Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel has long opposed the silence of bystanders that allows atrocities like the Holocaust to occur. Nevertheless, since the 1980s, Wiesel has come under criticism for his refusal to speak out about the State of Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people.
Mark Chmiel's thoroughly researched and penetrating study is the first book to examine both Wiesel's practice of solidarity with suffering people and his silence before Israeli and American power. Drawing on Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's studies on "worthy and unworthy victims," the author analyzes Wiesel's initiatives of Jewish and universal solidarity with groups ranging from Holocaust survivors and Russian Jews to Vietnamese boat people and Kosovar refugees.
Chmiel also critically engages Wiesel's long-standing defense of the State of Israel as well as his confrontations and collaborations with the U.S. government, including the birth of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the 1985 Bitburg affair with President Reagan, and U.S. intervention in the Balkans.
Throughout, the author probes the nuances and ambiguities of Wiesel's human rights activism and shows the various uses to which his Holocaust discourse has been put, both in the Middle East conflict and in issues involving U.S. foreign policy.
Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership provides a provocative view of one the most acclaimed moralists in recent American history and raises important questions about what it means to be a responsible intellectual in the United States.
"Mark Chmiel offers a bold and much-needed analysis of the moral pretensions of one of our country's most prominent public intellectuals. His thoughtful and measured examination of Elie Wiesel's ideas and actions reaches beyond the subject of this book into the heart of what is moral behavior in a troubled world." —Howard Zinn
"In this courageous book, Mark Chmiel details the ambiguity of Elie Wiesel's moral witness. On the one hand, he has been a powerful voice calling the Western world to account for the Holocaust and intervening in other social tragedies. On the other hand, he has been consistently unwilling to respond to the plight of the Palestinians, victims of the Jewish state. In conclusion Chmiel calls those concerned with a consistent moral witness today to pay particular attention to the politically disregarded victims, whose victimization exposes the imperialism of the dominant powers." —Rosemary Radford Ruether, author of Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family
"Chmiel offers the first serious critique of this modern-day Jewish prophet's life and work." —Publishers Weekly
"... this is an excellent resource for anyone who might be interested in the educated Christian perspective on American foreign policy of the last thirty-five years. And most importantly, this book is a valuable and candid portrait of a writer as witness, a man at work in the world as a guardian of victims and would-be victims and as a moral defender and champion of ideas." —Shofar
"...is a useful reflection on the politics of victimhood and a caution against moral leaders who would clean up every backyard but their own." —Sojourners Magazine