By Jenni Frazer
May 14, 2010
The row that has erupted between 100 Jewish Jerusalemites and the Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel has a whiff of an accident waiting to happen. Sooner or later someone was going to challenge Wiesel's sentimental fantasy version of life in the Israeli capital, seen from the dreaming towers of his academic life in America. Nobody would care, I don't suppose, if Wiesel clung on to his teeth-gratingly mawkish vision of Jerusalem, except that he has decided to air it to President Obama as though, as my grandmother was wont to say, it was teires lokshen - in other words, the only valid version, the genuine article.
Now, however, the worms have turned. Once upon a time Wiesel was near sacrosanct, the keeper of the Holocaust survivors' flame, the holder of innumerable medals and awards, and well-nigh impervious to criticism. But look at this:
“Your letter [to Obama, and published in American newspapers]troubles us, not simply because it is replete with factual errors and false representations, but because it upholds an attachment to some other-worldly city which purports to supersede the interests of those who live in the this-worldly one.
“We cannot recognise our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its name. Your Jerusalem is an ideal, an object of prayers and a bearer of the collective memory of a people whose members actually bear many individual memories.
"Your claim that Jerusalem is above politics is doubly outrageous. First, because contemporary Jerusalem was created by a political decision and politics alone keeps it formally unified. The tortuous municipal boundaries of today's Jerusalem were drawn by Israeli generals and politicians shortly after the 1967 war.”
Anyone who has ever lived in the city may be compelled to utter a heartfelt "Hear, hear." Jerusalem is a real, not virtual, city, replete with problems and stroppy citizens, and populations who do not love each other as they might. Haredim loathe the secular, the secular, those who remain, dislike the strictly Orthodox, and east Jerusalem is effectively another country, only entered by those Israelis who are intent on making trouble, almost never those who would like to improve the lives of its residents.
Just for once I hope that Wiesel reads this outraged response from people who actually live in Jerusalem and deal with its difficulties on a day to day basis, and does not dismiss it out of hand. But I recognise that this is a fairly forlorn hope.