In an open letter to Barack Obama (published last month in “The Washington Post,” “The Wall Street Journal” and “The New York Times”), author Elie Wiesel declared Jerusalem above politics. “It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture — and not a single one in the Koran.” In response to American demands to end construction in East Jerusalem, Wiesel stated “pressure will not produce a solution,” and that “Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city.” Obama, being Obama, was able to smooth it all over with a nice kosher lunch. However, 100 Jewish Israelis are now letting the author know his comments, and the lofty standards of American Jewery — who are safe(er) on U.S. soil — are actually not so helpful.
“Your Jerusalem is an ideal . . . Our Jerusalem is populated with people . . . . You speak of the celestial judgment; we live in the earthy one,” says a letter signed by Israeli academics and political activists, including writer David Grossman. “Indeed, your claim that Jerusalem is above politics means divesting us of a future. For being above politics is being devoid of the power to shape the reality of one’s life.” The statement then chastises Wiesel for his inaccuracies: “Arabs are not allowed to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem . . . . We will take you to Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted from their homes to make room for a new Jewish neighborhood…”
Though this group’s probably a little left of Acorn and Code Pink, the argument continually pops up in Israeli/America Jew relations. For good or bad, American Jews feel involved in the political — and, yes, it is political. Can anything, especially a territorial dispute, ever be “above politics”? — situation in the Mid-East, but, the truth is, we don’t live there. And a non-Israeli citizen declaring the conflict off-limits to the leader of the free world (probably the only one who actually can act as an effective intermediary) sure doesn’t help alleviate either terrorist attacks or inequality.
“We, who live in Jerusalem, can no longer be sacrificed for the fantasies of those who love our city from afar,” say the Jerusalem-dwelling Jews, and that has to hurt. This, of course, doesn’t change the fact that Wiesel wrote one of the most important books of the 20th century, and a guy like that should be forgiven some bad phrasing. But it’s a valuable lesson for the rest of us Diaspora Jews. Support and money are welcome, but unless you’re ready to make aliyah and actually live in the line of fire, an American, good heart or no, sometimes has to know his place, especially if that place is the Upper West Side or Connecticut.