Is there a more contemptible poseur and windbag than Elie Wiesel? I suppose there may be. But not, surely, a poseur and windbag who receives (and takes as his due) such grotesque deference on moral questions. Look, if you will, at his essay on Jerusalem in the New York Times of January 24.
As a Jew living in the United States, I have long denied myself the right to intervene in Israel’s internal debates…. My critics have their conception of social and individual ethics; I have mine. But while I grant them their right to criticize, they sometimes deny mine to abstain.
Such magnificent condescension, to grant his critics the right. And it is not certain from when Wiesel dates his high-minded abstention from Israel’s internal affairs; he was a member of Menachem Begin’s Irgun in the 1940s, when that force employed extreme violence against Arab civilians and was more than ready to use it against Jews. At all events, his dubious claim above is only a pompous preface to discarding nonintervention in the present because Jerusalem is at stake, and "the fact that I do not live in Jerusalem is secondary; Jerusalem lives within me." (Again the modesty.) There are, sad to say, serpents in Wiesel’s internal Eden, and they too must be patronized:
That Muslims might wish to maintain close ties with this city unlike any other is understandable. Although its name does not appear in the Koran, Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam. But for Jews, it remains the first. Not just the first; the only.
"Might wish." "Ties." "Understandable." "Third holiest." Even these lordly and dismissive gestures clearly cost Wiesel something. After all, he announces that the city is "mentioned more than 600 times in the Bible," which (assuming for a moment that one ought to think like a religious fundamentalist in the first place) would give a Christian Arab–these being at least 15 percent of the Palestinian population–quite a strong claim on the old place. (Incidentally, let me ask any reader how often the city is mentioned in the Torah.) But for Wiesel all Arabs are Muslims, and even if they happen to live in Jerusalem, this is nothing to the way that Jerusalem dwells within Wiesel. Indeed, it would evidently dwell more comfortably within him if they did not live in it at all. Do I exaggerate? I don’t think so. In a propaganda tour of recent history, he asserts that in 1948, "incited by their leaders, 600,000 Palestinians left the country convinced that, once Israel was vanquished, they would be able to return home."
This claim is a cheap lie and is known by Wiesel to be a lie. It is furthermore an utterly discredited lie, and one that Israeli officialdom no longer cares to repeat. Israeli and Jewish historians have exposed it time and again: Every Arab broadcasting station in the region, in 1947 as well as 1948, was monitored and recorded and transcribed by the BBC, and every Arab newspaper has been scoured, and not one instance of such "incitement," in direct speech or reported speech, has ever come to light. The late historian and diplomat Erskine Childers issued an open challenge on the point as far back as the 1950s that was never taken up and never will be. And of course the lie is a Big Lie, because Expulsion-Denial lies at the root of the entire problem and helps poison the situation to this day. (When Israel’s negotiators gingerly discuss the right of return, at least they don’t claim to be arguing about ghosts, or Dead Souls.)