Elie Wiesel NOT (thank goodness!)

August 14, 2006

In News

By Silvia Tennenbaum

As a Jew who escaped the Holocaust by moving with my
family to America in 1938, I turn on the BBC at night.
And what I see are clouds of black smoke, explosions;
the dead and the dying – children crying bitterly,
cities in ruins. Only yesterday, these piles of rubble
in Lebanon were home to thousands. Now, the cars roll
out onto the highways, white flags attached to the
windshields and doors. More than half a million are

The Israelis told them to leave, but then strafed one
convoy from a helicopter. The military people exert
their force without pity. They win their wars proudly.
They are the masters of force.

Using the most modern weapons the United States can
supply to search out the Hezbollah guerrillas, the
Israeli soldiers destroy Lebanon. They wreck all of
Gaza, seeking to murder the leaders of Hamas.

Many American Jews gather proudly to cheer them on. The
face of the American president remains blank. A patter
of platitudes issues from his lips. He is not
interested in peace. He is happy to see Israel do the
dirty war for him. Diplomacy is a word not in his

But lo and behold – even as the destruction builds and
the war continues through its third week – it seems
suddenly no longer such a lark. Success is hard to come
by; Israel is no longer the perennial victor. But will
it know what to do when faced with the need to talk
with the enemy? It has always felt so invincible that
discussion seemed the weapon of fools and weaklings,
much like the way the earnest work of its principled
and dedicated peace camp – Jewish to the core, in an
“old-fashioned” way – seemed pathetic and misguided.

But the peace camp knew that each and every Israeli
atrocity nurtured another enemy, a potential terrorist,
while every Palestinian home that the Israeli Committee
Against House Demolitions helped to rebuild, every
olive tree it planted tenderly in occupied soil,
brought another possible friend, another partner in

Meanwhile, back at the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee, deep in the heart of the Jewish Lobby, the
call to action is, as always, a call for solidarity,
for good public relations. Denounce terrorism, suicide
bombers and anti-Semitism in all its endless
variations, which includes the “self-hatred” of the
misguided Jew who asks us to give some thought to where
we – obsessed with brutal retaliation – may have gone

And, it goes without saying, loyal Jews must talk about
the Holocaust. Ignore the images of today’s dead and
dying, and focus on the grainy black-and-white pictures
showing the death of Jews in the villages of Poland, at
Auschwitz and Sobibor and Bergen-Belsen. We are the
first, the only true victims, the champions of
helplessness for all eternity.

No matter what great accomplishments were ours in the
diaspora, no matter that we produced Maimonides and
Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn and hundreds of others of
mankind’s benefactors – not a warrior among them! –
look at the world of our long exile always in the dark
light of the Shoah. But this, in itself, is an obscene
distortion: Would the author of “Survival in
Auschwitz,” Primo Levi, or the poet Paul Celan demand
that we slaughter the innocents in a land far from the
snow-clad forests of Poland? Is it a heroic act to
murder a child, even the child of an enemy? Are my
brethren glad of it and proud?

I am heartsick, and still I see a glimmer of hope
(there must be that glimmer, to go on at 78 years).

The American peace camp reports a sudden massive
increase in membership. All over the country, Jews
whose consciences have not been crippled are writing
in, speaking up, gathering, to raise their voices. Is
this not what we have always done? What we were brought
up to do? What – since the days of the Bible and the
prophets – our forefathers taught us? If Israel had
worked for peace as hard as it has worked for war,
might it not all be settled now?

Three hundred British Jews took out an ad in the Times
of London to ask the question, “What is Israel doing?”
This question has now been taken up by Jewish Voice for
Peace, and by Alan Sokal and Bruce Robbins who, some
years back, placed an ad in The New York Times, that
read, “Not in Our Name.”

The time is long overdue for Jews to return to their
role as the world’s conscience, who come to the aid of
the dispossessed, the wretched of the earth. Once
again, we must join those who demand the end to unjust
wars – in Iraq as well as Lebanon – and an unjust
occupation in Gaza. We must honor the example of
American civil rights workers Andrew Goodman and
Michael Schwerner, not that of the mass murderer Baruch
Goldstein or Yigal Amir, killer of Yitzhak Rabin.

And perhaps the day will come that we will be counted –
by Jew and Arab alike – as among the Just, perhaps even
given a place at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in
Jerusalem, for the lives we helped to save in a
lawless, savage time.

[Silvia Tennenbaum, a writer in East Hampton, is author
of the novels “Yesterday’s Streets” and “Rachel, the
Rabbi’s Wife.”]