Author Elie Wiesel, winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, gave an interview to Israel’s Army Radio on February 9. He used this bully pulpit to clarify and intensify the warning he stated in the full-page “Open Letter” to world leaders that he published in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune earlier this week.
In his letter, which was signed by fifty other Nobel laureates, Wiesel denounced the Iranian government’s domestic human rights abuses, writing: “In the name of conscience and honor, we appeal to the leaders of the international community to do what is needed to help these courageous fighters who risk their lives standing up to their government’s immoral, inhuman and illegal official policy.” He further called for “harsher sanctions” and undefined “concrete measures.” The letter concluded by stating: “All of us who care must offer our full support and solidarity to the brave people of Iran. They deserve nothing less.”
These are fine words indeed, and their issuance from the mouth of a Holocaust survivor and global human rights leader gives them even greater heft. Such heartfelt concern for the well-being of the Iranian people – by a foreigner and a Jew, no less – is deeply touching. But isn’t there something missing here? In fact, if you read through the entire letter, you will note that it focuses entirely on the government’s “repulsive practices” towards its own long-suffering people and says nothing whatsoever about Iranian foreign policy.
This is strange, considering recent headlines about Iran’s plans to enrich uranium and – possibly – to develop nuclear weapons, which Wiesel only glosses over. But we all make mistakes. Wiesel corrected this remarkable oversight in his Army Radio interview on Tuesday. “Ahmadinejad is a danger to the world and pathologically sick,” Wiesel told commentator Razi Barkai. “He is dangerous because he openly wants to destroy Israel, meaning, to destroy another six million Jews.” Moreover, “We’re sure that the president of Iran, the world’s No. 1 Holocaust denier, plans to destroy and annihilate the Jewish state, and bring disaster to the entire world. … Governments must stop Ahmadinejad and put him on trial at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on charges of open incitement for genocide.” Wiesel stopped short of calling for covert operations or a full-scale attack on Iran – and presumably on the Iranian people as well – since such demands do not sound very pleasant when coming from the mouth of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but his drift couldn’t be clearer: “I wouldn’t cry if I heard that Ahmadinejad was assassinated.” Wink wink. Nudge nudge.
Mr. Wiesel appears to reside in a completely clear-cut moral universe, where black is always black and white is always white. He has no doubt that Iran is a uniquely evil state, as if no other government would ever dream of threatening, let alone killing, people it regards as its enemies if it perceived a strategic need to do so. After all, in the same interview he went on to denounce the Goldstone Report on Israel’s Gaza incursion of last year, which accused both Hamas and Israel of war crimes. Wiesel called the report itself “a crime against the Jewish people.” “I can’t believe that Israeli soldiers murdered people or shot children,” Wiesel proclaimed. “It just can’t be.”
Wiesel may or may not be correct about Ahmadinejad and the imminent and existential threat he poses to world Jewry and world peace. I’ll leave that for greater minds than my own to ruminate over. But if the “concrete measures” he refers to in his full-page ad genuinely mean that “governments must stop Ahmadinejad and put him on trial at the International Court of Justice in The Hague,” then I don’t see how he can imagine Obama, Brown, Sarkozy and consorts undertaking such an operation without doing considerable harm to “the brave people of Iran,” who, if they hate anything more than their sociopathic president, it’s an armed foreign invasion.
So here’s my Open Letter to Elie Wiesel: “Please, sir, if you want war, call for war. If you want peace, call for peace. You can’t have both at once – no matter how many Nobel laureates you have lined up to validate your lofty appeal for... what exactly? And if your true feelings are good enough for Army Radio, why aren’t they good enough for the rest of us?”