Elie Wiesel’s “Nonpolitical” Take on Jerusalem

In his full-page ad in the NY Times, Elie Wiesel’s states that “Jerusalem is above politics.” This is either a statement of incredible naivete or a blatant attempt to make an exclusive Jewish claim over the city. I’m leaning toward the latter, because Wiesel then goes on to write in the very next sentence:

It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture—and not a single time in the Koran.

That’s what I call using religion for patently political purposes.

Wiesel then goes on to write:

Contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city.

Wiesel is either being fed misinformation or else he is purposely trying to mislead the public. Either way, his claim is simply not true. Please watch the film clip above very carefully and you will understand why.

21 thoughts on “Elie Wiesel’s “Nonpolitical” Take on Jerusalem

  1. Shirin

    Elie Wiesel is many things. Naive is not one of them. I will leave my comments on Elie Wiesel at that.

    [Jerusalem] is mentioned…not a single time in the Koran.

    That is, of course, part of the standard-issue hasbara boilerplate which Elie Wiesel has shamed himself by copying and pasting verbatim into this ad. It is also demonstrably contra-factual. Jerusalem IS mentioned in the Qur’an. Furthermore, there are also a number of Hadith concerning Jerusalem. Even more importantly, and deeply ironically under the circumstances, the first reason Jerusalem is holy to Muslims is related to one of the reasons for its importance to Jews and Christians, namely that it is where Abraham showed his submission to God by his willingness to follow an order to sacrifice his own son. This is extremely important to Muslims, is included in the Qur’am, and one of the two most important religious holidays in the Islamic calendar is `Id Al Adhha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, which celebrates precisely this event.

    And, of course, Wiesel conveniently does not attempt to explain why Jerusalem should not matter to Christians. I wonder why.

    Contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city.

    That is, as you point out without directly saying so, quite simply a brazen lie. It is also another bit of hasbara boilerplate that Wiesel has copied and pasted into the ad.

    It’s really too bad that the overwhelming majority of Americans will never bother to do any fact checking of the own.

    1. Israel Gershon

      So exactly where in the Qur’an is Jerusalem specifically mentioned?
      Here is the result of my search:
      “Error during search of The Koran
      Your simple query produced no results.”

      Here is a website that provides the entire Qur’an in searchable digital format: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/k/koran/

      Perhaps the website has a bad translation. Can you provide your source?


      1. Matt Planchak

        To the best of my knowledge–and let me emphatically state that I am not a scholar of Islam–Jerusalem/al-Quds is not specifically mentioned per se, but the mosque al-Aqsa is (17:1). It also refers to David as a prophet, and figure to be revered (38:17) which may or may not be relevant.

        Regardless, I find the biblical-mention scorecard to be a red herring. Christians have the ‘over 600’ references plus all the references in the New Testament. Does this give them a higher claim to the city? I personally don’t think so.

        Israel has the right to Jerusalem for the same reason virtually every other people has a right to their land: acquisition through military victory. Whoever claims a right by divine decree is irrelevant. Israel has control of Jerusalem, just as it has control of the West Bank and Gaza. The only real question is what will Israel grant its current residents in terms of human rights, and how should we in American respond? (Okay, two questions, but) Everything else is distraction.

      2. Stewart Mills

        Israel, the criticism of Ellie Wiesel was his minimzation of the importance of Jerusalem to people of Muslim faith. This is plain ludicrous. If Wiesel wishes to be literalist then he is correct. But what good does literalism do to religion? Or more importantly what does a strictly literal reading of religious text do to humanity?? More harm than good I would say; as would the graves of the countless millions who have died in the name of exclusivist religious views instead of inclusive religious views.

        Yes, there is no express word Jerusalem/Al Quds named in the Quran. But how does Mr Wiesel explain the reason that it was the direction of Jerusalem that was the first place that Muslims prayed to; ie the Qibla and not Mecca? What does Mr Wiesel say to 17:1 of the Quran? This text concerns when the prophet was taken “from the Sacred mosque to the farthest mosque”; which is commonly known in the tradition as Jerusalem.

        The point is Mr Wiesel’s attempt to delegitimise the importance of Jerusalem to Muslims is disturbing. This leaves me with mixed feelings about the man. On the one hand his contribution to humanity through his articulation of a Holocaust survivor is undeniable, however, it is tragic that his compassion escapes Palestinian people given his distorted view of key aspects of religion and politics of the region.

    1. Shirin

      Thanks Rabbi, I will read it. I have fallen out of my long-time habit of reading Haaretz daily. There really is not enough time in the day, is there, to do everything we must do plus everything we should do to stay informed.

    2. Shirin

      I have read the Yossi Sarid piece you referred me to. I think it is a very good response overall. However, I have a couple of concerns about it.

      1. Most deeply troubling is that Sarid strongly implies in the piece that Christians’ and Muslims’ god(s) (lower case!) are different from the Jews’ God. This is, of course, absolutely false, and is unnecessarily divisive in a context in which we should be emphasizing the commonality among the three religions, not pretending to a very fundamental difference that does not exist. Surely denying explicitly or implicitly that adherents to all three religions worship the one God is a denial of the most fundamental thing they have in common. Why would he do such a thing? The Qur’an contains, by the way, a number of direct and indirect references to the commonality among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, including making it absolutely clear that the greatest commonality of all is God.

      2. As welcome and well-stated as the piece is, there is something jarringly hypocritical about Sarid making the statements he is making there given that he did absolutely nothing about the ethnic cleansing that went on the entire time he was in the government.

      1. Shirin

        Yossi Sarid is a Zionist.

        Do tell! And what has that to do with his clear implicit denial of the most fundamental common belief shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims; the belief in God?

    1. Shirin

      You are so right about that. How do those who seek the truth compete with liars with money? It is often tempting to fall into despair, but we must keep trying. To stop trying is to give our assent to the lies and their consequences, and we cannot do that, can we?

  2. Cotton Fite

    Before I took my guest, Mark Braverman, to preach at Chicago’s St. James Episcopal Cathedral this morning, I was startled to read Wiesel’s full page ad in this morning’s NYT. If so many Americans – Jews, Christians and secularists – did not revere Wiesel, the ad would not be so dangerous. Many do, however, and will not realize his claims are blatant lies. Jews, Christians and Muslims are NOT allowed to build anywhere in Jerusalem, nor are they all freely allowed to worship at their shrines. Contrary to Wiesel’s claim, Jerusalem does NOT “belong to the Jewish people”.

    There could not have been a more dramatic contrast than that between Wiesel’s nationalistic claims and the appeal Mark made in his sermon for an inclusive approach to solving this terrible conflict. Then, and only then, will Wiesel’s claims regarding housing and worship in Jerusalem begin to have a semblance of truth.

  3. Israel Gershon


    It is important that you share your Jerusalem source and quotation. You are accusing others of telling lies, so please advise us where Jerusalem is mentioned in the Qur’an. Your posts make great claims of facts and truths, but perhaps you are just a mouthpiece for “the standard-issue hasbara boilerplate” of the demonize Israel camp. Now it is clear that you are just saying stuff off the top of your head.

    And all this talk about those who are seeking truth. It all leads back to mindless debate on history and politics. Try seeking peace. Demonizing Israel or demonizing the Palestinians, only makes peace more distant as you are feeding the notion that there is nothing good in the “other”.

  4. Rabbi David Mivasair

    All this discussion about who “owns” or “has rights to” Jerusalem is incredibly anachronistic. It’s like from another century. Aren’t we all simply people? Doesn’t everyone who lives there have basically the same “right” to be there? And people from everywhere who want to visit respectfully have a right to do so? Do we not all believe in equality among people and democratic decision-making with the rights of minorities protected? I mean, really, people, what century are we living in? Let’s wake up before it is too late for all of us.

    And, see Haaretz today about the Wiesel ad backfiring. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1164297.html.


  5. YBD

    Rabbi Mevasair,

    The world you are describing doesn’t exist in reality. You talk about “equality among peoples”. You were in Jerusalem, you tell us how the Arabs treated Jewish rights in Jerusalem during the period they controlled it from 1948-1967. You know they destroyed all the Jewish sites there and they did not allow any Jewish access to them, including the Western Wall, even though they specifically promised to allow such access in the cease-fire agreement they signed.
    Maybe you believe in ‘Internationlization’ of the holy sites, or maybe having ‘neutral’ armed forces ‘guarantee’ our rights there. But you know we also have experience with this from 1918-1948 during the British Mandate period when “neutral” British forces were supposed to guarantee our rights there. Naturally, British inclination to do so fell victim to British desires to appease Arab feeling.
    You also know that ONLY Israeli control of the city can guarantee access for ALL people of all religions to their holy sites in Jerusalem. The fact is that Christian groups throughout the Muslim Middle East are under great pressure and are in decline. If Muslim extremists get influence in Jerusalem, the Christians will be the first to feel the effects.
    Arabs of Jerusalem have been offered full citizenship and all have residency rights and rights to Israeli social welfare benefits, so this answers the question about their “rights”. The fact is the Arabs of Jerusalem also want continued Israeli control (even if at the same time they don’t like Israel-but that is not a contradiction).
    There is no way any Israeli gov’t can give up east Jerusalem. Period.

  6. Rabbi Jonathan

    While the history of Jewish-Arab interactions is a crucial indicator of possible future outcomes, we Jews, as ‘children of Aaron,’ are nonetheless commanded to pursue peace at all times.

    Indeed, this is the only mitzvah in which we engage without it being a specific time of the week or year (holiday observances or Shabbat restrictions), or without there being circumstances that compels us (such as the giving of tzedakah). The pursuit of peace is a mitzvah that we pursue.

    I have great respect for Elie Wiesel and others like him, but they are simply naysayers to efforts to bring about peace. They use outdated or prejudiced sentiments (‘The Arabs have never wanted peace.’). They employ inaccurate or anachronistic arguments for not negotiating with this party or others (“This land is mine; God gave this land to me.”). They attempt to deflect our attention by scapegoating third parties (‘The Goldstone Report is toxic, and, oh by the way, let’s bar him from his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah as punishment’). These attitudes do not befit us as Jews, and we should, to the contrary, put forward possible solutions that cohere with our role as a “light to nations” rather than simply negating what others have put forward.


    A few questions to you, does the Quran say that the Furthest mosque is in Jerusalem? NO. The reason why the Muslims prayed towards Jerusalem was not because the furthest mosque was in Jerusalem, they prayed towards Jerusalem the city only. Did the Quran say that Jerusalem is a Holy city? NO. Did the quran ever ask Muslims to pray towards the Al-Aqsa? NO. The only time the Quran mentions the Al-aqsa is when the prophet made a night journey to it.
    Glory to He (God) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless (Yusuf Ali’s translation). „
    —[Qur’an 17:1
    You will never find any verse referring to Al-Aqsa before this incident. And by the way, it is the islamic scholars who translate this verse to mean Jerusalem. So it was humans, not God who commanded Muslims to consider Jerusalem as an important place.


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