US President Barack Obama is deeply committed to peace and wants to enter
history as the man to finally end the Arab- Israeli conflict, Nobel laureate
Elie Wiesel said in Jerusalem on Tuesday, shortly before receiving the World Jewish
Congress’s first Guardian of Jerusalem Award in recognition of his lifetime of
“My feeling is that Obama really wants to enter history as
the one who finally brings this conflict to an end,” Wiesel said in an interview
with The Jerusalem Post and international media outlets. “After all, Obama has
already entered history as the first black president.”
Wiesel, who has
met one on one with Obama and also traveled with the US president to the
Buchenwald concentration camp, where Wiesel himself had been a prisoner during
the Holocaust, said Obama was “very sincere in his pursuit of peace and very
deeply committed to peace.”
He added that he was “very optimistic” about
the chances for success of the talks commencing in Washington this week,
cautioned, “I’m a very poor prophet and I’ve been wrong in the
Asked what he based his optimism on, Wiesel replied: “The
participants cannot afford another failure.”
He added, however, that for
the negotiations to succeed the issue of Jerusalem must be left to the
you begin with Jerusalem there is no way of obtaining any success at any
Earlier this year Wiesel published an open letter in several
major American newspapers calling for Jerusalem to be above politics and
that it must remain the world’s Jewish spiritual capital.
In answer to a
question from the Post
, Wiesel said he understood criticism of that
Israeli intellectuals, including Israel Prize laureates Ze’ev Sternhell
Avishai Margalit as well as former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, who
they lived in an “earthly Jerusalem” while Wiesel lived in a “celestial
“In a way they are right when they say, ‘We live here, we face the
dangers, leave us alone,’” Wiesel said.
“But they didn’t understand
certain things. They thought I was saying we have to keep Jerusalem and
everything else. But want I really wanted was to hasten peace and
we have to let peace take hold. If Jerusalem is first, there is no
Wiesel denied that letter was a political act. “I did not take any
position in favor of the government,” he said.
The author of over 60
books, Wiesel, 81, was born in Romania to a family of Viznitz Hassidim.
survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, but with the exception of his two
sisters most of his family was murdered. After the war he found asylum
and embarked on a career in journalism.
In 1956 he applied for American
citizenship and he currently lives in New York.
Turning to the issue of
the nuclear threat from Iran, Wiesel said, “Today of course my obsession
[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahamadinejad, who is the No. 1 Holocaust
the world, who publicly and repeatedly has said that he wants to
Jewish state. I have learned to take the enemy’s threats seriously and
therefore, wherever I go, I say this man should be arrested and brought
Hague and indicted for incitement for a crime against humanity.
particular crime [genocide], the intent itself is a crime and not only
implementation of the crime.”
While he would not comment on whether he
would support a preemptive strike on Iran, Wiesel said his feeling was
“Israel and America are closer on Iran than on many other issues.”
added that regardless of Iran’s threats to Israel, Ahmadinejad’s
his own people branded him a criminal.
“One thing I do know about
Ahmadinejad is that not only did he steal the elections in Iran but that
is doing to his own people – the stoning of Sakineh [Mohammadi Ashtiani]
can one in our century do that? I feel that he should simply be excluded
Wiesel said he stood by a statement he made almost 20
years ago that the greatest danger of the 21st century would be nuclear
the hands of a fanatic. “Fanaticism is bad enough. Give it power and we
in danger,” Wiesel said.
He added that it was not inconceivable that a
suicide terrorist would try to carry out a nuclear attack. “A suicide
is not someone who wants to die, a suicide terrorist is someone who
kill. In order to kill more people he kills himself... How do we know
tomorrow a terrorist will not take a little nuclear device? It’s not
MOVING ON to the campaign to delegitimize Israel, Wiesel
described it as a “a very big worry,” but added that the whole world is
“Israel has allies and Israel has friends. Sometimes one
group is more vocal than the other,” he said.
Talking about his recent
criticism of the government’s decision to deport approximately 400
foreign workers, Wiesel said: “It is the first time I have criticized
public like that. Usually if I have something to say, I get on a plane
and see the prime minister and say, ‘Look.’” Wiesel said that he had
shocked when he read about the decision.
“A father who cannot feed his
children, his human rights are violated just as if he were politically
persecuted,” he said. “Secondly, no human being is illegal. He cannot be
illegal. He can do something illegal, but he cannot be illegal... I was
[by the deportation plans].
What about Jewish heart, Jewish compassion,
what about Jewish morality and Jewish conscience? I grew up in a
tradition. I used to be a refugee, so I feel empathy with every
After being asked whether that empathy extended to the
Palestinians, Wiesel replied: “I can not ignore the suffering of the
Palestinians, but because of my personal history it’s not my main cause.
Palestinian violence stop, let terrorism stop and I would surely take on
Wiesel also had a take on recent inflammatory remarks by Shas’s
spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who delivered a sermon in which he
on the almighty for the death of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Wiesel labeled the comments “unworthy and scandalous... I respect
religion and religious people.
I count myself a religious Jew,” he said.
“But how can one wish the death of anyone?”