Elie Wiesel and I took out ads in America’s major newspapers supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right to speak to the American Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat. The ads were beautiful and biblical, retelling the story of Esther and the choice she was given between alienating her king by speaking up for her people and remaining silent. She chose to save her people from annihilation.
This week I traveled with Prof. Wiesel and his wife, Marion, and my wife, Debbie, to the prime minister’s speech as guests of Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner.
The speech was magnificent and did much to vindicate those who put their reputations on the line to support it.
The day before Prime Minister Netanyahu’s masterful oration to Congress, our organization, This World: The Values Network, held one of its most moving events yet, “The Meaning of ‘Never Again’: Guarding Against a Nuclear Iran,” in Washington. Elie Wiesel joined me along with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, to discuss the genocidal threats from Iran and the rise of global anti-Semitism.
The event sought to lend support to Netanyahu’s campaign for a tougher stance against the Iranians’ nuclear program, particularly in light of their genocidal threats against the Jewish state; it was Elie Wiesel at his most eloquent.
We had scheduled the event to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the murder of Anne Frank, who died in the first week of March 1945 in Bergen-Belsen. The exact date is not known.
The most famous survivor of the Holocaust would commemorate its most famous victim.
And what better way to respect her memory than in protecting her people from the threat of yet another genocidal regime, yet again from Persia.
The event got off to a heated start as protesters from Code Pink stormed the floor, trying to disrupt the procession with banners and screams. From the time the event began, though, and from the time Wiesel began to speak, there was barely a sound. All were entranced by his soft-spoken, yet all so powerful, words of wisdom.
Wiesel spoke of the differences between today and his years in the Nazi death camps.
Today, we have friends who will protect us.
Back then, he lamented, America did far too little to protect the Jews of Europe, a failure which Cruz said underscored the importance of acting against Iran today. More important, Elie Wiesel pointed out that today we have an army dedicated to the protection of the Jewish People. Indeed, he spoke of the sense of wonder that overcame him the first time he saw an IDF uniform. Yet he also lamented the key similarity between now and then – the presence of anti-Semitism. It is the eternal companion of the Jewish People, yet, the professor offered, it can be ameliorated through education.
Wiesel spoke of how he truly believed that after the unspeakable crime of the Holocaust anti-Semitism would die down, perhaps be purged from the earth forever. Surely now the nations of the world, having seen where their hatred can lead, would forgo revulsion for the Jews. But there was no such thing. Wiesel said he was horrified to see it all return so viciously.
Wiesel stated his absolute support for the prime minister’s speech. He said that we must rely as much on the threats of our enemies as we do on the promises of our friends. We dare not downplay the danger posed by Iran. “Especially when their threats are repeated, we have to take them seriously,’’ he said. “I need proof that Iran has changed its policy. If the evil begins its work, don’t give it another chance.”
Cruz, too, took a hard line on Iran. The prime minister’s speech had been become mired in politics, yet “politics are not what matters now,” he asserted. “What matters now is the single greatest national security threat to the world today – and that is preventing a nuclear Iran.” Tehran could not be trusted in negotiations, he said, and “those who are negotiating with Iran fundamentally don’t understand who they are dealing with.
“History may well record it as a mistake and a catastrophe on the order of magnitude of Munich,’’ said Cruz, referring to the failed 1938 “peace” deal that allowed Hitler to annex parts of Czechoslovakia. “When our negotiators return with a promise of ‘peace in our time,’ we should believe this no more now than we should have believed it then,” he said.
The most moving part of the event came at the end. Wiesel told the spellbound audience: “Everything I have endured could have led me to choose despair... I could have said, ‘Goodbye world, you’ve rejected me. You’ve killed off my father and mother, and everyone I’ve loved.’ I could have moved to the desert. I could have chosen to forget and just to enjoy my life; after all, I deserved it. And yet, I rejected that.
I chose to remember and to teach.” He said that he rejected that path because he could not live a life of loneliness. “Only G-d is alone.”
He needed to embrace others, and help them when he could.
And indeed, he stood before us having just flown in to Washington at this critical moment, all to support the Jewish People in its time of need.
Right after the prime minister’s speech, Wiesel and I went to a reception with prime minister Netanyahu where the prime minister thanked him warmly for attending. In the speech itself he had been the only person the prime minister welcomed personally. As we left the reception, and Debbie and I escorted the Wiesels to their car, it was freezing cold with a snowy breeze. I saw Wiesel huddled against his overcoat as the wind blew around him. Before me I saw the great hero of the Jewish People, prepared to meet any threat his people faced, prepared to always speak out.
Prepared to speak truth to power. Adamant that Never Again must mean exactly that.
And as he left, I told him, in the endearing term I’ve used for him for 25 years, “Reb Eliezer. You are our prince and our great light to the nations. God bless you with long life and the best of health. I cannot imagine a world without you.”Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of 30 books and has recently published
The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging G-d in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.