Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
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FEBRUARY 10, 2010 8:45AM

My open letter to Elie Wiesel

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  Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel

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?

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Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

- George Carlin
Things are getting a little crazy around the Iranian issue. I guess Wiesel figures if Obama can accept the peace prize while he's waging a couple of wars, Wiesel can call on Obama to bomb Iran in the name of peace and we'll all catch his drift. Ends and means, Mandelbaum, ends and means.
You are a wise woman, Judy.

I understand that Mother Theresa would never agree to join a war protest, but that she would only join a call for peace. Because she understood the difference between the two.

In fighting that which we hate, if we do hate, we become like or one with what we are fighting.

So much better, then, to join a call for unity with the people of Iran, and watch a much more powerful movement, with infinitely better consequences, arise...

(And to forgive a man who may understandably have lingering thoughts, or remembrances, of hate of his own...)
Judy,

Why are you attacking Wiesel for saying two different things, at two different times, on two different subjects, that (on their face) are hardly contradictory?

His open letter refers to the political strife within Iran and the active attempt at suppressing the people within Iran's borders ... something he very clearly appealing to the world to come up with a response. Only a guess, but i immediately presumed that some of those other people who signed the letter wanted it to stay on a very specific point, and not discuss Iran's belligerent behavior generally. Whatever the reason, it seems unfair to criticize someone pointing out one problem for not pointing out all problems ...

As for whatever was said on the radio, it seems like an odd (and rather large leap) leap from "bring this guy to justice" to implying that he really meant - "wink wink" - that Ahmadinejad should be assassinated, or that he wishes for war as the answer. Sure, Wiesel didn't give a strategic plan for how one should go about getting Ahmadinejad out of Iran and on trial, but does he have to, to suggest that he should be? In any case, i find it odd that you implied Wiesel wants war from a few vague comments and then attack him for waffling between something he never advocated for (war) and something he's advocated for the last few decades (peace) ...
"Mr. Wiesel appears to reside in a completely clear-cut moral universe, where black is always black and white is always white." That is the world of his mind, which is what makes him a great thinker, and one we should listen more closely to.

Elie Wiesel is not a military leader nor have I ever heard he wishes to be. He is an activist and Nobel Prize winner. He must always be taken within that context, although I appreciate your youthful aplomb in taking him on a bit. xox
Shavit and Robin -
I think you give Wiesel too much credit for wisdom and humanitarian spirit. If his standpoint really is consistent and fundamentally peaceful, why does he say one thing in the NYT and another thing entirely on Army Radio? All his "great thinker" credentials aside, I, for one, would like to know where such a prominent and outspoken public figure really stands on such a critical issue.
Judy - you should run for some sort of political office since you apparently have the special skill of responding to someone without actually resolving (or even showing that you read it) the substance of the question/comment.
"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.”

I would agree if he were talking about Israeli's speaking out against their government's immoral, inhuman and illegal official policy of collective punishment and illegal settlements against the Palestinians.

With regard to the nuclear issue, Israel is in violation of international law having never declared that they have nukes and they are not a member of the Non Proliferation Treaty. At least Iran is and has been monitored.

It's often said Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier. Show me where he said this. I have heard him question the official story. I have heard him say it is used by Israel to further political goals. I have heard him say that it was not the Iranians or Palestinians who caused it so why should they have to suffer because of it. I have never heard him deny it occurred.

This is a portion of an article from Information Clearing House: The Iranian press agency IRNA renders Ahmadinejad on 2005-12-14 as follows: "'If the Europeans are telling the truth in their claim that they have killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the World War II - which seems they are right in their claim because they insist on it and arrest and imprison those who oppose it, why the Palestinian nation should pay for the crime. Why have they come to the very heart of the Islamic world and are committing crimes against the dear Palestine using their bombs, rockets, missiles and sanctions.' [...] 'If you have committed the crimes so give a piece of your land somewhere in Europe or America and Canada or Alaska to them to set up their own state there.' [...] Ahmadinejad said some have created a myth on holocaust and hold it even higher than the very belief in religion and prophets [...] The president further said, 'If your civilization consists of aggression, displacing the oppressed nations, suppressing justice-seeking voices and spreading injustice and poverty for the majority of people on the earth, then we say it out loud that we despise your hollow civilization.'"

There again we find the quotation already rendered by n24: "In the name of the Holocaust they created a myth." We can see that this is completely different from what is published by e.g. the DPA - the massacre against the Jews is a fairy-tale. What Ahmadinejad does is not denying the Holocaust. No! It is dealing out criticism against the mendacity of the imperialistic powers who use the Holocaust to muzzle critical voices and to achieve advantages concerning the legitimization of a planned war. This is criticism against the exploitation of the Holocaust.

CNN (2005-12-15) renders as follows: "If you have burned the Jews why don't you give a piece of Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to Israel. Our question is, if you have committed this huge crime, why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay for this crime?"

It seems to me Ahmadinejad is much more nuanced in his responses than the media can handle. It's much easier for them to slap a Holocaust denier headline up and call it a day.

Mr Wiesel's thirst for blood sounds like another recent Nobel Prize winner. Maybe that prize should be given to someone who actually wants to work for peace.

Regarding Wiesel's denial of Israeli war crimes documented in the Goldstone Report. The truth hurts. Deny it all you want Elie, it's not going to change what happened. I imagine it took a lot of Germans after WW II quite awhile to accept the fact that their government committed such heinous atrocities.
@Shavit
"it seems unfair to criticize someone pointing out one problem for not pointing out all problems ... "
This is the equivalent of picking out the fly on the wall for special mention while ignoring the two ton elephant in the room. Wiesel devoted a full-page ad to the fly on Monday and didn't catch sight of the elephant (an imminent Holocaust II) until Wednesday. Maybe he got his glasses fixed...?

Re the Open Letter: "i immediately presumed that some of those other people who signed the letter wanted it to stay on a very specific point, and not discuss Iran's belligerent behavior generally."
Translation: the Open Letter is written in weasel words and left so vague that just about anyone can sign on to them, whereas Wiesel saved the straight story (including a call to assassinate a foreign leader) for Israel Radio (which broadcasts in Hebrew, by the way). He's not being upfront with the American people, which was the whole point of my essay.
Judy, you are contradicting yourself by saying that Mr. Wiesel speaks in weasel words, and then suggesting he lives in a world that is morally black and white. Which is it?
Robin, the contradiction is Wiesel's, not mine. He's talking out of both sides of his mouth regarding a life and death issue. If he really believes we need to invest Israeli and presumably also US resources in delivering Ahmadinejad's head on a platter - and I'm not saying he's wrong to believe this - then he should lay out the options openly and not leave us to speculate about the gaps between what he said via New York and Tel Aviv, as we're doing here. If he were just some 81 year-old guy writing a letter to the editor, I wouldn't care. But I hold Nobel Peace Prize winners to a higher standard, particularly when they're talking about war.