Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said he has “no doubt” President Barack Obama will staunchly back Israel, which is entangled in an aerial battle with Palestinians in Gaza.
“Of course he will be a solid supporter of Israel,” Wiesel said in a telephone interview, defending Obama against criticism that he was insufficiently supportive of Israel’s interests during this year’s presidential campaign. “That’s true of every president.”
Wiesel, 84, said he was optimistic that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on “one of her last missions,” would help broker a deal to end the week-long conflict.
The Israeli military has carried out more than 1,400 air- strikes on Gaza, while Hamas and other Palestinian militias hav fired more than 1,200 rockets since the Nov. 14 killing of Hama military leader Ahmed al-Jabari. The U.S., the European Union and Israel consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization.
“I wish her from the bottom of my heart, from the depth of my heart, I wish her success for everybody’s sake,” he said of Clinton, who has said she will stepping down from her post soon.
While condemning the cross-border violence and saying that “firing rockets on both sides is wrong,” Wiesel said “the whole world now recognizes that Israel has the right to defend herself.”
Wiesel, speaking from his New York office, also discussed his personal friendship with Obama and their potential collaboration on a book, based on conversations the two Nobel winners have had on history and philosophy. The two men became friends in June 2009, when Obama toured with Wiesel the former Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald in Germany. Wiesel had been an inmate there.
The visit began a series of conversations that Wiesel said were important to share, because of their distinctly different lives. Months ago, Wiesel said he raised the prospect of collaborating on such a project. There’s no timeline set, and Wiesel said it might wait until Obama finishes his second four- year term, which begins in January.
“These conversations are so good, why not actually give them more exposure, so to speak,” Wiesel said. “One day we’ll do it but not now. It’s not one of my priorities, not his.”
A person familiar with the book idea said no contract has been made and details would need to be worked out with lawyers and agents.
“We come from such different backgrounds really,” Wiesel said. “He’s in politics. I have nothing to do with politics. I’m a teacher of philosophy and literature.”
Wiesel was a prisoner at Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland as a teenager before he was transferred Buchenwald, near Weimar in eastern Germany. Before his tour with Obama, he had gone back to Buchenwald to visit only once -- for 15 minutes -- since it was liberated during World War II.
Wiesel recalled that Obama, upon finishing his remarks during their June 5, 2009 stop at Buchenwald, surprised him. “He whispered in my ears, he said: ’Your words should be the last,’” Wiesel said.
The two men, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, stood that day beneath the watchtower clock frozen at 3:15 p.m. -- the hour when the camp was liberated on April 11, 1945.
Wiesel said at the time the world hadn’t learned from the horrors of the Holocaust. When he and his fellow prisoners were freed by the U.S. Army, “somehow many of us were convinced that at least one lesson will have been learned -- that never again will there be war; that hatred is not an option, that racism is stupid.”
He also pleaded that day for an end to the Israel- Palestinian conflict, calling Obama’s vision for the region “a sense of security for Israel, a sense of security for its neighbors, to bring peace in that place.”
That lasting peace remains elusive.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who spoke with Obama today, said he expected a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip would be reached within hours.
To contact the reporter on this story: Julianna Goldman in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at email@example.com