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August 4, 2015 / 19 Av, 5775
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Wiesel Versus Netanyahu

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We were dismayed by the criticism Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel leveled at Prime Minister Netanyahu following the latter’s speech marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. Mr. Wiesel took issue with what he said was the prime minister’s likening of the Holocaust to the threat posed to Israel by Iran. Obviously whatever Mr. Wiesel says about the Holocaust is worth listening to. But we are nonetheless puzzled.

Mr. Wiesel said:

Iran is a threat, but can we say that it will make a second Auschwitz? I don’t compare anything to the Holocaust…. Only Auschwitz was Auschwitz. I went to Yugoslavia when reporters said that there was a Holocaust starting there. There was genocide, but not an Auschwitz. When you make a comparison to the Holocaust it works both ways, and soon people will say what happened in Auschwitz was “only what happened in Bosnia.”

But Mr. Netanyahu did no such thing. Here is part of what he said:

On this day, when our entire nation gathers together to remember the horrors of the Holocaust and the six million Jews who were murdered, we must fulfill our most sacred obligation.This obligation is not merely an obligation to remember the past. It is an obligation to learn its lessons, and, most importantly, to apply them to the present in order to secure the future of our people. We must remember the past and secure the future by applying the lessons of the past.

This is especially true for this generation – a generation that once again is faced with calls to annihilate the Jewish state. One day, I hope that the state of Israel will enjoy peace with all the countries and all the peoples in our region. One day, I hope that we will read about his calls to destroy the Jews only in history books and not in daily newspapers. But that day has not yet come.

Today, the regime in Iran openly calls and determinedly works for our destruction. And it is feverishly working to develop atomic weapons to achieve that goal…. I know there are also those who believe that the unique evil of the Holocaust should never be invoked in discussing other threats facing the Jewish people. To do so, they argue, is to belittle the Holocaust and to offend its victims.

I totally disagree. On the contrary. To cower from speaking the uncomfortable truth – that today like then, there are those who want to destroy millions of Jewish people – that is to belittle the Holocaust, that is to offend its victims and that is to ignore the lessons.

Clearly Mr. Netanyahu was not focusing on the human horrors of Auschwitz but rather on the Nazis’ end goal of eradicating the Jewish people and Iran’s vow to obliterate seven and a half million Jews living in Israel.

But what really rankles is that Mr. Wiesel was standing near Barak Obama as the president delivered his own remarks at the United States Holocaust Museum on April 23. Mr. Obama spoke about millions of people sent to their deaths “just for being Jewish.” He also noted the “millions of Poles and Catholics and Roma and gay people and so many others who also must never be forgotten.” He mentioned the killings in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Libya, Central Africa and South Sudan. He spoke of the phrase “never again” as “a challenge to reject hatred in all its forms – including anti-Semitism” and as “a challenge to defend the fundamental right of free people and free nations to exist in peace and security and that includes the state of Israel.”

And he characterized “never again” as “a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth – too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop in the lives we did not save.”

So here was the president of the United States speaking of the Holocaust – at an event memorializing the Holocaust – as one of a series of tragic and bloody events in recent history. Talk about minimizing the uniqueness of the Shoah!

And yet Mr. Wiesel said nothing at the time. Perhaps he felt it wasn’t his place to take issue with the president at such a sober gathering. But we have heard nothing from Mr. Wiesel on the subject since then. Given his sharp response to what Mr. Netanyahu said, his silence over President Obama’s far more egregious remarks is deafening.

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