On December 1, Jewish Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel will speak at St. Louis University. Wiesel has been called a prophet and a voice for humanity, but I think it is instructive to look at Wiesel’s actions of one month ago to help us truly assess this man’s moral authority.
On October 25, Wiesel gave a short address in which he praised Pastor John Hagee and over 6,000 Christian Zionists at “A Night to Honor Israel” celebration. Later Wiesel sat by Hagee’s side as Hagee falsely accused President Barack Obama of “being tougher on Israel than on Russia, Iran, China and North Korea.”
Hagee is a televangelist who gained notoriety during the 2008 presidential campaign when Senator John McCain accepted Hagee’s endorsement, and then rejected it, after some of Hagee’s more controversial views were widely publicized. In sermons Hagee has declared that God divinely ordained the Holocaust in order to fulfill biblical prophesy and return the Jews to Israel. He has claimed Jews should be blamed for anti-Semitism: it has been God’s punishment against the Jewish people for their rebelliousness. He has predicted that when the Anti-Christ comes to Earth he will be homosexual and “partially Jewish as was Adolph Hitler and was Karl Marx.” (In reality, Marx was Jewish, Hitler was not.)
Although Wiesel has spent his life condemning anti-Semitic ideas like those of Hagee, he offers only praise for the televangelist. Why? Wiesel supports Hagee because Hagee supports the government of Israel. Hagee leads Christians United For Israel, America’s largest and most powerful Christian Zionist organization. He organizes evangelical Christians to support Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. He defends Israel’s recent assault on Gaza, which reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed 1,400 Palestinians, one third of them children.
Hagee supports Israeli actions because he believes Jews must fully inhabit the Holy Land for the final apocalypse to come and bring destruction to the world and salvation to true Christians. Wiesel supports Israel because as a Jew he feels a religious and national connection to the state. Wiesel is willing to ignore Hagee’s anti-Semitic and apocalyptic views because he thinks it will further his goal of promoting Israel.
In a recent interview with Hagee, Wiesel said that “whenever anyone criticizes Israel, I say, ‘What are your credentials? Have you ever praised Israel? Have you ever defended Israel? Have you ever been on the side of Israel?”
The idea of one needing to have previously supported a state to have the credentials to criticize it is a bizarre intellectual and moral principle. If someone applied the same principle to North Korea or Cuba or Russia, no one would take the person seriously. Throughout the same interview Wiesel and Hagee criticize Iran and Saudi Arabia, without either demanding that the other present the proper credentials to do so.
Wiesel has long had a moral blind spot when it comes to the State of Israel. He has said that “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. When human rights are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”
But when asked to speak out against Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, Wiesel responded “Do not ask me, a traumatized Jew, to be pro-Palestinian. I totally identify with Israel.”
Wiesel has said that “terrorism must be outlawed by all civilized nations — not explained or rationalized, but fought and eradicated. Nothing can, nothing will justify the murder of innocent people and helpless children.”
But he will not speak out against the longstanding and well documented killings by the Israeli military of innocent people and helpless children, and accepts at face value the justifications for the killings given by the Israeli state.
Elie Wiesel condemns those who condemn Israel’s increasingly brutal violations of Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. Wiesel asks other people to put aside ethnic and national loyalties in order to protect basic principals of human rights, but he refuses to do so himself. People should think about that while he speaks at St. Louis University this Monday.