Sorry Mr. Wiesel, I Take It Back

In 1975 I wrote an op-ed in my college newspaper on the U.N.’s declaration that Zionism is tantamount to racism. At a synagogue event, my mother handed a copy of that essay to Elie Wiesel. Several weeks later he mailed it back to her with a handwritten note. The essay was titled “I Am a Racist.”

Dear Alden,
This is excellent. I missed you last Friday and Shabbat.
Elie Wiesel

Many years have passed. The core message is still powerful, still resonates, is still correct. Today, however, I’m embarrassed by the title. I’m appalled and saddened by the opening and closing paragraphs. Here’s what I wrote.

I Am a Racist

I never thought that I would see the day that I would be proud to be a racist. The day has come. I never wanted it. I never conceived it possible. Yet I am a racist. I am a Zionist.

The U.N., the organization which sponsored Zionism, which voted Israel into existence, has called Zionism racism. It would be ridiculous for the U.N. to take Israel’s statehood from her. The Israelis are there. That is obvious. Instead the U.N. has said that the basis for Israel’s existence is racism. Thus an ironic sort of rationale for the destruction of Israel unfolds. After all, who would mourn the destruction of a racist state? And we see the countries that would destroy Israel emerge (72 nations voted for the resolution) as well as those that would sit back and watch such a destruction (32 nations abstained or were absent). This is the preamble to Israel’s destruction.

But the U.N. resolution is not merely a cut at Israel’s existence. For 2,000 years after the second exile from Israel, the Jews have turned in the direction of Israel and have prayed that she be rebuilt. For 2,000 years, Jews have said that they would see their tongues cleave to their palates and their right arms wither before they would forget Jerusalem. Zionism is inherent in Judaism. And, as the U.N. has said, Zionism is racism. Any anti-Semite could see that all Jews are racists. So an anti-Semite is transformed from the racist to the one opposing racism. Thus the anti-Semite has been given a rationale for his anti-Semitism.

There is yet another effect of the resolution. In the past few years, there has been a growing movement of non-Jewish Zionists. The resolution is a stab at such a movement. The would-be non-Jewish Zionist and the would-be Jewish Zionist, for that matter, have been given a cause to reject Zionism without a second thought.

What scares me the most is the unwillingness of Jews to accept the severity of the situation. I would think by now, after Auschwitz, we would have learned not to underestimate such events.

The Jew, the eternal underdog, the champion of underdogs, is now a racist. I am a Jew. I wear the title proudly. As a Jew, I have been called many things. It is an easy thing for me to add racist to the list. And if I must wear that [title] merely because I am a Jew, I will wear it proudly. But let me say this: I will not be a racist just because the world would have me be one. The title I will carry, but I will not act out the role. And one more thing: my people have waited 2,000 years to return to Israel. We will not leave. We are home. How good it sounds! And even though the U.N. would have us destroyed, we are home to stay.

Here’s the part that saddens me: I once believed that no Jew could ever hate another human being. I once believed that no Jew would ever strike out against another person in anger or rage. I once believed that no Jew could ever become racist. Some Jews are, indeed, playing the part. With hatred and with violence. They do not represent Zionism. They are simply thugs.

Here’s the part that appalls me: what once seemed so obvious—that a Jew saying “I am a racist” would be such a blatant contradiction to reality that no one could possibly believe it—is no longer true. There are racists among us. If I declare that I am a racist, there’s reason to believe it. I am not a racist. I take it back.

Here’s what I stand by today: there is nothing inherently racist about Zionism. Period. I will not debate it. The U.N. remains remarkably anti-Semitic and its proclamations on Israel and Zionism would be laughable if they weren’t dangerous.

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but we will defend our homeland and you can call me any damn name you want. I still won’t act the part.

Today, I cannot speak for anyone else.

Note From E. Wiesel

About the Author
Alden Solovy is the Liturgist-in-Residence at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. A liturgist, poet, and educator, his teaching spans from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem to Limmud UK and synagogues throughout North America. He's the author of “This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day” and has written more than 750 pieces of new liturgy. His new book, "This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings," was published in 2019. He made aliyah in 2012. Read his work at