Recently, we were reminded of the tragic history of the 20th century and the re-emergence of the State of Israel from the embers of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and the voice of the unconquerable human spirit, died.
Wiesel summed up his mission, and what should be the driving creed of American Foreign Policy, in 1986 when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize: “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” On the cornerstone of the Holocaust Museum here in Washington are his words — “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
Wiesel defended Soviet Jews, Cambodian refugees, the Kurds, and the victims of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. He was Israel’s most vocal supporter, although he was criticized by the left for his friendship with and support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When Mr. Netanyahu spoke to Congress last year, denouncing President Obama’s appeasement of the Iranian mullahs, Wiesel was the guest of honor.
Elie Wiesel’s passing comes at a time when the specter of anti-Semitism is gaining new life across the globe and sadly within the United States. On many campuses, including some in my state, we have seen the advancement of the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” Movement — an orchestrated campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel, shun Jewish academics, boycott Jewish goods, and disrupt Jewish commerce.
Israeli flags and books are burned on campuses in the United States and Western Europe, recalling the words of the German Jewish poet Heine who warned that “where one first burns books, one then burns people”.
We have seen this all before and we know where it can lead.
Formally launched a decade ago, BDS advocates divestment by companies with holdings in Israel, and boycotts by academics and artists. In May 2013, Cambridge Physicist Stephen Hawking pulled out of a conference hosted by then Israeli President Shimon Peres. Strangely, Professor Hawking has been all too happy to pay visits to Iran and China and praise the tyrants who rule those countries.
Musicians Elvis Costello and Annie Lennox have refused to perform in Israel. It now makes news when a performer shows up in Israel. Two years ago, Sir Elton John courageously stood up to the mob and proudly shouted from an Israeli stage, “Shalom! We are so happy to be back here! Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop us from comin’, baby!”
Our own Department of Education has awarded millions of dollars to so called Middle East Studies National Resource Centers (NRC) on 16 college campuses. According to published reports, fully half of the directors of these federally funded centers have called for support of the BDS movement and six signed a letter calling for a boycott of Israeli universities and scholars. The open promotion of anti-Israeli boycotts by academic officers is a direct violation of Title VI of the Higher Education Opportunity Act and is an open assault on fundamental rights to freedom of association and expression.
BDS is not a typical act of political correctness, undertaken by radical academics whose usual prey is the youth of America. This is a worldwide movement designed to destroy the one democracy in the Middle East and the hopes of people who have occupied that land for over three thousand years.
Indeed if the BDS Movement was isolated to a few tenured college outliers, that would be easy enough to handle. Unfortunately it is not. Iran has pledged to wipe Israel off the map. It has tipped its missiles with the warning “Death to Israel” written on the cones in Hebrew. Hamas and Hezbollah shower missiles upon Israeli schools and villages. If Israel did not exist, the United Nations would go out of business. Last year the General Assembly adopted 25 resolutions against particular countries—twenty two were aimed at Israel — the others at Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria and Kim Jong-un’s prison state in North Korea. All of this for the 153rd largest country in the world, a place that is 1/400th the size of the United States.
Enough is enough. We can’t remain silent. As Elie Wiesel said, “we must bear witness”. The Obama Administration must end its indifference. It must cut off and defund those organizations that promote the hate that fuels anti-Semitism. Standing up for Israel at home validates those fundamental principles of freedom enshrined in our Constitution.
I will close with the words of John F. Kennedy:
Israel was not created in order to disappear — Israel will Endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and the sword of freedom.
Thom Tillis is a Republican U.S. senator from North Carolina.