Elie Wiesel’s Ignoble Recruits
Is there nothing that is safe from debasement by the propaganda machine of the U.S. and Israel? A full-page ad in the Sunday NYT of February 7 provides the answer. Sponsored by Elie Wiesel’s modestly named “The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity,” and signed by 44 Nobel Laureates, 35 of them in the physical sciences, it urges brutal and lethal actions against Iran.
Before getting to the cruel prescriptions, which Wiesel and his recruits offer for Iran, let us consider their reasoning such as it is. In a single brief topic sentence they assert their central claim that the Iranian government “whose irresponsible and senseless nuclear ambitions threaten the entire world continues to wage a shameless war against its own people.” Two charges are fired off in this brief sentence, and it is all too easy to conflate them. So let us take them one at a time, as is the habit in science when one wishes for clarification.
The first charge deals with Iran’s nuclear “ambitions,” but the ad does not say what these ambitions are. And then it asserts without evidence that such “ambitions” threaten “the entire world.” This is certainly a very grave charge, and some scintilla of evidence should be offered for it. But none is provided, not one word, not even a footnote or reference in this spacious advert. Yes, such allegations are made repeatedly and vehemently by government figures in Tel Aviv and Washington and by many segments of the US and Israeli press. But what is the evidence for these allegations? Many of them turn out to be false as exemplified by a recent AP story, which was pulled after being exposed on Antiwar.com by Jason Ditz. Many of the same voices which now warn that Iran is a nuclear threat “to the entire world” assured us not long ago that Saddam Hussein was connected to Al Qaeda and that he had weapons of mass destruction, both of which turned out to be shameless lies. And is it not strange that Russia and China, so proximate to Iran, are not obsessed, as is the U.S. about this threat to “the entire world”? The signatories of the ad ought not to make such intemperate and incendiary assertions without at least a reference to unimpeachable evidence. No such reference is provided. Is this the proper standard of thought and reason, which a Nobel in the physical sciences implies?
The second claim wrapped up in the topic sentence is that the Iranian government is engaging in a “shameless war on its own people.” This too is quite a striking charge, going far beyond the usual charge that the recent Iranian elections were rigged which in fact does not appear to be the case. In what does this “shameless war” consist. Certainly there are human rights abuses and striking ones in Iran, just as there are in many countries who are US allies, but that does not amount to a government’s “war on its own people.” The U.S. and Israel make charges against Iran almost daily, and so Iran is certain to be demonized in our elite press which so often functions as stenographer for the government. The same media treatment was given Iraq so very recently, and it is amazing that this fact did not deter the signatories from the intemperate statements in this ad. Earlier under the presidency of Bush I we were treated to stories of infants being pulled from incubators and discarded on hospital floors in Kuwait by Iraqi troops during the run up to the US attack on Iraq in the first Gulf War. These charges uttered by Bush I himself were lies, concocted by a P.R. firm, as we later learned.
Given that there are human rights abuses in Iran, although we do not know their extent, two questions arise. Who are we to criticize Iran when our own government has been abducting, secretly detaining and torturing people all over the planet? Historically, the CIA overthrew the duly elected Iranian government of Mossadegh in the 1950s and installed the Shah whose brutality was legendary and who was eventually ousted in 1979. Today the CIA is still engaging in “extraordinary renditions” under Obama as it did under Bush and probably before. And Israel is equally guilty of crimes against humanity with the Apartheid order it is imposing in the occupied territories, as Jimmy Carter demonstrated in his recent book, this being the most egregious of human rights violations since it is based on ethnicity.
Now let us turn to the vicious prescriptions called for by Wiesel and his recruits. They first call for “harsher sanctions,” without any mention of restrictions on such sanctions. We already know that sanctions as practiced by the U.S. are a recipe for massive death and destruction. We know what the years of sanctions did to Iraq under the presidencies of Clinton and Bush II. When Madeleine Albright was informed in a notorious TV interview that 500,000 Iraqi children had died due to those sanctions, she did not deny it but replied “This is a very hard choice, but … we think the price is worth it.” Do the signers of this ad agree with Albright’s assessment in the case of Iraq and now Iran? Sanctions are far from harmless and they fall hardest on the helpless and rarely on the powerful. In 2000 Christian Aid stated:
“The immediate consequence of eight years of sanctions has been a dramatic fall in living standards, the collapse of the infrastructure, and a serious decline in the availability of public services. The longer-term damage to the fabric of society has yet to be assessed but economic disruption has already led to heightened levels of crime, corruption and violence. Competition for increasingly scarce resources has allowed the Iraqi state to use clan and sectarian rivalries to maintain its control, further fragmenting Iraqi society.”
And yet Wiesel’s recruits call for sanctions almost casually. They would do well to read Brian Cloughey’s essay on “The Evil of Sanctions,” and the sources to which he refers.
But Wiesel’s recruits do not stop there. They go on to call for “concrete measures” to protect the “new nation of dissidents in Iran.” But these concrete measures are not spelled out. What could they be? There are only two that appear on the lips of those who are demonizing Iran these days in Tel Aviv and Washington: “sanctions” and “war.” This ad will certainly be used by those who wish to attack Iran, as Israel has threatened. Do the signers understand this? Since they are intelligent men and women, they must. Are they then calling for war?
In signing onto Wiesel’s statement, the Laureates have put themselves in very questionable company. Although he claims to speak out for “human rights,” Wiesel is very selective in the cases he chooses. He has not and will not criticize Israel and its Apartheid policies, and in fact attacks those who do. In an interview with Haaretz wherein Wiesel announced his ad campaign, he “blasted Judge Richard Goldstone, saying his report on the Israeli offensive in Gaza was "a crime against the Jewish people." Goldstone’s report is in fact quite mild, but it makes clear that the crimes of Israel against the Palestinians of Gaza are atrocities much like those in Sabra and Shatilla years ago. Do Wiesel’s recruits know that his view of human rights is quite selective?
One cannot know the motives that drove Wiesel’s recruits to sign such a thoughtless and cruel document. Certainly the document reflects the wave of propaganda on Iran to which we are all subjected. But that is no excuse. These are after all intelligent men and women and should see through such propaganda, given our recent and historical experience. Certainly this writer holds many of these signers in great regard, and one can only hope that their signatures were obtained without time to examine the matter properly. In this case a retraction is in order. Finally, one cannot help but wonder whether Wiesel’s recruits felt that signing on to such a statement would be fine now that Obama is in charge and he is a man they can trust. If so, this is another sign of the gift to the Empire that is Obama.
In the end Wiesel’s signers, Nobel Laureates though they may be, are of small stature next to those giants of science, humanitarians as well as thinkers, who were unafraid to take on authority in their work and in their role as citizens. Einstein and Galileo and many others must be tossing in their tombs over Weisel’s handiwork.
John V. Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.