Elie Wiesel’s Strange Parade

Madman or Commissar?

Parade Magazine took full advantage of Independence (sic) Day falling on a Sunday by hiring none other than Elie Wiesel to pen a little something called “The America I Love” for their patriotic cover story. Over a two-page spread, the “Nobel Laureate” explained how America “for two centuries, has stood as a living symbol of all that is charitable and decent to victims of injustice everywhere…where those who have are taught to give back.” The perpetually dishevelled Wiesel explained that in the U.S., “compassion for the refugee and respect for the other still have biblical connotations.”

Those same thoughts coming from a housewife in Peoria or truck driver in Boise are typically chalked up to ignorance so, perhaps Elie Wiesel is just an idiot…too simple-minded to discern reality from fantasy. But we can’t let him off the hook so easily when, after reminding us-yet again-of his Holocaust experiences, the winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom admits, “U.S. history has gone through severe trials” (apparently this is how Nobel Peace Prize winners think: it’s “history” that undergoes trials). Ever careful to point out his bearing witness to the civil rights movement (and equally careful to avoid explaining what that means), Wiesel calls anti-black racism “scandalous and depressing.” But, take heart, black America, because dear Elie adds “racism as such has vanished from, the American scene.”

Roll over, Mumia…and tell Leonard Peltier the news.

Wiesel deigns to mention a few more of America’s indiscretions but is at the ready to explain: “No nation is composed of saints alone. None is sheltered from mistakes and misdeeds” (more scholarly talk: “mistakes,” not “policy”). “America is always ready to learn from its mishaps,” he writes. “Self-criticism remains its second nature.”

This is the territory of madmen and commissars. Who else speaks such words…and is convinced they speak the truth? Precisely what kind of man is this professional sufferer, Elie Wiesel? Here are two peeks behind the myth:

While Wiesel’s documentation of the Nazi Holocaust has earned him international acclamation and a Nobel Peace Prize, he is not always predisposed to yield the genocide victim’s spotlight. In 1982, for example, a conference on genocide was held in Israel with Wiesel scheduled to be honorary chairman, but the situation became complicated when the Armenians wanted in. Here’s how Noam Chomsky described the incident: “The Israeli government put pressure upon [Wiesel] to drop the Armenian genocide. They allowed the others, but not the Armenian one. He was pressured by the government to withdraw, and being a loyal commissar as he is, he withdrew…because the Israeli government had said they didn’t want Armenian genocide brought up.” Wiesel went even further, calling up noted Israeli Holocaust historian, Yehuda Bauer, and pleading with him to also boycott the conference. “That gives an indication of the extent to which people like Elie Wiesel were carrying out their usual function of serving Israeli state interests,” Chomsky explains, “even to the extent of denying a holocaust, which he regularly does.” Why not welcome the Armenians, you wonder? Chalk it up to two conspicuous factors: the need to monopolize the Holocaust(tm) image and the geopolitical reality that Turkey (the nation responsible for the Armenian genocide) is a rare and much-needed Muslim ally for Israel.

In Parade, Wiesel also speaks of brave American soldiers bringing “rays of hope” to the people of Iraq. However, such rays were not welcome in Central and South America when Israel served as a U.S. proxy for proving arms to murderous regimes like that of Guatemala. In 1981, shortly after Israel agreed to provide military aid to this oppressive regime, a Guatemalan officer had a feature article published in the army’s Staff College review. In that article, the officer praised Adolf Hitler, National Socialism, and the Final Solution-quoting extensively from Mein Kampf and chalking up Hitler’s anti-Semitism to the “discovery” that communism was part of a “Jewish conspiracy.” Despite such seemingly incompatible ideology, Israel’s estimated military assistance to Guatemala in 1982 was $90 million. What type of policies did the Guatemalan government pursue with the help they received from a nation populated with thousands of Holocaust survivors? Consider the words of Gabriel, one of the Guatemalan freedom fighters interviewed in 1994 by Jennifer Harbury: “In my country, child malnutrition is close to 85 percent. Ten percent of all children will be dead before the age of five, and this is only the number actually reported to government agencies. Close to 70 percent of our people are functionally illiterate. There is almost no industry in our country-you need land to survive. Less than 3 percent of our landowners own over 65 percent of our lands. In the last fifteen years or so, there have been over 150,000 political murders and disappearances. Don’t talk to me about Gandhi; he wouldn’t have survived a week here.”

Similar stories can be culled from countries throughout the region, but apparently have had no effect on the rulers of the Jewish state. For example, when Israel faced an international arms embargo after the 1967 war, a plan to divert Belgian and Swiss arms to the Holy Land was implemented. These weapons were supposedly destined for Bolivia to be transported by a company managed by Klaus Barbie…as in “The Butcher of Lyon.”

One Jewish figure that might be expected to find fault with such policy is, of course, Parade cover boy Elie Wiesel. Here is an episode from mid-1985, documented by Yoav Karni in Ha’aretz, which should put to rest any exalted expectations of the revered moralist: When Wiesel received a letter from a Nobel Prize laureate documenting Israel’s contributions to the atrocities in Guatemala, suggesting that he use his considerable influence to put a stop to Israel’s practice of arming neo-Nazis, Wiesel “sighed” and admitted to Karni that he did not reply to that particular letter. “I usually answer at once,” he explained, “but what can I answer to him?”

One is left to only wonder how Wiesel’s silent sigh might have been received if it was in response to a letter not about Jewish complicity in the murder of Guatemalans but instead about the function of Auschwitz in 1943.

In Parade, Elie Wiesel claims he discovered in America “the strength to overcome cynicism and despair.” It sounds like what he’s actually overcome is honesty and compassion.

Mickey Z. is the author of two brand new books: The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda” (Common Courage Press) and “A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense” (Library Empyreal/Wildside Press).