White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel sat down at the 92nd Street Y in New York City Wednesday night to talk about a perceived swell of fanaticism and intolerance in the country.
Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, appeared disturbed by the growing power in this campaign season of certain political pundits that he claimed were using hyperbolic, inflammatory and hateful attacks on the President to stir up hostility.
"This time there are...more than 20 million people who listen to certain political commentators, so to speak, the language they use, some of them compare President Obama to Hitler. How far can indecency go?" Wiesel asked. "I understand adversity, of course political adversaries, but there is hatred. Why such hatred?"
"In this campaign, there is already a new political fanaticism which I believe is dangerous and unworthy of [this] noble American tradition," he said.
"We've seen in the last 20 months an unwillingness to compromise egged on by the kind of discourse that you're talking about," Axelrod responded. "The big test after November is whether people are going to accept the sense of responsibility on both sides to move the country forward. We're eager to do that, but the environment is working against that."
Axelrod asked Wiesel about his views of what he saw as the growth of frenzied political and religious activity.
"I'm afraid that fanaticism is like a black plague, it's contagious," Wiesel continued. "Why I'm so worried is that it's growing in many, many quarters."
According to Ben Smith of Politico, the conversation then shifted to how these issues of fanaticism and tolerance correlated to controversial plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks away from Ground Zero.
Wiesel, 82, said his solution would be to affirm to Imam Faisal Rauf that "I know your intentions are good" but that his plan would "hurt some people who have suffered."
"Let's turn it around - let's do it together. Jews, Christians, and Muslims together will create this place, a center for interfaith, but sponsored together, financed together, worked out programs tighter, and show a symbol of solidarity, of religious solidarity," Wiesel said. "It can become a very great symbol here - a great monument for humanity."
"That sounds like a wonderful idea," Axelrod replied, later calling it "a great idea" and one that "gives me hope."
On Thursday afternoon, Axelrod e-mailed a statement to Greg Sargent at the Washington Post saying he did not endorse any sort of compromise:
I was at a forum with Elie Wiesel. In answer to a question, he threw out an idea about an interfaith center. I said I thought it was an intriguing idea. But he didn't make a formal proposal, nor did I make an "endorsement."