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Yad Vashem cutting ties with US fundraising partner

The American Society for Yad Vashem has accused the Holocaust memorial's chairman Dani Dayan of attempting to "raid" an endowment built for the museum's perpetual support.

First lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska with Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan (at right) at the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, June 20, 2023. Credit: Yad Vashem.
First lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska with Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan (at right) at the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, June 20, 2023. Credit: Yad Vashem.

In a dramatic turn of events, Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, said on Wednesday that it is terminating its longstanding relationship with its U.S. fundraising arm, amid a financial dispute that is the subject of an Israeli government investigation.

The decision to cut ties with the American Society for Yad Vashem, which was established over four decades ago in order to assist with funding for Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Center and is its largest donor arm after the Israeli government, was taken at the end of July and made public just days after a wave of unsourced Israeli media reports suggested that the government was trying to replace Yad Vashem’s chairman Dani Dayan for political reasons.  

“Over the years, the American Society for Yad Vashem has deposited many of the donations collected on behalf of Yad Vashem into an accumulated fund it refers to as an ‘endowment’ fund. Due to the generosity of American donors to Yad Vashem, the accumulated funds have in recent years reached amounts exceeding $80 million, but the American Society for Yad Vashem has been forwarding only $1 million annually from this fund,” said Yad Vashem in a written statement.

“Yad Vashem has taken this change, after lengthy consideration and deliberation, even pre-dating Dani Dayan’s chairmanship, precisely out of commitment to the legacy and intentions of the Yad Vashem supporters and friends worldwide. Their dream was to build on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital, an institution that would forever shine forth to the entire world with the full accurate truth of the Shoah, reverence for its heroic martyrs, and hope for the future of the Jewish people and all of humanity.”

The statement, which also offers full backing for Dayan from the organization’s directorate, adds that Yad Vashem has carefully reviewed all its international partnership agreements and has decided to assume direct responsibility for “all activities” worldwide directly from Jerusalem.

American Society for Yad Vashem blasts Dayan

The American Society for Yad Vashem, which was founded by Holocaust survivors in 1981 and is now led by their families, accused Dayan of orchestrating a “misinformation campaign” against it.

“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,” the American Society for Yad Vashem said in a press release issued in New York.

“ASYV has repeatedly expressed concerns to Dayan about his failure to respect ASYV’s independent 501(c)(3) status, disdain for its legal requirements, disregard for well-established practices, failure to understand US donor expectations and overall lack of transparency and collaboration.”

In their response, the heads of the American branch said that some of the donations were put into an endowment fund based on an agreement reached between the United States and Israel offices a decade and a half ago.

“The ASYV endowment was created and funded in accordance with longstanding written agreements between ASYV and Yad Vashem,” said Mark Moskowitz, co-chair of the American Society for Yad Vashem, in a statement sent to JNS. “The ASYV Endowment is professionally invested and intentionally designed to provide perpetual support for Yad Vashem, independent of the changing priorities of any given management team.” He noted that the ASYV endowment was funded entirely by donations specifically designated for that purpose or from testamentary bequests—not by ordinary day-to-day donations to ASYV, adding that it would be “illegal” for them to transfer the entire corpus of the endowment.

Murky media leaks

The bitter dispute—which comes amid a financial austerity plan at the state-backed and internationally renowned Jerusalem Holocaust Center—coincides with a recent government investigation at Yad Vashem, which mushroomed following widely-reported media leaks in the Hebrew media against the prime minister and his wife, Sara. The affair also drew an official U.S. government statement against “political” intervention at the Jerusalem Holocaust Center with the aim of ousting Dayan.  

One widely publicized report, which the premier and his wife have blasted as “fake news,” asserted that the investigation stemmed from Sara Netanyahu’s pique over the participation in a Holocaust Remembrance ceremony of a popular Israeli singer who had previously taken part in anti-government demonstrations.

U.S. government officials, as well as officials at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, subsequently spoke out in favor of Dayan, suggesting that the government was using “political” moves to remove him. The latest disclosures regarding the unprecedented turmoil at the august institution raise new questions about the source of the unsubstantiated media leaks.

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