Although I am reluctant to weigh in on what detractors such as Max Blumenthal and Michael Lerner have written about Elie Wiesel and do not want to give their detestable writings any greater circulation, I believe that although they do not deserve a response, it is necessary to respond. These self-appointed paragons of morality criticize Wiesel, a true tzaddik, for not taking up the Palestinian cause and for not publicly expressing criticism of Israel. In other words they criticize him for not agreeing with them.
As we all know, Wiesel forced the Jewish community and a reluctant world to come to terms with the Holocaust, a subject largely ignored until he raised it. He awakened a generation to act and not remain indifferent to the efforts of another totalitarian regime to cut off from our people three million Jews as the Soviets sought to repress and extinguish Judaism behind the Iron Curtain.
His voice of conscience was firm and resolute. He was not afraid to speak truth to power, criticizing the president of the United States in the White House when receiving the highest honor our nation bestows on civilians from Ronald Reagan.
This Nobel Peace prize winner was not a pacifist, for he experienced first-hand the brutality and knew that some forms of cruelty could only be stopped and defeated by a more powerful force. He implored President Clinton to take military action and intervene on behalf of the people of Bosnia, many of whom were Muslims.
He spoke out against injustice and genocide, demanding that the world take action on behalf of victims of mass destruction. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech he deplored apartheid as being as abhorrent as anti-Semitism, saying, “There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention: victims of hunger, of racism, and political persecution, writers and poets, prisoners in so many lands governed by the Left and by the Right.”
So why did he not pick up the cause of the Palestinians?
What Blumenthal and Lerner do not consider is that perhaps the cause so dear to their hearts, was not deserving of Wiesel’s support. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Wiesel stated that Palestinian suffering should be addressed. But he also stated unequivocally that he deplored their violent tactics. As he put it, “There are the Palestinians to whose plight I am sensitive but whose methods I deplore. Violence and terrorism are not the answer. Something must be done about their suffering, and soon. “
In the shadow of the Holocaust, when one third of our people was annihilated, it should not be a surprise that Wiesel could not endorse a movement whose primary tactic is the killing of innocent Jews. How could he embrace a movement that celebrates and glorifies death. It is unrealistic to expect that he would condone a cause whose leaders practice and promulgate disturbingly virulent anti-Semitic propaganda, often using images first created by the Nazis and whose leaders deny that the Holocaust occurred.
Maybe it wasn’t so much that Wiesel ignored them or their plight, but that they ignored him. Had they truly turned away from violence or shown a genuine willingness to accept the Jewish state and live in peace with it, I am certain there would have been no greater advocate or voice on their behalf.
As he said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “Of course, since I am a Jew profoundly rooted in my peoples’ memory and tradition, my first response is to Jewish fears, Jewish needs, Jewish crises. For I belong to a traumatized generation, one that experienced the abandonment and solitude of our people. It would be unnatural for me not to make Jewish priorities my own: Israel, Soviet Jewry, Jews in Arab lands.”
He addressed the conflict with the Palestinians and said, “I trust Israel, for I have faith in the Jewish people. Let Israel be given a chance, let hatred and danger be removed from her horizons, and there will be peace in and around the Holy Land.”
Perhaps Lerner and Blumenthal feel compelled to denigrate Wiesel because they are uncomfortable with someone who could have so much love for his people and heritage. Unlike Lerner and Blumenthal because of his devotion and faith in Israel and the Jewish people he did not join the chorus of Israel’s detractors. He was the rare leader who spoke on the world stage on behalf of his fellow Jews, as well as on behalf of others. Let us hope that his voice will continue to be heard and to inspire Jews and lovers of freedom for generations to come.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt
July 12, 2016