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Letter Sent to:The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity in New York, N.Y.
On 16 May 2011, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel received the inaugural United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Award — the Museum’s highest honor — in recognition of his singular contribution to humanity and the cause of Holocaust remembrance. I know that his mother died in the Holocaust, a traumatic loss that must haunt him along with the horrible memories of the two Nazi concentration camps he survived.
Nothing can compare with the spiritual and emotional experience of a Holocaust survivor, but nevertheless I am able to share Elie Wiesel’s understanding of the importance of remembrance and respect. In World War II dozens of extended members of my ethnically mixed family were tortured and killed by Croatian Ustashas in the Jasenovac concentration camp; other relatives died at the hands of Serbian Chetniks elsewhere in Bosnia. So I am able to appreciate Elie Wiesel’s feelings and emotional connection to Israel — a state that has a right to exist and is rightfully Jewish.
Nevertheless I believe that no government can be exempt from criticism, human beings should not be the subject of unequal treatment, and the blame for atrocities cannot be shared equally between victims and perpetrators. Even when no party to a conflict is entirely free of responsibility, it is still possible to distinguish the innocent from the guilty.
I see no problem with those who criticize the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I welcome those who criticize me, and I welcome anyone who values and exercises freedom of speech. That includes those who have the courage to offer a “fair” criticism of Israel — as long as that criticism does not contain anti-semitic overtones. There is a clear line between civilized debate and emotion-fuelled hatred.
It troubles me that to this day Elie Wiesel refuses to offer any criticism of the government of Israel. As a champion of human rights, how can he acknowledge “no-go” areas? As a Holocaust survivor and founder of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, he must surely agree that human rights belong to all sides, in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Israel continues to defy United Nations’ resolution and international law. It is a state where Islamophobia is on the rise and democracy and human rights have acquired a new meaning — where they are selectively applied, misunderstood, abused, and violated. At the same time Israel’s neighbors with Muslim majorities are no better; they cultivate and promote anti-semitism, Holocaust denial, and routinely violate basic human rights.
Israelis and Palestinians share the blame for terror and war crimes in their neighborhood; the difference is in the extent of the war crimes committed by the Israeli side — an inequality evidenced by a multitude of unbiased and well-documented human rights reports.
I urge Elie Wiesel to reconsider his silence.