November/December 2000
An Israeli tank advances near Beit Jala

Open Letter to Elie Wiesel

Dec. 2000 / Kislev 5760

In This Article:

1. Finally, the Recognition
2. Dreams of Peace
3. No Outcry
4. How Many Murders?
5. Working for Peace - or for Danger?
6. Aliyah
I recently received the transcript of a speech Elie Wiesel made shortly after Palestinian violence erupted and the United Nations condemned Israel. I believe that his speech requires comment. I realize that Eli Wiesel is a world-renowned figure, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and is considered by many to be the conscience of America and the world. However, it is precisely because of his reputation and position that I feel I have no choice but to comment. I wish to make it clear that these comments are not ad hominem; they are not directed at Mr. Wiesel as an individual. I have never met him, and I have only the highest respect for his public image. My comments are directed toward Mr. Wiesel as the persona perceived by the world to represent morality and, particularly, Jewish awareness and sensitivity to suffering and danger, forged in the unprecedented and devastating experience of the Holocaust.

The paragraphs of Mr. Wiesel's speech are preceded by numbers in parenthesis; I have emphasized certain words, and added my own interspersed comments:


(1) "We have gathered here to affirm our solidarity with Israel. We are outraged by the hypocritical vote in the Security Council, which did not condemn excessive Palestinian actions but condemned Israel's response to them. We stand by Israel, whose present struggle was imposed upon her by the intransigence of the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority.

(2) "Those of us who reject hatred and fanaticism as options and who consider peace as the noblest of efforts *finally* recognize Yasser Arafat for what he is: *ignorant*, devious and unworthy of trust. We had hoped for a genuine peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians. We had dreams of Israeli and Palestinian children playing together, studying together, laughing together, and discovering each other's worlds. The pain, the agony, the death of any child, Palestinian or Jewish, is a torment to us. But why does Chairman Arafat not protect them but instead uses them as shields for adults throwing stones and worse?

"Finally," Mr. Wiesel? Where have you been all these years since the signing of the Oslo Agreement? Thousands, if not millions, of ordinary people like myself have known the truth since the launching of this catastrophic peace process. All it required was to hear what Arafat was saying to his own people. People like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, William Safire, Abe Rosenthal and especially Norman Podhoretz knew and wrote about them. As far back as May 1995, Amos Perlmutter authored an article for the prestigious Foreign Affairs Magazine entitled The Israel PLO Accord is Dead. As Krauthammer recently wrote, "The man is an open book. Within months of the great White House Handshake of 1993, Arafat gave a speech in South Africa promising jihad for Jerusalem. Back home, he repeatedly threatened to abandon "peace" and return to Intifada. His state-controlled media not only denied Israel's legitimacy, but conducted a seven-year campaign of incitement and vilification. Then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres, architect of the Oslo peace process, dismissed this rather compelling evidence that he might have misjudged the intentions of his "peace partner" as mere words."

In 1993, on the day he signed the Declaration of Principles of the Oslo peace agreement on the White House lawn, Arafat appeared in a Jordanian television broadcast vowing that the Palestinian flag "will fly over the walls of Jerusalem, the churches of Jerusalem, the mosques of Jerusalem." It has been known publicly and continually for the last six years that the Palestinian Authority's educational system, including its summer camps, is a hotbed of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda and a training ground for armed combat against the Jewish state. Arafat's state-controlled TV, radio and newspapers have whipped his people into ever-greater frenzies of blood and martyrdom. The PLO covenant continues to call for an armed struggle to annihilate the Jewish state. What more was required to understand that Arafat is an unreconstructed terrorist and murderer of men, women, and children, who will stop at nothing, including the sacrifice of his own people's children, for the destruction of Israel?

Mr. Wiesel, your accusation that Arafat is devious and unworthy of trust may be accurate but 'ignorant'? Certainly not. An ignorant man, one who does not understand the Western mind and the depths of Western anti-Semitism, could not have made the journey from the trashcan of history in 1990, when he supported Sadaam Hussein, to becoming a welcome guest in the White House. An ignorant man would not be wined and dined and sought after by world leaders, ministers of the Jewish state, and heads of Jewish organizations; he would not be able to be the leader of a nascent terrorist state that is on its way to full world recognition. Arafat, the man who in 1973 authorized the cold-blooded execution of the American ambassador in Khartoum, has been invited by the president to the White House more times than any other leader in the world!

On the contrary, Arafat is quite intelligent perhaps more intelligent than those who are only now discerning his real character.


(3) Yes, it is with a heavy heart that we say that *our dreams of peace have gone up in the smoke* of ransacked synagogues, in the lynching of Israeli prisoners and of bloodthirsty mobs shouting their version of a Jerusalem without Jews and a Middle East without Israel. And I blame the supreme leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat.

Why. Mr. Wiesel, did it take so long for the dreams of peace to go up in smoke? Hundreds of Jews have been killed and maimed by terrorist activities since the return of Arafat and his thugs from Tunisia. Yitzhak Rabin referred to the murdered and injured as sacrifices of peace. Why did you not challenge that very term? It is war, not peace, that demands sacrifice. The handwriting has been on the wall from the start. Why was there no moral outcry to demand that the government of Israel halt the process when it was clear that Arafat was violating every material promise he made in the agreements? Why was there no moral outcry when the government of Israel provided weapons that were sure to be turned against Jews? Why was there no moral outcry to the American administration to stop forcing Israel into further concessions?


(4) By rejecting Israel's unprecedented generous territorial concessions, he is burying the peace process; in so doing, he has betrayed the confidence not only of his negotiating partners but of President Clinton and other Western leaders, just as he has betrayed the highest honor society can bestow upon a person. How can a leader, any leader in Israel, renew discussions with him before all the kidnapped soldiers are returned to their families?

You refer to Israel's "unprecedented generous concessions." Why was there no moral outcry when Prime Minister Barak made these unilateral concessions that would not only endanger the state and its people, but also meant the division of Jerusalem and the loss of Jewish holy sites to terrorists who would continue to destroy the archeological proof of their Jewish bonds as is now happening on the Temple Mount? Why were Barak's concessions not protested in the name of the Jewish people and of Jewish history?

You write that Arafat has betrayed the highest honor society can bestow upon a person - the Nobel Peace Prize, of which you, Mr. Wiesel, are also a recipient. Why was there no moral outcry when Arafat received the reward before proving himself worthy of it? Where was the equivalent of the moral position taken by Kaare Kristiansen, a member of the Nobel Committee who resigned in protest when Arafat received the award? Aside from Arafat's appalling record, the very criterion for bestowing the award on him should have been protested. Even Nobel prizes for science are not awarded for theories; they are awarded for proven hypotheses. The Nobel prize for literature is not awarded for the outline of a book, but rather for proven literary merit. Why, during the seven years of Oslo up to this very day, have you not denounced the Nobel Committee decision and returned your award in protest?

Where was the moral outcry when our governments entered into discussions with Syria before the fate of our missing soldiers was revealed? What is the difference between the soldiers captured within the last month and the men captured in Lebanon in 1982 who were last seen alive in Damascus? They have been missing for eighteen years! Arafat publicly exhibited half the identification tag of one of those men years ago yet the so-called peace process and the negotiations with Syria continued with nary a word of protest from anyone.


(5) By unleashing mob violence and bloodshed in the streets rather than guiding his *frustrated* people toward coexistence and peace, he renounced their *legitimate aspirations* for a future free of suffering and hatred. I hold him responsible for the murder of Rabbi Hillel Lieberman and the lynching of two young reservists. All his promises were lies; all his commitments were false. Indeed many *peace activists* here and in Israel are now reassessing the Oslo accords.

You freely use undefined terms in your speech. What is the source of the 'frustration' of the Palestinian people? The PLO covenant calls for the destruction of Israel. Is that a 'legitimate aspiration' of the Palestinian people? Perhaps their failure to realize their 'legitimate aspiration' to destroy us is the source of their 'frustration'?

Why is Arafat held officially responsible only for the murder of three people? Why is he not held responsible for all the deaths and injuries that he and his thugs have inflicted upon hundreds of innocent people? Is he any less responsible for the death of the crippled Leon Klinghoffer, thrown into the sea to drown by Arafat's terrorists? The list is unfortunately almost endless since Arafat began his prolific reign of terror over thirty years ago.


What is meant by a 'peace activist'? Do people like myself and many of my colleagues, who were beaten by the police as they demonstrated against the Oslo process, desire peace real peace any less than the dreamers who blindly followed the Oslo path to the present dangers? Are we not "peace activists" too?

(6) Under Israeli sovereignty, Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike could pray without fear in Jerusalem, our capital, which is at the center of Jewish history. A Jew may be Jewish far from Jerusalem; but not without Jerusalem. Though a Jew may not live in Jerusalem, Jerusalem lives inside him. No other nation's memory is as identified with its memory as ours. No people have been as faithful to its name, or have celebrated its past with as much fervor. None of our prayers are as passionate as those that speak of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the dream of our dreams, the light that illuminates our hopeless moments. Its legitimacy lies in its sovereignty. To oppose one is to deny the other. Israel will never give up either.

This is a beautiful statement, which, alas, contains a rub. There was a time when Jerusalem was only 'the dream of our dreams.' Today, after much sacrifice, it is also a *reality.* And yet, the overwhelming majority of Jews in the free world have chosen to keep it in the realm of dreams. Celebration of the past is not enough; the challenge of this generation is to build a future worthy of the past. In a sea of hostility, Israel struggles to survive and for this it needs more Jews here. As the Jewish population in Israel increases, so improves the political, military, and even the spiritual condition of the State.


Aliyah has never been on the agenda of the free Jewry of the West. While there may be many reasons and rationales for this reality, it remains a sad and indisputable fact. Tragically, it is those Jews who survived the Holocaust and who felt the pain of Jewish helplessness on their bodies and in their souls who should have been at the forefront of the move to come and build a strong Israel the only place in the world where a Jew is unconditionally welcomed, where a fully meaningful Jewish life can be led, and where Jewish helplessness can be replaced by Jewish strength. Their decision to reject the Jewish state and live in the Diaspora is perhaps the unkindest cut of all.

This is particularly true today, 55 years after the destruction of the ovens at Auschwitz. The specter of virulent anti-Semitism is reappearing all over the world including in the enlightened Western democracies in the form of attacks upon Jews and Jewish institutions. And the wife of the American president sits by quietly while the wife of the worst killer of Jews since Hitler accuses Israel of the medieval charge of poisoning the wells.

Speeches, rallies, demonstrations and solidarity missions to Israel, no matter how sincere and moving, may provide an illusion of positive activity and help to alleviate the frustration of helplessness. But, in the final analysis, it is only the millions of Jews living in Israel that will, with G-d's help, enable the state to survive with all that its survival means to the safety and survival of Jews everywhere.

Jay Shapiro heads a consulting firm dealing with United States Government contracting. He is the host of a popular current events show on Arutz-7 English broadcasts and is the author of several books of essays on Israeli society. For books available from the author:
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