Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has suggested Elie Wiesel to replace Moshe Katzav as President of Israel. Katzav is being forced to resign amid charges of rape.
Wiesel’s qualifications for the job are unimpeachable. He is the icon of what Norman Finkelstein has called “The Holocaust Industry’ and as such he has served as a prop to “get the Jewish vote” by every American President since Gerald Ford. He defends Israel as “the Jewish state,” in spite of the fact that over half of the population in the lands controlled by Israel is non-Jewish, mostly Palestinian Arabs. He won’t call Ketziot or Gaza a concentration camp; he won’t call the “security barrier” a wall; and he won’t admit that Israel is an apartheid state where Jews have the hegemony and where non-Jews have lesser rights or none at all.
To Wiesel the Holocaust concerns only Jewish suffering, a culmination of 2,000 years of persecution by the goyim. Like the virgin birth, the parting of the Red Sea, and Noah’s ark, the Holocaust is mystical, unfathomable, and unquestionable. For Wiesel “Auschwitz cannot be explained nor can it be visualized…. The Holocaust transcends history…. The dead are in possession of a secret that we, the living, are neither worthy of nor capable of recovering…. The Holocaust [is] the ultimate event, the ultimate mystery, never to be comprehended or transmitted.” (Elie Wiesel, “Trivializing the Holocaust,” New York Times, 16 April 1978.)
He is a multi-millionaire, but carefully cultivates the image of a perpetually disheveled professor. Although he has won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Guardian of Zion Medal, and the Oprah Book Award, many people in Israel resent the way he has used the Holocaust to make his living. Some Israelis refer to him as a “sho’an.” The word “sho’a” is Hebrew for Holocaust; with the suffix it indicates a professional specializing in the subject. So it is both funny and derogatory, not unlike Norman Finkelstein referring to Wiesel as the “resident clown” of the Holocaust circus.
Israel Shahak, a Holocaust survivor who lived and worked in Israel, referred to Wiesel as a “patriotic liar,” a patriot not of Romania, the country of his birth, nor of the United States, but rather a patriot of “the Jewish state” of Israel. Wiesel is said to have pressured Clinton to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich and he has long advocated the release of convicted Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard. But he remains silent when Israel kidnaps Mordechai Vanunu (for whistle blowing that Israel has nuclear weapons), jails him for 18 years, and continues to confine him under virtual house arrest. The further incarceration of Vanunu, after serving a full sentence, was disturbing even to arch-Zionist Alan Dershowitz, but not to Elie Wiesel for whom Vanunu was not a hero to the anti-nuclear world, but simply a traitor to Israel.
In 1948 Wiesel worked as a journalist for the Irgun, a gang of Jewish terrorists who committed the massacre at Deir Yassin, arguably one of the most pivotal events in twentieth century Palestinian history. Yet this “world-renowned humanitarian” refuses to apologize or even acknowledge the murder, mayhem, and ethnic cleansing caused by his employer. He frequently goes to Yad Vashem, the most famous Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and from the Children’s Museum he looks across the valley to Deir Yassin. But he never acknowledges what his employer did there; as a patriot he simply “will not say bad things about Jews.”
Wiesel often quotes the great Jewish spiritual thinker and scholar, Martin Buber. But he ignores that Buber said, “The Deir Yassin affair is a black stain on the honor of the Jewish nation.” Like the ever-obedient patriot Wiesel consistently ignores the butchery committed by Jews at Deir Yassin and at Sabra and Shatilla and at Qana and in Jenin.
Wiesel pontificates, “The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference.” And it is complete indifference that he has repeatedly shown to the Zionist dispossession and dehumanization of the Palestinian people. Proclaimed a “messenger to mankind” at his 1986 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, Wiesel “swore never to be silent when human beings endure suffering and humiliation.” Does that mean that he considers Palestinians to be less than human? Perish the thought that he regards Palestinians as Untermenschen like the Nazis considered Jews and Gypsies.
Many Israelis think Wiesel should have settled in Israel after the war instead of moving to France and then to the United States where he became a citizen in 1963. He proclaims, “A Jew may be Jewish far from Jerusalem; but not without Jerusalem. Though a Jew may not live in Jerusalem, Jerusalem lives inside him.” Now at age 78 it is perhaps Wiesel’s last chance to move there and to serve his country at the same time.
DANIEL McGOWAN is a Professor Emeritus at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the current director of Deir Yassin Remembered, a group of Jews and non-Jews working to build a memorial at Deir Yassin on the west side of Jerusalem. He can be reached: email@example.com