Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Does Elie Wiesel Deserve the Benefit of the Doubt? One Nobel Laureate Speaks to Another

Elie Wiesel is an optimist, and an optimist who survived the Holocaust is someone to whom we must attend. And so it is with sensitivity and care that we must read his recent plea (his full page ad in major newspapers in April 2010) to defer discussions on the future status of Jerusalem.

The ad that appeared in the New York Times is not addressed to any particular party, though many have (correctly, I think!) inferred that it is directed against the Obama administration, and that it refers to its current diplomatic dispute with Israel.

But what if his message was addressed to Israel and its leaders?

This is what Wiesel writes:

“What is the solution? Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps that will allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atmosphere of security. Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issue, for such a time?”

Readers should presume that Mr. Wiesel’s reference to “pressure” connects to the insistence of President Obama that Israel halt construction in disputed areas of the West Bank, including parts of east Jerusalem.

But what if Mr. Wiesel’s message was intended not for Mr. Obama but rather for Mr. Netanyahu and his government?! What if we read Mr. Wiesel’s words as a call to Israel to halt their planning, declaring, permitting and constructing, because those are actions that do not “allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atmosphere of security”? What if Elie Wiesel here criticizes the entirety of Israel’s settlement expansion in Jerusalem as detrimental to an “atmosphere of security?”

We do not know what Mr. Wiesel intends. We must presume, of course, that the totality of his comments were, indeed, aimed at the Obama administration, and that they assert the ancient prejudices, biases, and fears of an Israelite nation relying on the Hebrew bible for their validity and force. But I am a dreamer, and I would hope that a Nobel peace laureate would search for truly peaceful solutions even when it is most difficult. I would hope that one Nobel peace laureate would make the same assumptions about another.

Mr. Wiesel asserts earlier that “Jerusalem is above politics,” and concludes his ad with the hope that Jerusalem “remain the world’s Jewish spiritual capital.” This is certainly my hope as well. But I wonder whether we can ever learn to share this spiritual treasure with those who similarly view Jerusalem with the same love and passion as Mr. Wiesel.

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