In an interview with the Israeli daily Globes, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel rejected the constant comparisons and conflations of Nazi Germany with Iran, calling such efforts to drawn analogies to the Holocaust “unacceptable and impossible,” and also noted, “For example, there are the haredim (ultra-orthodox), who put yellow stars on their children in protests – and in Israel of all places. What have we come to?”
Wiesel is of the opinion that “Iran is a danger, but to claim that it is creating a second Auschwitz? I compare nothing to the Holocaust.”
When asked his thoughts on the tendency of German people to turn “remorse over the Holocaust into part of their identity,” Wiesel responded, “I oppose declaring collective punishment. Only the perpetrators of the crime are guilty.”
Remember, this is coming from a man who wrote, in the wake of the 2010 Mavi Marmara massacre, that while “the death of nine pro-Palestinian peace activists” was “unfortunate,” the fallout resulting in “political attacks on Israel” were “surely hasty and exaggerated.” He claims the Israeli commandos who boarded the flotilla – which he says was “chartered by pro-Hamas groups, the initiative coming from the most militant wing of Hamas” – were “immediately surrounded by visibly trained men who set savagely upon them.” Wiesel further describes his version of what happened that night:
The men on the deck of the largest vessel, the Mavi Marmara, had been waiting for the commandos – and they acted as a well-organized lynch mob. It was a setup, a trap. We know that now. They were force-oriented militants, not pacifists. They were armed, not with guns but with knives and iron rods.
In his op-ed in the New York Daily News, Wiesel wrote that “Gaza, under Hamas, is after all a war zone. Its thousands of rockets constitute a permanent threat to Israel’s citizens,” claiming that while Israel’s blockade “block[s] arms shipments” to Hamas, it “does allow shipments of medical aid and of food.” He also repeated the lie that flotilla passengers told the Israeli Navy to “go back to Auschwitz,” despite the fact that this piece of propaganda has already been roundly debunked by Max Blumenthal.
Wiesel’s awareness of the deliberately-imposed humanitarian crisis and collective punishment in Gaza seems to be obscured by his blind insistence on Israeli benevolence and self-defense. It is unsurprising that Wiesel – who uses his role as a “moral authority” to routinely spout hasbara and apologia to Zionist audiences like John Hagee‘s Christians United for Israel – has repeatedly refused to visit Gaza to see with his own eyes the truth of collective punishment, even when asked by a fellow Holocaust survivor. No wonder he called the Goldstone Report “a crime against the Jewish people.”
In 2007, Ehud Olmert effectively offered the Israeli Presidency to Wiesel. When questioned about why he turned down the offer, Wiesel explained:
I refused because I am not Israeli and I don’t live in Israel. He said, ‘I’ll make you an Israeli in five minutes.’ There was pressure on me to accept the offer. In Israel, when you say no, the pressure is only increased. But I said that it wouldn’t happen, because I’m not suited for the job and that my wife would divorce me. Six weeks after the offer, I made a visit to Israel and I was welcomed like never before.
Not being Israeli is clearly not an issue for the President of Israel. Hey, if the indigenous people of the land can be forcibly displaced and dispossessed in explicit contravention of international law, including the Geneva Conventions, continually for six and a half decades, why shouldn’t a famous author who doesn’t even live in Israel, be “ma[de] an Israel in five minutes” and granted a ceremonial, figurehead political position of a nuclear-armed, ethnocratic, colonial-settler state?
Similarly, when Abba Eban (on behalf of Ben-Gurion) offered Albert Einstein the same position after the death of Chaim Weizmann in 1952, Einstein declined the post as well. Yet, his reasoning was surely different. In his response to Eban’s offer, Einstein wrote “I have never in my life undertaken a task that I could not fulfill to the satisfaction of my own conscience.”
Einstein’s decision is perhaps unsurprising considering his own views on the Zionist project in Palestine. In fact, Einstein, who abhorred nationalism and colonialism, declared during a speech in New York on April 17, 1938, “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical consideration, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the ideas of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest.” Eight years later, in a statement to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, Einstein said, “The state idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with many difficulties and narrow-mindedness. I believe it is bad.”
Einstein, along with other Jewish luminaries, condemned Zionist terrorism and the Deir Yassin massacre and, in a letter to Chaim Weizmann himself, wrote, “If we do not succeed in finding the path of honest cooperation and coming to terms with the Arabs, we will not have learned anything from our two-thousand-year ordeal and will deserve the fate which will beset us.”
Just months before his death, Einstein told Israeli founding father Zvi Lurie, “The most important aspect of our policy must be our ever-present, manifest desire to institute complete equality for the Arab citizens living in our midst…The attitude we adopt toward the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people.”
Evidently, Elie Wiesel has no such hang-ups.