Exile and the Prophetic: Clinton’s dinner with Elie Wiesel

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

The post-election 2016 Presidential sweepstakes has begun. A feature on Hillary Clinton in the New York Times yesterday told us so. Is she or isn’t she running for President?

Guess who the go-to politically savvy expert the Times interviews for an informed opinion on Hilary’s political future. Yes, it’s none other than – Elie Wiesel. How does Wiesel qualify as an expert on the subject? He recently had dinner with the Secretary of State and her husband.

In Washington every dinner is political. It isn’t happenstance that Wiesel was invited for dinner or, for that matter, contacted for his expertise on Hillary’s 2016 bid for the White House. The Holocaust survivor and victim of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was a Clinton embed. To reassure Jews that a third Clinton Presidency would be Israel-friendly?

Hillary as a ruffian is a sight to behold. Witness her Presidential campaign in 2008. Hillary fawning over her patrons is another. Watch the video of Hillary at the Saban Center last week.

Whether playing tough guy or flatterer, Hillary leaves little doubt about her commitment to Israel. Then why is she playing her Jewish card even before President Obama’s second term begins?

The Clinton’s have always been close to Jewish donors. You might remember that early in Clinton’s Presidency, Bill and Hillary even flirted with Michael Lerner’s politics of meaning to court the Progressive Jewish crowd. The Clinton’s quickly veered away from Lerner and his Jewish establishment wannabes back into the arms of the real Jewish establishment.

So what are Elie Wiesel’s Israel credentials? He lived there once, briefly – though he hardly mentions it. He quickly departed for France and the United States. The only reason he’s given for not living in Israel is that he has a ‘cosmopolitan’ nature. From this, we assume that, at least for Wiesel, Israel is parochial – that is provincial, narrow, unsophisticated and insular.

It’s interesting that the leading spokesman for Israel in America has those feelings about Israel, don’t you think?

Perhaps Wiesel’s ambitions were too grand for Israeli society to support. Wiesel probably felt the only way for him to make it big was in a non-Jewish majority country where the Holocaust could become a story narrated to his advantage.

If we couple Wiesel’s feelings about parochial Israel with his sense that the Holocaust wouldn’t play there, we have a quite interesting Jewish/Holocaust survivor/American political landscape Wiesel embodies. What to do with it is another question.

During Wiesel’s ascendancy as a Holocaust spokesperson, Israel was busy trying to forget the Holocaust ever happened. After all, the Holocaust was a sign of Diaspora weakness. That’s how Wiesel comes across in Israel and why he has little standing there.

So Wiesel comes to the land of the free and makes it big holding the Israel line without even pretending that he wants to live there. He doesn’t make a dent in Israel’s tumultuous identity debate even with his elite – Clinton – contacts in the United States. Wiesel remains a strictly American phenomenon.

As for moral leadership, an honorific title attributed to Wiesel by commentators who, like the Clinton’s, fawn over him, I ask – in what sphere is Wiesel a moral leader?

Wiesel has been silent on Palestinian suffering. He has been vocal for uncritical support for Israel. Wiesel’s language is so general and non-committal on international affairs that I have the distinct feeling he knows little or nothing about world affairs.

When Wiesel becomes specific it gets worse. Listen to him as he supports American preemptive strikes on Iraq and Iran. Then check his statements on Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel.

What a week of news on Jewish leadership. The news cycle has featured the vacillating assertive and cowardly leadership of B’nai Jeshurun and the consistently silent and bellicose leadership of Elie Wiesel. That is when the news cycle isn’t focusing on Benjamin Netanyahu’s bullying Palestinians and anyone else that has a different point of view.

Pray tell, what Jewish ‘leader’ will be featured this coming week?

I wince in anticipation.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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3 Responses

  1. Maximus Decimus Meridius
    December 10, 2012, 12:00 pm

    ”Perhaps Wiesel’s ambitions were too grand for Israeli society to support. Wiesel probably felt the only way for him to make it big was in a non-Jewish majority country where the Holocaust could become a story narrated to his advantage.”

    Good point. In Israel, Wiesel is just another Holocaust survivor, one of thousands. In America, he is a secular saint – albeit one amply rewarded in this life.

    ” in what sphere is Wiesel a moral leader?”

    Wiesel is an ethno-supremacist wrapped in the pious mantle of The Holocaust. I find his whole persona rather disturbing, tbh. And wasn’t he a member of the Irgun? I suppose that’s OK because he was fighting for the rights of ‘traumatised Holocaust survivors’.

    • pabelmont
      December 10, 2012, 4:17 pm

      Maximus: “Wiesel is an ethno-supremacist wrapped in the pious mantle of The Holocaust”. Hmm, quite like any noble and much-beset Chinese leader to explain why it was correct for the by-landlords-and war-lords-down-trodden Chinese people to trounce the massively belligerent and violent Tibetans and settler-colonize (and devastate) that great and warlike realm (pardon the irony, but Wiesel does that to me). (He should be called wolverine (the largest member and most fearsome member of the mustelid family). (Mustelids have well-developed anal scent glands which produce a potent repellent smell. They have 5-toed feet with claws. Most have a long body, small, rounded ears, small eyes, and short legs. )

  2. Les
    December 10, 2012, 3:00 pm

    Wiesel is famous for making a personal financial success out of the Holocaust. The Clinton’s turned his Presidency into a financial success.

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