Wiesel: ‘If I Lie About Thee, O Jerusalem’ – OpEd


The more Elie Wiesel attempts to insert himself into the political discourse on behalf of the Netanyahu government and its intransigent positions vis a vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the more irrelevant he has become.

The Israeli Independence Day ad he and his financial sponsors bought in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and New York Times is the result of an urgent summons Wiesel received from Bibi after the latter’s first failed visit to Washington.  Bibi invited the Nobel laureate to his home and asked that he intercede on Israel’s behalf with the American president.  Wiesel agreed.  This ad is the result.  I’m estimating that the all told the ads would’ve cost close to $500,000.


Given that Elie Wiesel recently agreed to address the Christians United for Israel national conference in return for a $500,000 gift, we have to wonder what favors Wiesel can expect from the Israeli prime minister.  Certainly, at the very least either the Israeli government or one of its wealthy American supporters like Ronald Lauder has paid for the ads.  If anyone sees any documentation of the financial source please let me know.

Wiesel’s text is chock full of Zionist nostalgia, falsehood and distortion.  Let us begin:

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture—and not a single time in the Koran.

If Jerusalem is above politics as Wiesel claims, then why does he find it necessary to get in a dig at Muslims who allegedly have no Koranic claim to Jerusalem?  What is indecent of Wiesel is to claim that he is above politics or religious disputation when the ad is embroiled in the very things he claims to eschew.

There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem.

There are many moving Jewish prayers–the Hineni, El Maley Rachamim, Eyleh Ezkerah, U’Netaneh Tokef–to name but a few.  Certainly Wiesel has a right to claim that the prayer calling for our return to Jerusalem is moving.  But “no more moving prayer in Jewish history?”  This smacks of grandstanding and exploiting Judaism for political gain.

In the following passage we see Wiesel the master propagandist.  Any political movement would give its eye teeth to have him on its side:

It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and its joy are part of our collective memory.

What has Wiesel forgotten here?  That Jerusalem doesn’t “belong” to the Jewish people any more than it belongs to Christians or Muslims whose history here is just as deep.  As for Jerusalem binding one Jew to another, this is pure bravado.  For many (though not all) observant Jews, perhaps this is the case.  But the majority of Jews are not observant.  So really, Wiesel is speaking mainly for himself and a minority of observant Jerusalem-centric Jews, yet he articulates his statement as if it’s self-evident that he speaks for us all.  It’s quite brilliant, but ultimately empty rhetoric.

As for the pap about Jerusalem being a “homecoming,” there are Christians and Muslims who feel precisely the same way about the city.  Yet, Wiesel conveniently ignores their feelings.  Ultimately, the truth of the matter is that no one, aside from some Jews, will care for a vision of Jerusalem that is exclusively Jewish-dominated.  The only way Jerusalem can resonate in world consciousness is as a home (including sovereignty) for all religions who are invested here.  So once again, Wiesel’s vision is sterile and convinces no one aside from those who already are convinced.

In this passage, we once again see Wiesel’s fraudulent Zionist historiography:

…Had Jordan not joined Egypt and Syria in the war against Israel, the old city of Jerusalem would still be Arab.  Clearly, while Jews were ready to die for Jerusalem they would not kill for Jerusalem.

Wiesel of course has no way of knowing what would’ve happened if Jordan hadn’t attacked Israel in 1967.  But at any event it did, and arguing that because Jordan forced us, in his terms, to die for Jerusalem means we’re not now killing for it is preposterous.  The plain fact of of the matter is that Israel is killing not for specifically Jerusalem, but to enforce the Occupation of which Jerusalem is a part.

The plain fact of the matter is that Israel will have to give up its claim to sovereignty over all of Jerusalem if it wants a peace agreement.  Further, Wiesel’s argument that Israel must not be forced to renounce this claim will lead to more dead, both Palestinian and Israeli.  This Holocaust survivor’s God wants him to fight till the last Jew on behalf of some manufactured nostalgic Zionist vision of Jerusalem.  My God wants Jews, whether in Israel or the Diaspora, to live safe, secure and prosperous lives.  He (or She) doesn’t demand that a single Jew die on behalf of fantasies and delusions.  My God says Jews, Christians and Muslims can share Jerusalem, not under some ersatz Israeli-defined regime, but as part of a political settlement that offers sovereignty to Israelis and Palestinians over their own respective neighborhoods.

Today, for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines.

While I am not a historian, neither is Wiesel, and I’d be willing to wager that the claim there has never been a historical period before this one, when all religions could worship freely in the city, is false.  But even more importantly, Muslims cannot now worship freely at their shrines because, unless they live in Jerusalem, they are forbidden from entering Jerusalem to worship.  And during tense periods, Israeli authorities only permit elderly men to worship at the Muslim holy places for fear of younger worshippers fomenting unrest.  Even if you live in Jerusalem, you may still be prevented from such worship.

Perhaps the most blatantly false and noxious claim is this one:

…Contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.

First, Muslims are not allowed to build new homes anywhere in the city, even in their own neighborhoods as they cannot obtain building permits.  Second, even if we redefine Wiesel’s claim as buying homes, Muslims cannot buy in West Jerusalem (while Jews can build their own–and/ot steal Arab–homes in East Jerusalem).  Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, professor at the Hebrew University and, unlike Wiesel, a resident of Jerusalem, rebuts the latter’s mendacity:

I defy Mr. Wiesel to find three Muslim families in all of West Jerusalem.

And Yossi Sarid, writing in Haaretz replies thus:

Someone has deceived you, my dear friend. Not only may an Arab not build “anywhere,” but he may thank his god if he is not evicted from his home and thrown out onto the street with his family and property.

Wiesel, who one of my readers noted comes from a rightist Beitar political background, closes with a final bit of Judeocentric obtuseness:

Jerusalem must remain the world’s Jewish spiritual capital, not a symbol of anguish and bitterness, but a symbol of trust and hope.

A shared Jerusalem in no way prevents Jerusalem from remaining the world’s Jewish spiritual capital.  But the former Jabotinskyite argues falsely only an exclusive Jewish claim of sovereignty over the entire city guarantees it remaining so.  Further, Wiesel completely ignores the fact that such an exclusivist claim to Jerusalem actually makes the city into a symbol of anguish and bitterness for its Arab inhabitants (and not just them, virtually the entire Muslim world as well).  This is yet another reason that for this city to become a beacon of trust and hope it MUST be shared.

If you like Elie Wiesel, you might try to excuse this ad as an enterprise foisted on Wiesel and thereby attempt to absolve him of responsibility for the blatant propagandizing.  But if you don’t have any special feeling for him you’d be hard-pressed not to accuse him of willful and deliberate lying on behalf of a blatant Likudist political agenda.  If he was Israeli I could even forgive him that because he would be speaking as an Israeli citizen.

But he’s not.  He’s speaking as an American Jew and disputing the claims of Barack Obama to have Israel’s best interest at heart.  In a sly way, he’s trying to jawbone the administration into giving Bibi a pass on Jerusalem.  This is a pass that not only doesn’t he deserve, but given the recent bad blood between Israel and the U.S., one he’s not likely to get.  So why would the Nobel laureate be sticking his nose into such matters when no one except the Israeli rightist prime ministers and his moneyed American Jewish friends have asked him to?  I think I’ve just answered my own question.

Let’s sit back and see who writes some very big checks to Wiesel’s foundation in the coming weeks and months.

Finally, before trusting Elie Wiesel’s judgment on a subject as important as this one we should remind ourselves that the latter attempted to explain his trust in Bernie Madoff thus:

“We thought he was God, we trusted everything in his hands.”

If this Holocaust survivor could view a charlatan as God, perhaps we should be chary of imparting such trust in Wiesel himself.

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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