JSU Hears Elie Wiesel Discuss Anti-Semitism As Modern Problem

Members of Phillips Academy’s Jewish Student Union traveled to Boston University Monday to attend a lecture by acclaimed author, humanitarian, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, spoke on both the persistence of anti-Semitism and the political situation in the Middle East. After the lecture, JSU spoke with Wiesel at a private gathering. Too frail to stand, Wiesel sat at a desk in front of a packed auditorium and denounced anti-Semitism as a social disease infecting the entire world. “This topic [anti-Semitism] is so painful and so urgent,” he said. “So urgent and so absurd. All decent and intelligent societies are duty bound to confront, unmask and eliminate this hatred.” “Here is my question and my anguish,” he said. “If Auschwitz had not cured humankind of anti-Semitism, what can and what will? I don’t like to inspire anger in people, but I have no choice. The truth must be told.” Wiesel wondered if anti-Semitism has remained strong, despite changes in political climates and world cultures. “The arguments, old and new, remain the same, and they are so stupid,” he said. “The anti-Semite doesn’t care whether his argument is sound or not, only that he causes pain, that he humiliates.” Wiesel discussed many famous historical figures, authors and artists who were vocal anti-Semites and had great influence over their peers. He also read excerpts from Harry Truman’s journal in which the former President calls Jews selfish and ignorant and compared their cruelty to Hitler’s. “Modern anti-Semitism is so much more complex,” Wiesel said. Fifty years ago, anti-Semites wanted to send all Jews to Palestine, he explained. Now, they want all Jews to leave the Middle East. “I support Israel with all my heart,” he said. “I support Israel in joy and hope and in distress. But I do not hate its enemies. I simply do not believe that my hatred could have any redemptive qualities.” Wiesel said he supports the creation of a Palestinian state but only after there is peace in the region. “Peace will only be possible when [Palestinians] decide that the end does not justify all means,” he said. “When they say that Israel has no right to exist, that is a call to genocide and cannot be ignored.” Wiesel continued,“Human society is essentially pluralistic. We are all members of the same race and we have an obligation to make the human race human for all members.” Wiesel is currently lobbying for the United Nations to declare suicide bombing a crime against humanity. Such a designation would eliminate the statute of limitations in such cases and force U.N. member countries to discontinue their support of organizations that endorse suicide terrorism. Born in Transylvania, Wiesel was 15 when he was deported to Auschwitz, where his mother and sister were killed. He and his father were then transported to the Buchenwald camp, where his father died before the area was liberated in 1945. Wiesel went on to become a journalist in France and wrote his first novel, Night, about his experience in the death camps. Since then, he has published more than 40 books and is known throughout the world as a human rights activist. He is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Wiesel was also recently selected as one of the 50 greatest Americans for publication in Who’s Who in America. Wiesel became an American citizen in 1963 and has served as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University for 27 years. His lecture, “Anti-Semitism, a Disease: Old and New,” was the third in a series entitled, “The Fascination with Jewish Tales.” Wiesel’s other works include Dawn, the sequel to his acclaimed Night.