What would Elie Wiesel say now?
I miss the clarion voice of our great survivor who repeatedly addressed hate. Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally began on Friday night as a mob surged through the campus of the University of Virginia carrying tiki torches, many chanting words freighted by the past, including “Blood and soil…Jews will not replace us.”
David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who proudly marched with other white supremacists in Charlottesville. complained to a gathered crowd, that Jewish Zionists control the media and American political system.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) observed, “This is an agenda about celebrating the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, and celebrating those that then fought to preserve that terrible machine of white supremacy and human enslavement. And yet, somehow, they’re all wearing shirts that talk about Adolf Hitler.”
But more than vicious slogans, the “Unite the Right” came ready to fight. This mob gathered from many states to intimidate and to hate. The taunts of Friday night ignited outright violence on Saturday, with scores injured and the deaths of three.
Elie Wiesel taught that “the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” With an awareness honed by daily Talmud study, he emphasized that wisdom is the ability to make distinctions. Moral equivalency obscures evil. “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
The blasphemy and violence of Unite the Right warrants clear condemnation. President Trump’s equivocation shames America- and will embolden White Supremacists. Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer called the President’s statements that both sides were to blame for the violent Charlottesville white supremacy rally a “moral disgrace.”
This week’s Torah reading of R’eih begins, “Look, I place before you this day blessing and curse,” then emphasizes that the blessing emerges from acting faithfully to the covenant.
What would Elie Wiesel say today? I imagine that his words would remind us of our duty to act on God’s behalf with justice and condemnation of bigotry. This is a moment, he would emphasize, where silence is wrong and clarity is essential.