It was made public in recent weeks that Yad Vashem has put plans in motion to disaffiliate its center in Jerusalem from its American fundraising and education counterpart, the American Society for Yad Vashem (ASYV).
The goal of disaffiliation appears to center around finances and its chairman, Dani Dayan, seeking to acquire full control of the $85 million endowment created by Yad Vashem’s American partner. In recent weeks and months, repeated attempts on the part of ASYV to collaborate on education programs and policy decisions unrelated to finance were not acknowledged by Yad Vashem’s leadership, ASYV members told The Jewish Link.
After Yad Vashem was chartered by the Israeli government in 1953 as its official memorial to the Holocaust, ASYV was established 28 years later in 1981 by Holocaust survivors who had immigrated to America and sought to design a charitable organization that could create perpetual support for the memorial as a global entity. ASYV today is managed by a volunteer board of directors, many of whom are the children and grandchildren of those who initially established the nonprofit 501(c)(3). Its endowment is managed by Goldman Sachs and is intended to generate funds for Yad Vashem annually, in perpetuity.
Yad Vashem’s stated intent to disaffiliate from ASYV, which was made public by the Israeli press over the last several weeks and broke into the U.S. press late last week, has created deep concern from ASYV’s board members, who believe that decades of successful collaboration is being dishonored. “Since its inception 43 years ago, our volunteer-led organization has funded nearly $300 million in direct support to Yad Vashem—more than $75 million over the past five years alone—[and] played a leading role in building the Yad Vashem museum and campus, educated diverse audiences throughout the United States and built a thriving and growing young leadership to ensure continuity into the next generation,” wrote Adina Burian and Mark Moskowitz, co-chairs of ASYV, in a letter to their entire donor list that was co-signed by their executive committee. The ASYV board reads like a who’s who of American Jewish philanthropy, filled with names like Wilf, Adelson, Halpern, Zeidman and Rubenstein.
“The ASYV was farsighted in establishing a second, third, and even fourth generation of loyal partners to fulfill Yad Vashem’s Holocaust remembrance mission in the areas of documentation, research, commemoration and education. It was with great sadness and pain that I heard about the unilateral decision by Dani Dayan to disaffiliate from ASYV with its special partnership with Yad Vashem, which was established more than 40 years ago,” wrote Shaya Ben Yehuda, who managed international relations for Yad Vashem for the 22 years before Dayan became chairman.
In addition to fundraising, ASYV created multiple targeted Holocaust education traveling exhibitions, programs, workshops, seminars and conferences, including the Barbara Gutfreund Arfa Professional Development Conference on Holocaust Education, an event scheduled annually.
Much of the concern from the American side appears to be Yad Vashem’s effort to acquire full control over the endowment for use in the near term, though that would violate U.S. legal requirements. ASYV is similarly worried about what they referred to as Dayan’s “planned abandonment” of Holocaust education in the United States, particularly at a time of rising antisemitism and Holocaust distortion. The move for the dissolution of the ASYV also includes Yad Vashem seeking to control all of its advocacy societies in other countries, though the American society is the only one with significant financial assets. In fact, ASYV is Yad Vashem’s largest donor after the Israeli government, providing at least 25% of its annual budget.
Yad Vashem, for its part, claims it has well-founded reasons for disaffiliation. While a direct interview request to Dayan was not granted, Yad Vashem provided the following statement to The Jewish Link: “We continue to be deeply grateful for the efforts and support provided by our friends and supporters worldwide including from the American Society for Yad Vashem. It is important to note that there is one Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, located in Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital.
“As such Yad Vashem, has carefully reviewed its international partnership agreements and has subsequently decided to assume responsibility for its activities worldwide from Jerusalem. This shift, as decided by the Yad Vashem Directorate, is part of Yad Vashem’s overall renewal plan in order to improve efficiency and global impact as well as to ensure that it will 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. Even as the relationship evolves, Yad Vashem continues to appreciate the contributions and dedication of its American supporters towards our important mission as we begin to face new challenges to Holocaust remembrance in a generation without survivors.
“It remains our hope and intention to implement this decision with consideration and respect for our longtime partners and associates in the U.S,” concluded the Yad Vashem statement.
The U.S. endowment, now valued at approximately $85 million, is on the small side for “American-friends-of”-style organizations for Israel. For example, the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science’s endowment stands at approximately $567 million, and American Friends of Hebrew University’s endowment stands at around $649 million. However, since being appointed chairman of Yad Vashem in August 2021, Dayan’s pattern of communication with ASYV and others allegedly indicates increasing financial demands and disregard for process. On the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine last summer, for example, Dayan signed a letter to the U.S. government advocating clemency from sanctions on behalf of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovitch. When it came to light that he did so only after receiving a significant pledge of funds from Abramovich, Yad Vashem became enmeshed in the scandal and Dayan had to forgo the pledged funds.
Dayan claims that he inherited a significant financial challenge at Yad Vashem. “From the moment I assumed leadership at Yad Vashem, I was confronted with the stark reality of its financial predicament,” wrote Dayan in a letter to the ASYV on August 14, 2023. “The gravity of this situation cannot be overstated; insolvency of Yad Vashem was imminent; it was nothing short of an organizational ‘earthquake.’ Faced with this daunting challenge my immediate objective was to instill a renewed sense of stability within the institution.”
But ASYV asserts that Dayan’s claims of a financial crisis were manufactured to make unsubstantiated demands for increased government funding and to raid the ASYV endowment. Representatives of ASYV note that, although Dayan’s numbers didn’t seem to add up, as a “sign of good faith” they granted the full amount of Dayan’s “emergency” request of funds, the only time Dayan actually made such a request.
“Since the day Dani assumed the chairmanship of the Yad Vashem directorate, we have been troubled by his repeated and significant exercises of bad judgment, disregard of past written agreements, disdain for legal requirements, lack of transparency and manipulation of Yad Vashem’s decision making process,” wrote ASYV in a letter co-signed by all of the members of its executive committee, dated September 3, 2023.
“While we have done everything in our power over the last two years to try and resolve our issues directly, and privately, our dispute with Dani Dayan has now regrettably been drawn into the public domain. Mr. Dayan has unfortunately commenced a PR campaign that is severely damaging to Yad Vashem, and we are now making efforts to correct press reports that have been both inaccurate and misleading,” wrote the co-chairs Burian and Moskowitz.
Various news articles have erroneously reported lower disbursements of funds from ASYV’s endowment to Yad Vashem, including that Yad Vashem only receives $1 million from ASYV annually. In fact, ASVP has sent $200 million to Yad Vashem over the past 15 years: $300 million since its inception.
According to board members, ASYV sends all funds collected (net of expenses) to Yad Vashem in Israel, other than funds deposited into its endowment in accordance with written agreements between the two organizations. With respect to the endowment, as required by those agreements, ASYV disburses interest and dividend income annually to Yad Vashem. In fact, over the past four years, grants from the ASYV endowment to Yad Vashem in Israel have averaged $2.1 million each year and ASYV had approved increasing that amount to 4.5% of the fund’s fair market value annually.. The $1 million figure cited by Dayan, which was widely quoted in the Israeli press as well as several English-language articles, reflects an average amount solely from the endowment, over the 15 years that the endowment was being built. The endowment itself was funded entirely from specific donor designations or bequests, with 50% of each bequest being divided equally between Yad Vashem’s endowment in Israel and ASYV’s American endowment. Israel’s Yad Vashem endowment is currently valued at more than $100 million.
A professionally managed endowment provides a source of consistent, stable revenue for an organization. As noted, the ASYV endowment was created and funded in accordance with long-standing agreements between ASYV and Yad Vashem. “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,” said Moskowitz, ASYV’s co-chair. “Endowment support to Yad Vashem comes from investment earnings, while the corpus of the endowment is preserved for perpetual income generation. Endowments such as these are smart and standard sources of long-term charitable support and many ‘American Friends of’ organizations are similarly proud of their endowments.”
ASYV has a four-star rating on Charity Navigator, the highest level awarded by the national organization that evaluates nonprofits for donors. This number reflects ASYV’s efficiency, transparency and good governance. Despite having only 15 paid employees, ASYV has been successful at growing Holocaust education and commemoration throughout the United States, developing a thriving young leadership, and building a robust endowment for the perpetual support of Yad Vashem.
What Will Happen
As of now, with Dayan’s disaffiliation maneuvers, by January 2024 ASYV will have to shut down its current operations, cease fundraising, and will no longer be able to provide Holocaust education in Yad Vashem’s name. However, Yad Vashem cannot control ASYV’s endowment nor does ASYV plan to dissolve it.
“If Dayan’s decision to disaffiliate Yad Vashem from ASYV is not reversed, ASYV will be forced to discontinue all of its fundraising and educational efforts on behalf of the institution we love,” Moskowitz, ASYV’s co-chair, told The Jewish Link. “Dayan will have single-handedly destroyed four decades of partnership and collaboration. But despite Dayan’s demands, ASYV will still continue to professionally manage its endowment for the perpetual support of Yad Vashem, consistent with good governance and best practices. Dayan will not successfully bully ASYV leadership into abandoning its responsibilities to its donors and to Yad Vashem.”
“There is no excuse for the recent actions by the current chairman of Yad Vashem, which have eroded decades of achievements and will cause severe harm to Yad Vashem,” said Leonard Wilf, an ASYV executive board member and its immediate past chairman.