Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, 86, is known as one of the clearest voices advocating for the victims of the Holocaust. Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor himself, has devoted his life not only to the commemoration of Holocaust victims but also to the various peoples of the world who at different times in history also faced extermination attempts. It happened in Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia. It happened to the Armenians. It is happening today in Iraq, in Syria and to the Kurdish people.
Wiesel has been warning against the future catastrophe known as a nuclear Iran for many years. It is precisely for this reason that Wiesel, at Boteach’s urging, ran full-page ads in The New York Times and The Washington Post, warning his friend Barack Obama, the president of the United States, not to sign a dangerous agreement with Iran and allow it to become a nuclear threshold state.
In an interview with Israel Hayom, Wiesel strongly sided with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to address the U.S. Congress on the issue, despite controversy and White House disapproval. Wiesel declared in the ad that he would be attending the speech, scheduled for March 3, and urged Obama to join him.
This was a rare call, made by one Nobel Peace Prize laureate to another, to change direction, put politics aside, and realize that the real danger is Iran and not Netanyahu’s address.
Q: Elie Wiesel, do you see parallels between the dark times the Jews faced in Europe in the first part of the last century and what is happening today?
“Yes and no, though I must confess that I do not like these kinds of comparisons. I don’t like it because it was a different time. What happened in Europe was unique — it had never happened before and will not happen again. But I can certainly see how a situation could develop that would be reminiscent of certain times. But like I said, today we are in a different era — we have the Israel Defense Forces. We have an army and I believe in its strength. Are the Jews facing an existential threat? Is there any nation that seeks to exterminate the Jews? I think there isn’t. But there are enormous threats, and it is the Jewish people’s duty to defend themselves.”
Q: Is the Iranian nuclear threat one of these enormous threats?
“Absolutely. The Iranian nuclear threat is a grave and tangible threat, not just to Israel but to the entire world. I don’t want them to have a nuclear bomb.”
Q: Do you not trust Western powers to strike a sound nuclear deal with Iran? Do you not believe the Iranians?
“No. I do not believe the Iranians. There may have been a big leadership shift there, perhaps a new president will rise to power, but I do not believe the Iranians.”
Q: Is that why you are so wary of a bad deal?
“I am no nuclear expert. I have never seen an atom bomb and I have never even been in the vicinity of a nuclear facility. But I do know that we must never allow this dangerous eventuality to occur. The Iranian regime is not clean. It is not pure. Perhaps if Iran had a different regime I would be less concerned, but that is not the case.”
Q: Is that why you supported imposing harsher sanctions on Iran, and asserted that it was only the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table?
“True. I said that the sanctions were what prompted the Iranians to enter negotiations, but it is not enough.”
Q: You travel the world and meet with countless people. Do you get the impression that the world is all but indifferent to Iran’s nuclear ambitions?
“There is no doubt that there is less interest [in Iran] in the world than there is in Israel. At times things come up, a conference is held on the topic, but the initiative always comes from Israel. It must be noted that the Israeli government is doing everything in its power to prevent an Iranian bomb.”
Q: Why do you think it is important for Netanyahu to address Congress?
“I think that Netanyahu raises public awareness, and that is very important at this time. I am not the only one who thinks that the Iranians must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, but some people need to hear more and get a better understanding of the situation. Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel, and as such there is no one more suited to go to Congress and speak about this issue.”
Q: Do you think you might give Obama a personal call?
“I do not live in Israel, but I am bound to it. I will do anything Israel asks me to.”
Q: How do you explain the fact that instead of talking about the important issue — Iran’s nuclear aspirations — the U.S. is focusing on political protocols and relations between Netanyahu and Obama?
“I am convinced that Netanyahu and Obama talk about the important issues when they meet. I am convinced that when they talk about important issues, they talk about Iran.”