Wiesel: Outrage at Jerusalem letter

By Jessica Elgot, May 13, 2010
Elie Wiesel: Jerusalem residents accused him of not knowing the 'real' Jerusalem

Elie Wiesel: Jerusalem residents accused him of not knowing the 'real' Jerusalem

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel has sparked outrage in Jerusalem for an open letter he wrote to US President Barack Obama urging him not to ‘politicise’ Jerusalem.

The American-based academic and Holocaust survivor wrote to President Obama: “For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics.

"It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain.

“The first song I heard was my mother's lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and its joy are part of our collective memory."

The letter, which appeared in many American newspapers, went to say: “Today, for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And, contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city.

“The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory."

But a letter published in the New York Review of Books from 100 Jewish residents, academics and activists in Jerusalem criticised Mr Wiesel for “sentimentalising” the city. They said they felt they were being “sacrificed for the fantasies of those who love our city from afar".

The letter read: “Your letter 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.”

They also expressed dismay that the reality of life in Jerusalem was not conveyed by Mr Wiesel and called for him to recognise the “discrimination” against Arabs in the city.

Former Israeli cabinet minister Yossi Sarid also criticised Mr Wiesel for claiming Arabs had free rights in Jerusalem.

He said: "Not only may an Arab not build 'anywhere', but he may thank his God if he is not evicted from his home and thrown out on to the street with his family and property.”

Last updated: 4:40pm, October 7 2010