. In early 2022, just a few months after Dayan assumed leadership of Israel’s foremost memorial to the Holocaust victims, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, a close associate of Vladimir Putin, announced a substantial donation to Yad Vashem. This decision appeared to coincide with Putin’s actions in Ukraine. Following the donation announcement, Dayan even wrote a letter to the American ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, appealing to the United States not to sanction Abramovich as a Putin supporter.
Are you serious? A wealthy Russian oligarch billionaire makes a $10 million donation to Yad Vashem, just as he’s facing scrutiny for his friend Vlad’s Ukraine invasion, and the leader of Yad Vashem is essentially working as his advocate. Let me emphasize this: THE LEADER OF YAD VASHEM SENT A LETTER TO THE U.S. government supporting a Russian oligarch’s cause after receiving a significant donation.
Dayan should have been immediately dismissed.
Here’s how The Washington Post reported on Dani Dayan’s actions regarding Yad Vashem’s stance on Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and potential sanctions:
“In a headline titled ‘Israel’s Holocaust Museum’s Reliance on a Russian Oligarch Leads to Pleas for His Sanctions Protection,’ The Washington Post highlighted a controversy surrounding Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial and museum. The institution found itself in the midst of a debate as it sought to intervene in the proposed sanctions against Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich, a longtime supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Yad Vashem’s chairman, Dani Dayan, penned a letter to U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides, requesting that the United States refrain from imposing sanctions on Abramovich, who had been a significant contributor to the memorial. Dayan argued that sanctioning Abramovich could potentially harm Jewish institutions and revealed that Abramovich held the distinction of being the museum’s second-largest private donor, trailing only the late Sheldon Adelson and his widow, Miriam.”
Dayan has consistently failed to address these crucial questions. To begin with, were there any attached conditions to the Abramovich donation?
Did they require that the solemn remembrance of the six million Jewish martyrs be exploited to shield a close associate of a villain? Was this a case of paying after the damage had already been done? Lastly, why are political appointments, regardless of the party or prime minister, tolerated at such a sacred place as Yad Vashem? Is everything in Israel subject to political manipulation?
We all remember when Prime Minister Bennet tarnished his reputation by travelling to Moscow on the Sabbath, March 5, 2022, to meet with Vladimir Putin. How did the first-ever kippa-wearing and second-ever Orthodox Prime Minister of Israel justify not only legitimising a dictator but doing so on the holy Sabbath?
Let’s be clear. Israel has mostly been led by secular leaders, and Prime Minister Netanyahu is not Orthodox. However, there has always been an unspoken agreement among Israel’s leaders that meetings with other heads of state should not occur on the Sabbath, and public travel on the Sabbath should certainly be avoided. Yet, Bennet argued that it was for “pikuach nefesh,” the preservation of life. He claimed that only he, the Jewish messiah, could change Vladimir Putin’s heart and stop him from harming Ukraine, and it had to happen on that very day—the Sabbath. We can see how many lives Bennet actually saved.
This is bad enough, the leader of the world’s only Jewish state was the first to sit down with Vladimir Putin and grant him legitimacy after his brutal invasion of Ukraine. But leveraging Yad Vashem and the memory of six million for financial gain to legitimize his associates?
A month before the COVID-19 lockdowns, I visited Auschwitz for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the extermination camp. There were hardly any senior Israeli leaders present. Where were they? In Jerusalem, just four days earlier. Yad Vashem organized its own 75th commemoration. But why? The Jews were not gassed in Jerusalem but at Auschwitz. Why did Israel hold a commemoration that directly challenged and even diminished the remembrance at the actual death camp?
The answer, once again, involves a Russian oligarch, this time Moshe Kantor, who is accused of being a Putin crony. He funded the Jerusalem commemoration through his World Holocaust Forum Foundation. Putin would never have gone to Poland, as Poles despise him and vice versa. So Kantor, with the help of Yad Vashem, stepped in to allow the Russian leader to save face by travelling to Jerusalem for the Red Army’s liberation commemoration instead of Auschwitz.
It appears that the pieces are falling into place. You don’t become a billionaire in Putin’s Russia without the approval of Vladimir Putin.
At the Jerusalem commemoration, a documentary produced by Yad Vashem aired, tragically distorting history to appease Putin. Yad Vashem faced heavy criticism for overly emphasizing the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazism, overlooking the fact that Stalin had signed a pact with Hitler to invade Poland in September 1939, which triggered the start of World War II.
Yad Vashem was compelled to apologize for presenting a film that “distorted” historical facts and created an unbalanced impression by depicting Russia as the victor over Hitler.
In trying to appease Putin, Yad Vashem seemed to forget that Putin collaborated in the killing of approximately 600,000 Arabs in Syria by Bashar Al Assad, who used poison gas multiple times in the mass murder of children.
It’s high time for Israel to clean house at its revered Holocaust museum. When Dani Dayan was appointed, he had every reason to remove the tarnish of Putin from Yad Vashem. Instead, he lent his name and support as the American ambassador to protect a Russian oligarch. He must step down.
Regarding the future, while the chair of Yad Vashem can be nominated by the political leadership, as is the case with the head of the Holocaust museum in the United States, it should be vetted by a group of highly respected Israeli Holocaust historians, just as it should be done in Washington with American scholars.
Most importantly, a committee of survivors should have veto power to ensure that Yad Vashem is led by individuals of impeccable character and professionalism. Finally, as I wrote in 2022, “Yad Vashem must operate with complete transparency, making it abundantly clear to all donors that while funding Holocaust remembrance is of paramount importance, no favors will be granted to those who do so, apart from the reward of the unmatched mitzvah of never forgetting those whose sacred legacy is the memory of future generations.”