It won’t come as a surprise that Noam Chomsky was not among those donning sackcloth and ashes in response to the demise of Elie Wiesel. He did, however, provide a reminder of a passage in his 1999 book The New Military Humanism which gives a pretty revealing indication of why few of us were willing to accept the dominant media characterization of Wiesel as a secular saint.
As some of us will remember, during much of the 1980s, the Guatemalan government was engaged in what has been widely acknowledged to be a genocidal assault against its rural, Mayan population.
While the U.S. government backed the Rios Montt regime, it could not directly support the campaign since, as Chomsky notes, “direct U.S. engagement was hampered by congressional oversight and public opinion.”
A workaround was arranged whereby a proxy role was outsourced to the Israeli miliitary which provided the necessary equipment and training of the troops.
As deaths began to mount into the hundreds of thousands, reports of the displacement of over a million campesinos and other widespread atrocities began to receive attention, activists sounded the alarm on the role of Israel. According to Chomsky, one of those attempting to pressure it to withdraw its support was MIT professor Salvatore Luria. A Nobel prize winner in biology, Luria decided to communicate his concerns to his fellow Nobelist Wiesel, providing substantial documentation of the Guatemalan military’s abuse along with the “suggestion that he might use his prestige and contacts to keep ‘evil from gaining strength’” (the latter Wiesel’s own words in support of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo.)
Knowing that Wiesel would not take a public position, Luria specifically requested that these overtures be made in private.
Some weeks passed without a response.
Then an interview in the Israeli press appeared in which Wiesel, without mentioning names, disclosed that he had received Luria’s request. Chomsky continues, “Wiesel ‘sighed,’ the journalist reported, saying that ‘I usually answer at once, but what can I answer to him?’ Not that the documentation is flawed, because he recognized that it was not, but because even private communication exceeds the limits of subordination to state power and violence to which ‘The Prophet from New York’ is committed.”
Selective vision when it comes to genocide, as Chomsky has noted, is one of the defining characteristics the world’s elite political class.
Even so, Wiesel’s vulgar exploitation of his victim status and the stench of hypocrisy emanating from it were particularly hard to endure.