Elie Wiesel, Maligned For Being A Zionist

A review of a biography by Joseph Berger of the late Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz, has just appeared in the British newspaper, The Telegraph. According to Adam Levick, the review was most disturbing, for the reviewer seemed to think it unacceptable that Wiesel was and remained a strong supporter of Israel. More on this review can be found here: “Telegraph Chides Elie Wiesel For Not Having Criticised Israel,” by Adam Levick, CAMERA, June 6, 2023:

A review of a new book in the UK’s The Telegraph tried to attack the late Elie Wiesel for supporting Israel.

Joseph Berger’s judicious and well-crafted portrait of this remarkable man stops short of hagiography, [but] its reverentially respectful tone leaves its impact a bit flat,” writes Rupert Christiansen in his Telegraph review of a book about Wiesel (“How Elie Wiesel taught the world to face the horror of the Holocaust,” June 4).

A few paragraphs in, the Telegraph author writes this:

[Wiesel] was righteously furious with God, who had mysteriously abandoned the Chosen Race in its darkest hours…”

First, we’re not aware of any writing by Wiesel referring to Jews as the “Chosen Race” — which is curiously capitalized by the journalist. Nor, for that matter, do we know of any Jewish figure who’s used that term. Indeed, the characterization of Jews as “race” is a relatively recent phenomenon. While the idea of Jews as the “chosen people“ is common — often meant to refer to the task of “communicating the monotheistic idea and a set of moral ideals to humanity” — the term “Chosen Race“ more resembles the concept used by the Nazis to refer to the alleged racial supremacy of Aryans. It’s unsettling, to say the least, that the reviewer decided on that specific rhetorical formula.

The ”Chosen Race” is sinister, redolent of the Nazis’ “Master Race”; Wiesel would never have used that phrase to describe the Jews. “Chosen People” is the phrase used by Jews — as old as Judaism itself — that does not imply, as some think, any superiority to others. As a Conservative Jewish handbook explains: “Few beliefs have been subject to as much misunderstanding as the ‘Chosen People’ doctrine. The Torah and the Prophets clearly stated that this does not imply any innate Jewish superiority. In the words of Amos (3:2) ‘You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth—that is why I will call you to account for your iniquities.’ The Torah tells us that we are to be ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ with obligations and duties which flowed from our willingness to accept this status. Far from being a license for special privilege, it entailed additional responsibilities not only toward God but to our fellow human beings. As expressed in the blessing at the reading of the Torah, our people have always felt it to be a privilege to be selected for such a purpose.

The Jews were “chosen” by God to bring monotheism to the world, and to share a moral code with all peoples. By replacing “Chosen People” with “Chosen Race,” Christiansen turns an obligation toward God, which must be fulfilled by the Jews, into something quite different – a claim of racial superiority.

Even worse, Christiansen calls out Wiesel, the late Holocaust survivor, for his “moral blind spot” regarding Israel:

Wiesel was to all intents and purposes a Zionist, and such was his fealty to Israel that he could never bring himself to issue more than polite suggestions that its government should be a beacon of probity and currently wasn’t. He rejoiced in the outcome of the Six Day War and remained silent on the illegal settlements: his compassion would extend to Armenians, the Vietnamese boat people and black South Africans, but he had nothing to say in defence of brutally disenfranchised Palestinians.

This is just a suggestion, but perhaps the next time that Telegraph editors commission a review on a book about a Holocaust survivor, they might want to insist that the contributor has at least a passing understanding of what Zionism means.

So Christiansen faults Wiesel for not being sufficiently critical of Israel, the way that all right-thinking people should be. His Zionist ardor is held against him. But there is nothing sinister about Zionism. It is nothing more than the belief that the Jews have a right to re-establish their ancient homeland in Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel, where Jews have lived for 3,500 years, and to be able to defend their tiny state against those who have already tried three times to destroy it.

If Christiansen had known that Zionism merely refers to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the Jews’ ancestral homeland, he wouldn’t have oddly asserted that Wiesel was for “all intents and purposes” a “Zionist” — as if Wiesel’s belief in the country’s right to live was somehow less than clear.

Wiesel wasn’t “for all intents and purposes” a Zionist. He was a “Zionist,” period. The phrase used by Christiansen suggests that being a Zionist was something Wiesel wished to hide, but “to all intents and purposes” he was exactly that. Wiesel was always proud to be a Zionist.

As Christiansen acknowledges, Wiesel spent his life not only writing and talking about the Holocaust, but speaking out against other acts of mass slaughter, as well. However, the suggestion that — for the sake of moral consistency — he was thus obligated to advocate on behalf of the Palestinians rests on the perverse suggestion that they were, too, victims of something akin to genocide.

Christiansen thinks that Wiesel deserves criticism because he failed to embrace the cause of the Palestinians, as if they too had suffered in the same way as the Jews. But they haven’t. The Israeli Arabs have exactly the same rights as Israeli Jews. As for the “disenfranchised” Palestinians, their disenfranchisement is not Israel’s fault. It was not Israel that imposed the despotism of the terror group Hamas in Gaza, nor was it Israel that imposed the despotic and colossally corrupt Mahmoud Abbas on the Palestinians in the West Bank.

And what is the “cause of the Palestinians” that Christiansen thinks Wiesel should have championed? Let’s not mince words. It is to replace the only Jewish state by a 23rd Arab state, the state of Palestine, that would extend “from the river to the sea.” The Palestinians in Hamas and in the P.A. differ on tactics and timing, but agree on their ultimate aims – the disappearance of the Jewish state. Hamas calls explicitly in its Charter for the destruction of Israel. This must be accomplished by violence – the “terrorism” from both within and without Israel that will finally lead the state to collapse. The “moderates” of the P.A. are willing to wait, as they chip away at Israel’s legitimacy through a sustained diplomatic campaign rather than violence, in the hope that the Israelis will finally agree to be squeezed back within the 1949 armistice lines, the lines that Abba Eban once described as “the lines of Auschwitz,” with a nine-mile-wide waist from Qalqilya to the sea. Once that has been achieved, the Arabs will again be able to launch a many-sided assault on a dimidiated Israel, and this time, succeed where they failed in 1948, and 1967, and 1973.

Wiesel “rejoiced in the outcome of the Six Day War” (as Christiansen writes) because Jews – for the second time in 19 years, and just 22 years after the Holocaust — successfully defended themselves against enemies who again sought their annihilation….

My, my. How terrible of Wiesel to “rejoice” in the fact that Israel managed to defeat the three Arab states that had tried to defeat and destroy it. How terrible of him to welcome the fact that Jews could again visit the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, and pray at the Western Wall – both of which had been denied to them between 1949 and 1967. According to Christiansen, Wiesel has let us all down. Morally, he should have deplored the Israeli victory in the Six-Day War, not “rejoiced” in it; Wiesel should have wanted the Arabs, at the very least, not to have been so crushingly defeated. Christiansen clearly has his knickers in a twist over Israel’s triumph over its enemies in that war. If you find his attitude troubling, you are not alone.

As the CAMERA article says, “Elie Wiesel had nothing to apologize for.” Rupert Christiansen, however, does.

June 15, 2023 | Comments »

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