Mainstream obits for Wiesel offer barely an asterisk for his intolerant views of Palestinians

US Politics
on 27 Comments

The death of Elie Wiesel has been remarkable in exposing the fact that Israel supporters and Israel critics live on separate planets. In the mainstream media, Israel supporters have celebrated Wiesel as a universalist dedicated to remembering and exposing atrocities everywhere. These obituaries have left out Wiesel’s sad history of caring most about Jewish suffering, such as in his objection to including Roma victims at the Holocaust memorial, in his denial of the Palestinian Nakba, and his support for the Israeli settlement project that forces Palestinians off their land.

Critics of Israel have pointed out that it is impossible to understand Wiesel without appreciating this ethnocentric side of the man. But they have had virtually no influence over the mainstream accounts of Wiesel’s life.

There are two exceptions to the two-planets reality: In Haaretz, Simone Zimmerman and Jacob Plitman write that Wiesel “represented not only his generation’s greatest triumph, but perhaps also its greatest failing. As Wiesel demanded we [Jews] set ourselves apart, he closed his eyes to reality and denied Palestinian suffering.” And Hussein Ibish in Foreign Policy, observed that despite his claim not to be one, Wiesel was a religious nationalist, who asserted a Jewish right to sovereignty over Jerusalem and who, even as he memorialized the Holocaust, denied the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, saying that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had only left Palestine at the directions of their leaders.

Those two pieces are the exceptions. In the American mainstream, Wiesel is strictly a saint. The trend was evident on National Public Radio last night, when Wiesel was quoted at length saying, “I’m afraid that memories suppressed could come back with a fury which is dangerous to all human beings.” Without any mention of his own efforts to suppress Palestinian and Roma memories.

The New York Times was even more egregious. Its gushing obit by Joseph Berger cast Wiesel as a great defender of human rights for all peoples everywhere.

Mr. Wiesel condemned the massacres in Bosnia in the mid-1990s — “If this is Auschwitz again, we must mobilize the whole world,” he said — and denounced others in Cambodia, Rwanda and the Darfur region of Sudan. He condemned the burnings of black churches in the United States and spoke out on behalf of the blacks of South Africa and the tortured political prisoners of Latin America.

Oh but Wiesel had “detractors.” Why? Literary foibles.

Mr. Wiesel had his detractors. The literary critic Alfred Kazin wondered whether he had embellished some stories, and questions were raised about whether “Night” was a memoir or a novel, as it was sometimes classified on high school reading lists.

Palestinian advocates just don’t count in the Times. Nor do the Roma. Here is an important fact from Isabel Fonseca’s book Bury Me Standing on gypsies and their journey. It refers to the council, or board of trustees for the US Holocaust Memorial:

It was only after the 1986 resignation of President Elie Wiesel, the survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who had opposed Gypsy representation, that one Gypsy was invited onto the council.

The Telegraph was as bad as the Times.

A tireless advocate for the oppressed – not only Jews – Wiesel defended Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians, Argentina’s “disappeared”, Cambodian refugees, the Kurds, South African apartheid victims and famine victims in Africa…

Widely recognised as “the conscience of his generation”, Wiesel’s statement that “to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all…” stands as a succinct summary of his views on life and always served as the driving force of his work.

The Thomson Reuters obit at CBC listed Wiesel’s advocacy for “Miskito Indians in Nicaragua, Cambodian refugees, victims of South African apartheid and of famine and genocide in Africa,” and then did mention Wiesel’s pro-Israel stances. But it did so in the most neutral terms:

Wiesel became close to U.S. President Barack Obama but the friendship did not deter him from criticizing U.S. policy on Israel. He spoke out in favor of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and pushed the United States and other world powers to take a harder stance against Iran over its nuclear program. Wiesel attended the joint session of the U.S. Congress in 2015 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the dangers of Iran’s program…

There is no sense there of the intensity of Wiesel’s support for settlers and his opposition to the deal with Iran, which all the world but Israel welcomed, because it reduced tensions in the Middle East.

Joshua Mitnick has a piece in the LA Times, from Tel Aviv, on Wiesel’s reputation in Israel, again saying nothing about Palestinians. It’s all about how it took Jews a while to wake up to Wiesel’s Holocaust message:

“Eli Wiesel died as a hero in Israel, but it took him many years to become an Israeli hero,’’ said Yossi Klein Halevi, an Israeli American author and a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Halevi is a settler; he lives in occupied East Jerusalem. The LA Times doesn’t tell us that.

There was more hagiography this morning on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC. Matthew Lazar, a Jewish musician, said that Wiesel mixed “particularism” and “universalism” without contradiction. “He was a proud Jew and a citizen of the world,” Lazar said.

No mention of Wiesel’s efforts on behalf of Elad, a pro-settler organization that forces Palestinians off their land in Jerusalem, or his full-page ad opposing the Iran deal.

Lehrer had the good sense to ask whether Wiesel took “a position on the Israeli Palestinian conflict… What did he have to say about the Palestinians if he was so universal?”

Guest Rabbi Ariel Burger, who had called Wiesel “the champion of memory,” offered this parcel of naked hasbara and condescending spiritual humbug as a response:

Well you know he was very close to Israeli prime ministers over several decades, and he said many times, that he criticized Israel when he was in Israel and in those conversations. [i.e., privately]

He wrote in his book A Jew Today about Palestinian suffering as well, in an open letter to Palestinians…. But he felt that we need to come from a positon of strength and commitment to ideals of peace rather than grounding our narratives in victimization… That was his strong feeling, that there’s a falsehood in that and no way to peace.

Haaretz is better on this score than any American publication. Ronen Shnidman’s obituary in Haaretz notes Wiesel’s willingness to use his celebrity for a very sectarian purpose.

Weisel was an advocate when it came to a host of Jewish issues, and in particular was stridently pro-Israel. Following a visit to the Soviet Union in 1965, he wrote about the plight of Soviet Jews in a book called “The Jews of Silence,” and spoke out in favor of the struggle to allow them to emigrate; he was also a vocal supporter of the immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In April 2010, he took out advertisements in four major newspapers, criticizing the Obama administration for pressuring the Netanyahu government to halt construction in Jewish neighborhoods located across the Green Line in East Jerusalem. Wiesel repeated that tactic in 2013 when he took out a full-page ad in The New York Times calling on the U.S. administration to demand the total dismantling of the nuclear infrastructure in Iran because that country had called for Israel’s destruction.

The victory here is that two publications, Foreign Policy and Haaretz, dared to tell readers about Wiesel’s terribly mixed record. And a victory, too, that Brian Lehrer even raised the question before allowing his guest to steep his listeners in ignorance.

The Wiesel remembrances offer little hope that American consciousness is changing. And yet we all know that it is. In fact, the refusal to recognize Wiesel’s Jewish exceptionalism in the mainstream media has a generational flavor about it. Israel advocates know that his passing represents a significant, and inevitable, loss to their cause.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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27 Responses

  1. a blah chick
    July 5, 2016, 2:28 pm

    So, to sum up, Wiesel was willing to stand up for people’s human rights but only if they did not clash with his Jewish supremacy or sacred victimhood.

  2. Donald
    July 5, 2016, 3:12 pm

    My impression, partly confirmed by the lists above, is that Wiesel stuck to the safe targets. So he criticized the Sandinistas for their treatment of the Miskitos, but faced with evidence of Israel’s complicity in a vastly greater crime against Mayans in Guatemala, Wiesel spoke for refugees without condemning the people responsible.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=TdhwE27xaG4C&pg=PA104&lpg=PA104&dq=wiesel+guatemala&source=bl&ots=d7GAawLr-m&sig=Fi2WikfTi-iuiUp8MiaPeVpE64s&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwism4fpgd3NAhVD9YMKHftrDwAQ6AEIIDAC#v=onepage&q=wiesel%20guatemala&f=false

    Not sure if that Google book link will work, but Google Wiesel with Guatemala and you should find some interesting things.

    Wiesel isn’t the only hypocrite of this sort– as Chomsky wrote about at endless length, this careful form of convenient universalism is the norm in mainstream US circles. That’s why Wiesel was lionized. He never said anything truly uncomfortable that would disturb a NYT editorialist.

    • Patrick
      July 5, 2016, 8:42 pm

      “Wiesel stuck to the safe targets. So he criticized the Sandinistas for their treatment of the Miskitos.”

      Exactly right. Criticism of the Sandinista government of Nicaragua only endeared him to the Reagan administration. He should also have spoken out against the Contra war that the Reaganites had created, and which was a key factor that led to the mistreatment of the Miskito. Of course, he would then have been persona non grata in the halls of power.

      • InTruth
        July 14, 2016, 12:26 am

        To criticize both Reagan’s Contra war and FSLN treatment of the Miskitos would essentially be contradictory. The Reagan regime, especially the CIA, was using the Miskitos as a propaganda tool to club the Nicaraguan government. (See “Blood on the Border” by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz.)

        Of course, criticism on behalf of the Miskitos was warranted, as both the FSLN and the book admit. But to seize on that while the Reaganites were crushing Nicaragua with sabotage, an illegal murderous war and drug running was to participate in U.S. propaganda — and Wiesel undoubtedly knew what he was doing.

        Too bad this slipped by in the main article.

  3. just
    July 5, 2016, 4:35 pm

    Thanks for this article. I guess he’s lionized because it justifies the hypocritical policies that have endured wrt P/I in the West. Thanks to Haaretz and FP for daring to tell the truths. Pretty soon all the actual Jewish victims of the Holocaust will die and all that will be left are the memorials, etc. Selective memory cannot endure when something else is urgently needed, imho.

    One has to wonder why many Jewish Holocaust survivors live in abject poverty in Israel~ forgotten and abandoned while memorials made of stone and glass proliferate. Funnily enough, 2 days after Weisel died, this happened:

    “Following Haaretz Report, Israel Gives 30 Million Shekels to Needy Holocaust Survivors

    Stipends for 11,000 survivors have been held for nearly a year because of a legal dispute. ‘The good of Holocaust survivors is the priority,’ Finance Minister Kahlon says.

    Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon ordered the immediate transfer of some 30 million shekels ($7.8 million) to 11,000 destitute Holocaust survivors on Sunday, after nearly a year in which they hadn’t received their restitution allowances due to a legal dispute.”…

    – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/07/elie-wiesel-is-dead/#sthash.MAW6kwUO.dpuf

    btw, anyone else see this?

    “Bild Publisher Says He Gave Netanyahu Auschwitz Plans to Smuggle Out of Germany

    Publisher of German daily, owner of sketches, reveals he looked for way to transfer them to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem against government wishes – and Israel’s prime minister fit the bill.”

    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.729068?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    He’s smuggled before.

    “Netanyahu implicated in nuclear smuggling from U.S. — big story in Israel” – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2012/07/netanyahu-implicated-in-nuclear-smuggling-from-u-s-big-story-in-israel/#sthash.Lo46arRr.dpuf

  4. yonah fredman
    July 5, 2016, 4:35 pm

    All the world did not welcome the Iran deal. Saudi Arabia and I assume most Sunni Arab states opposed the deal. (They might not have gone public with their opposition, but Obama’s need to calm Arab opponents of Iran was clearly reported at the time.)

    • DaBakr
      July 6, 2016, 12:58 pm

      Even if “all” the world did agree with the so-called deal with Iran , all the world has been dominated by stupid idiots before and likely will be again if mw is any indication of things to come

      • Mooser
        July 6, 2016, 2:12 pm

        “all the world has been dominated by stupid idiots before and likely will be again if mw is any indication of things to come”

        “Dabakr”, I’m sure they are holding a seat right by the fire for you in Plato’s cave. Maybe you can ride it out there with the rest of the philosophers.

  5. JWalters
    July 5, 2016, 5:06 pm

    Another excellent article detailing the inescapable fact that the mainstream media is in effect controlled by the Israelis, which is to say, SOME Jews. (“Some”, because obviously the staff at Mondoweiss, and a great many other honest and brave Jews, do NOT control the mainstream media.)

    Which is to say, the alleged trope is actually true. At some point America needs to come to terms with this, the sooner the better. For instance, before Israel drags America into another needless, albeit profitable, war.

  6. WH
    July 5, 2016, 6:16 pm

    Remember this abomination of a newspaper ad in the summer of Protective Edge?
    http://observer.com/2014/08/exclusive-london-times-rejects-elie-weisel-advertisement-condemning-hamas/

  7. yonah fredman
    July 5, 2016, 6:54 pm

    Two names I’d like to mention in relation to Wiesel. The first is Michael Jackson. Celebrity killed Michael Jackson and to attempt to view Wiesel without the celebrity culture that we live in cannot suffice.

    The other is Zalman Schachter Shalomi. Here is Zalman’s obit by Shaul Magid from two years ago, precisely this time of year.
    http://forward.com/news/201430/reb-zalman-married-counter-culture-to-hasidic-juda/

    I think it is useful to compare and contrast with Wiesel. Zalman did not experience the Shoah in the same way as Wiesel. He was not in camp. He did not watch his father get beaten halfway to death and then die in front of him. But Zalman was close enough to the Shoah experience that his many paradigm shifts must include the Shoah in order to understand Zalman’s changes. (I think people who were religious before WWII really had their world shaken by the experience and trying to compare Wiesel to secular survivors is faulty.)

    • Mooser
      July 5, 2016, 8:18 pm

      “The first is Michael Jackson. Celebrity killed Michael Jackson and to attempt to view Wiesel without the celebrity culture that we live in cannot suffice.”

      Yes, Elie Wiesel may have said that he taught Micheal Jackson to “moonwalk”, but Jackson never gave him any credit.

      And Zalman Schachter Shalomi?

      “He developed a theory of eco-kashrut that incorporates environmentalism and animal rights as an integral part of Jewish dietary practice.”
      http://forward.com/news/201430/reb-zalman-married-counter-culture-to-hasidic-juda/#ixzz4DaE48pWv

      “He was not in camp. He did not watch his father get beaten halfway to death and then die in front of him.”

      Of course not. That only happened to Elie Wiesel, and nobody else.

    • Mooser
      July 5, 2016, 9:03 pm

      (I think people who were religious before WWII really had their world shaken by the experience and trying to compare Wiesel to secular survivors is faulty.)”

      Yeah, secular and Reform Jews are just beasts, and don’t feel the loss or trauma like observant Jews.

  8. Amar
    July 5, 2016, 7:37 pm

    Max Blumenthal @ Alternet:

    “In the face of increasingly unspeakable crimes against Palestinians, Wiesel counseled silence. “I must identify with whatever Israel does—even with her errors,” he declared.

    Wiesel’s unwavering commitment to Israel undoubtedly influenced his vocal support for President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. “We have a moral obligation to intervene where evil is in control. Today, that place is Iraq,” he proclaimed in a 2003 op-ed. He went on to demand American-orchestrated regime change in Syria, Libya and Iran. “To be Jewish in this world is to always be concerned,” he told an audience on Capitol Hill, endorsing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push for a U.S. attack on Iran. Wiesel’s support for successive assaults on Middle Eastern countries—always on the grounds of defeating “evil”—made him a key asset of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists alike.”

    http://www.alternet.org/grayzone-project/huge-part-elie-wiesels-legacy-being-whitewashed

    • bryan
      July 6, 2016, 4:23 am

      With the release of the Chilcot Report today, Iraq War is back in the headlines and I have been watching old footage of George and Tony, with George elaborating the relevant criteria for imposing regime change. These apparently are ignoring UN resolutions, attacking only two of your neighbours, alleged possession of WMD and initiating violent attacks on those hostile to your regime. Interesting, if not entirely persuasive. George was the proud owner of Elie Wiezel patented spectacles.

      • just
        July 6, 2016, 9:56 am

        “George was the proud owner of Elie Wiezel patented spectacles.”

        Well said, bryan.

        I am following Blair’s presser here:

        “Chilcot report live: ‘I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you can ever believe,’ says Blair”

        http://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2016/jul/06/chilcot-report-live-inquiry-war-iraq

        It’s bizarre in the extreme.

      • Kay24
        July 6, 2016, 10:49 am

        In a democracy even leaders at the top must be held accountable for war crimes, lying to the nation to take it to war, for misleading the world, costing the nation trillions of dollars, and for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

        So why is there no similar investigation and report here in the US? After all it was Bush and Cheney who started this disaster which the entire world is still reeling from.

      • just
        July 6, 2016, 11:22 am

        “So why is there no similar investigation and report here in the US? After all it was Bush and Cheney who started this disaster which the entire world is still reeling from. ”

        That’s the trillion dollar question, among others. I don’t doubt that there will be fallout here after this damning report~ how much, I can’t fathom. I was crushed when Mr. Obama elected to only look forward, especially since he has admitted that the illegal invasion of Iraq led to ISIL, etc.

        ““Two things: One is, ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion,” Obama said in an interview with VICE News. “Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.””

        https://www.rt.com/usa/241325-obama-isis-iraq-bush/

        “Corbyn’s statement on the Chilcot report

        Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, begins by paying tribute to those killed, and to their relatives. He met some relatives yesterday, he says.

        He says the report should not have taken this long.

        He says the “overwhelming weight of international legal opinion” says the invasion was illegal.

        It had devastating consequences, he says, fuelling terrorism and war across the region.

        By any measure the invasion and occupation of Iraq “has been for many a catastrophe”.

        He says it has led a break-down in trust in politics.

        While the governing class got it wrong, many people got it right. Some 1.5m people marched against the war, he says.

        He says those opposed to the war did not condone Saddam Hussein. Many of them had protested against him when America and the UK were still supporting him.

        He says we must be saddened by what has been revealed.

        Many MPs voted to stop the war. But they have not lived to see themselves vindicated.

        He recalls Robin Cook. He said in his resignation speech, in a few hundred words, what Chilcot has shown would come to pass.

        Here’s part of what Corbyn said:
        By any measure, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been, for many, a catastrophe. The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 on the basis of what the Chilcot report calls ‘flawed intelligence’ about the weapons of mass destruction has had a far-reaching impact on us all.
        It’s led to a fundamental breakdown in trust in politics and in our institutions of government. The tragedy is that while the governing class got it so horrifically wrong, many of our people actually got it right. On 15 February 2003, 1.5m people, spanning the entire political spectrum, and tens of millions of people across the world, marched against the impending war, the greatest-ever demonstration in British history.”

        http://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2016/jul/06/chilcot-report-live-inquiry-war-iraq?page=with:block-577cf646e4b0dc6aac1d8604#liveblog-navigation

      • Bumblebye
        July 6, 2016, 12:05 pm

        Blair’s regrets? No I will *never* believe.

        He’s got about £100 for every one of the 1.2 million words in that report. I’d only begin to believe if he gave up every penny except his PM pension. He’d still be well off with that, but not obscenely so with the “rewards” he has solely for joining the Iraq war junket.

      • Mr.T
        July 6, 2016, 12:17 pm

        “So why is there no similar investigation and report here in the US?”

        Because the rulers in the US ALWAYS protect each other. That’s the first rule of politics. It’s why Hillary got away with her email crookedness.

      • RoHa
        July 6, 2016, 9:46 pm

        I have to say I feel insulted by the way these discussions ignore Australia’s role. Am I the only one who thinks that John Howard should be dangling from the same gibbet as Bush and Blair? Our war criminals are as good as yours.

      • RoHa
        July 6, 2016, 9:55 pm

        And a stunning interview with Lord West!

        He says (a) the decision to invade Iraq was made long before B&B said, and (b) he was not questioned, consulted, or spoken to by Chilcot, even though he was First Sea Lord – head of the Navy – at the time.

        As well as little gem about him not believing in the WMD story.

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kFzcph59X-Y

        To reiterate the main point. This is not Ordinary Seaman Jack who has been at the rum. This is the First bloody Sea Lord spelling the beans.

      • RoHa
        July 6, 2016, 11:37 pm

        “B – E – A – N – S “, he says.

        That should be “spilling the beans”.

        I’m going to blame the software again.

  9. Ossinev
    July 6, 2016, 6:51 am

    @WH
    “Remember this abomination of a newspaper ad in the summer of Protective Edge? link to observer.com”

    Unfortunately I don`t recall being aware of this ad at the time. As you say an abomination and a clear illustrations of the depths JSIL and JSIL Firsters will sink to.

    Of course the most moral most chosen etc blah blah would never ever never ever frighten or molest or hurt children in anyway:
    http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/30/middleeast/west-bank-arrest-images-viral/

    The commentary to the ad in itself clearly illustrates the bottom line = Wiesel at the end of the day was no more than an everyday archetypal Zionist weasel.

  10. ahadhaadam
    July 6, 2016, 11:15 am

    Here is what I wrote about his “child sacrifice” ad during Israel’s latest and worst massacre in Gaza – certainly his lowest point which exposed him as a hypocrite, a tribal loyalist of the worst kind, who shifts the blame to the victim by helping circulate a blood libel against Palestinians:

    https://dancingwithpalestinians.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/elie-wiesels-blood-libel/

  11. klm90046
    July 6, 2016, 11:02 pm

    If you went through what Elie Wiesel went through, you too would have the right to lie.

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