Wiesel’s ad was essentially a broadside at the Obama administration – an effort to retard its moves to push for a comprehensive solution to all the final-status issues of Israel-Palestine – Jerusalem included. Some bloggers have even claimed that Wiesel was put up to it by Prime Minister Netanyahu himself, and that Netanyahu’s friend, Ronald Lauder underwrote the costs.
Regardless of who was behind the ad, Wiesel is certainly a tough figure for American Jews to take on. A Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, a powerful writer and a philanthropist, Wiesel has an aura of gravitas and tremendous moral authority.
But Israelis – who have to live the consequences of “earthly Jerusalem”, and don’t have the luxury of waxing poetic on “Jerusalem of God” – have not been shy about telling Wiesel what they think of his impassioned intervention. First, Yossi Sarid rebuked Wiesel for his misguided theo-philosophical focus: “Is life itself not holier than historical rights, than national and personal memory – holier even than Jerusalem?“
Now a group calling itself “Just Jerusalem”, which includes Israel Prize laureates Avishai Margalit and Zeev Sternhell, as well as former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, has sent an open letter to Wiesel in which it bemoans his detachment from earthbound reality:
“Our Jerusalem is populated with people, young and old, women and men, who wish their city to be a symbol of dignity – not of hubris, inequality and discrimination. You speak of the celestial Jerusalem; we live in the earthly one. … [Your letter] upholds an attachment to some other-worldly city which purports to supersede the interests of those who live in the this-worldly one.”
Wiesel is truly an important and rightly-esteemed figure. But his well-earned reputation has been gained by stressing the universalist responsibilities of humanity, not the particularist sentiments that divide people and stoke resentment and hatred. Let us hope that his recent entry into the world of public diplomacy was an aberration, not a new direction.