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Wiesel Sparks Feud Between Living and Dead

With newspaper ad espousing reverance for Jerusalem

Jenny Merkin
April 19, 2010

This past weekend, newspaper readers were met with an ad by Elie Wiesel entitled “For Jerusalem.” The Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times all featured the message from the Nobel Laureate beseeching politicians and activists to handle the issue of Jerusalem (“the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul”) with time and sense:

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 which 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?

The ad appeared the same week as the article “The Living and the Dead” by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who extolled the virtues of examining history and the dead before making decisions in the present day (the International Herald Tribune ran them the same day). He provocatively categorized the dead as the “majority” and the living a “minority.”

In his Talking Points Memo, Bernard Avishai featured a response crafted by his wife, Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, blasting both authors. Where Ezrahi had expected Wiesel to take a stand against the oppression Israelis are inflicting on displaced Palestinians, instead, she noted with derision, he rooted for the dead over the living by lauding history while glossing over present day issues, fulfilling Cohen’s statement that the dead are the chosen ones:

Not only do the settlers here and all over the West Bank undermine the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence (if Jews have a right to land owned across the Green Line before the War of Independence, then surely so do those thousands of Palestinians who were displaced from West Jerusalem—including, presumably, the very house from which I write these words), but they consign all of us, sooner rather than later, to join the phalanx of the dead who died because people like Wiesel prefer mythical references to History and Eschatology over the real people who want to live together in peace.