On October 25, while an overflow crowd of 1,500 poured into the first convention of the progressive-leaning, Israel-oriented lobbying organization J Street, Elie Wiesel addressed a crowd of 6,000 Christian Zionists at Pastor John Hagee's "Night To Honor Israel." According to the San Antonio Express News, while Wiesel sat by his side, Hagee trashed President Barack Obama, baselessly accusing him of "being tougher on Israel than on Russia, Iran, China and North Korea."
Meanwhile, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who appeared at Hagee's Christians United for Israel summit earlier this year, rejected J Street's request to speak at their convention, instead dispatching a low-level embassy official to "observe" the event. Oren then accused J Street of "impair[ing] Israel's interests."
In blessing Hagee while damning J Street, Wiesel and Oren chose an anti-Semitic group led by a far-right End Times theology preacher over a fledgling progressive organization that bills itself as "pro-Israel, pro-peace." And both Wiesel and Oren seem to be embroiled in yet another controversy over involvement with the extremist preacher.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain avidly sought Hagee's endorsement, appearing by the pastor's side during a widely publicized press conference to announce it. McCain was intent on winning a seal of approval from a figure of the Christian right, especially since he had lambasted Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries.
McCain may have been completely unaware of Hagee's sermon declaring the Holocaust to be a divinely ordained incident orchestrated by God to fulfill biblical prophecy; Hagee's accusation that the Jews' rejection of Jesus was the root of anti-Semitism; or his prediction that when the Antichrist returned, he would be homosexual and "partially Jewish, as was Adolph Hitler, as was Karl Marx." When Hagee's anti-Semitic ravings surfaced on blogs like Talk2Action.org and eventually gained national notoriety, McCain renounced the preacher's endorsement.
Unlike McCain, Oren and Wiesel cannot claim innocence of Hagee's anti-Semitic remarks precisely because of the clamor over McCain's disassociation. "My dear pastor when I hear that Christians are getting together in order to defend the people of Israel, of course it brings joy to my heart," Wiesel told Hagee in a September 3 interview. "And it simply says, look, people have learned from history." (Hagee is hawking DVD's of his Wiesel interview for $15 each on his personal website, turning footage of the encounter into a windfall profit.)
On October 26, during an unofficial panel of bloggers and activists at J Street's conference, I criticized Wiesel and Oren for associating with Hagee just as I had written about McCain's involvement with the preacher. By embracing an anti-Semite, Wiesel appears not to have learned the lesson he has taught. I said that the last person Wiesel trusted as much as Hagee was Bernard Madoff. That was a joke, of course, something of a Jewish joke, and in the humorous comparison I was granting Wiesel foolish credulity in his involvement with Hagee.
The Nobel Prize winning writer Wiesel has based his work and lectures for decades on the premise that we must learn from the tragedy of the past, the lesson of the Holocaust, in order not to repeat it. Perhaps Wiesel is not unaware of Hagee's appalling theology in which the violent destruction of the Jews is essential to bring about the Second Coming; or perhaps he doesn't take it seriously and feels such nonsense should not get in the way of Hagee's financial and propaganda support for the settlement movement on the West Bank that is now at the heart of difficulty in the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Michael Goldfarb, a former spokesman for the McCain-Palin campaign who blogs at the neoconservative Weekly Standard, called the blogger panel "clownish." He reported on my remarks:"Elie Wiesel Mocked At J Street Conference." In his post, Goldfarb omitted the facts I introduced about Hagee's anti-Semitism. Once again, ideology demanded forgetting history.
Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic, also called the panel "clownish," attacking me for criticizing Wiesel. "Here's a tip," Goldberg wrote on his blog. "Criticizing public figures who survived the Holocaust is permissible, of course. But mocking them is disgraceful. It's also not going to win you too many Jewish friends." Goldberg also excommunicated me as one of the "anti-Zionists with Jewish parents."
Why is Wiesel palling around with Hagee? Why did I "mock" Wiesel? Both Goldfarb and Goldberg refused to address these questions and neglected to quote the facts I offered on Hagee. While Goldfarb assailed a J Street donor for controversial statements on Israel, they have never addressed Hagee's anti-Semitic rants. Goldberg has not addressed the issue of Hagee either. The two present their opinions conveniently without the facts.
But the absence of the facts from their blog posts does not allow them to evade the issue. Do they, like Wiesel and Oren, approve of Hagee? In defending Wiesel from criticism for his relationship with Hagee, they are also defending the relationship. Is this what they really mean to do? Then they must also disagree with John McCain's severing of his ties with Hagee. What is it about Hagee that Goldfarb and Goldberg find acceptable, as Wiesel and Oren find him acceptable? Unless, of course, they don't approve of Hagee or association with him at all, and were using criticism of those embracing him as a cudgel to beat up on J Street. Send in the clowns.
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