by Eli Clifton
Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel took to the pages of the New York Times yesterday in a paid advertisement urging Congress to strengthen sanctions against Iran and, in apparent ignorance of the state of the current negotiations between Iran and P5+1, urged readers to “appeal to President Obama and Congress to demand, as a condition of continued talks, the total dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and the regime’s public and complete repudiation of all genocidal intent against Israel.”
Never mind that Wiesel’s “demands” are supposed to be the goal of — rather than the preconditions for — the negotiations. Or that both the Obama administration and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have clearly stated that passing new sanctions legislation could kill the sensitive diplomacy occurring between Tehran, Washington and the other P5+1 members.
Indeed, other than Elie Wiesel using his well-regarded name to support a plan whose likely impact will be to scuttle a nuclear deal with Iran (a deal that most Middle East experts believe would make both Israel and Western countries more secure) perhaps the most interesting part of the ad is buried at the bottom.
It reads: “Sponsored by Michael Steinhardt, Board of Governors, This World: The Values Network; co-founder Birthright Israel.”
Despite his understandably pro-Israel political leanings, Wiesel has repeatedly expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and supported Obama’s efforts to negotiate such a deal.
After a meeting with Obama in 2010, Wiesel said, “The president is convinced that the peace process must continue. And we all agree of course. There is no substitute to peace among nations. Each side must understand that there is no absolute justice in the world, nor absolute peace in the world. One side must understand the other’s need for assurance for respect.”
Wiesel’s position, however, is not shared with his funder, hedge fund mogul Michael Steinhardt.
Blumenthal: You know the occupation of Palestine has been going on for over 45 years and there are a lot of students organizing against it on campus?
Steinhardt: I think the idea of it being occupied isn’t exactly right either cause 45 years ago there was no Palestinian people.
Blumenthal: There’s no Palestinian people?
Steinhardt: There was none. So this is a new phenomenon.
Blumenthal: You’re saying they’re like an invented people.
Steinhardt: I think so.
Steinhardt is also a longstanding funder of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish think tank whose fellows frequently call for heightened sanctions against Iran and downplay the dangers of Israeli and/or U.S. military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The 1986 Norwegian Nobel Committee cited Wiesel’s “practical work in the cause of peace” and his message “of peace, atonement and human dignity” when awarding him the Peace Prize. But Wiesel’s decision to throw his considerable moral weight behind an initiative to derail diplomacy with Iran and join forces with a man who engages in historical revisionism and denies Palestinian peoplehood is an odd turn for a person dedicated to human rights.