Romanian-born author, Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel passed away on Sunday at the age of 87.
Probably best known for his book Night – a somber work that describes the horrific treatment he received at the hands of the Nazis in various concentration camps during World War II – the influential author died in the US, where he had been living as a citizen since 1955.
Despite losing his mother, father and younger sister in Nazi death camps, Wiesel was initially reluctant to talk about his experiences during the war, and it was only when a rabbi managed to convince him to do so that the world learned what he had been through.
Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his commitment to tackling violence, repression and racism across the world.
However, while Elie Wiesel was revered as an author and a champion for repressed peoples and races, his apparent blind spot towards the people of Palestine and their ongoing struggle was a bone of contention for many.
Here was a man who had fought for the rights of Jews from the former Soviet Union; Rwandan genocide survivors; and individuals caught up in the atrocities that were committed during the Yugoslav Wars, yet the Palestinians’ plight against occupying Israeli forces was never once on his radar.
How could that be possible for a man who was often regarded as the world’s moral compass?
For this reason, Wiesel’s deliberate ignorance when it came to Palestine, his death has polarized opinions. Barack Obama led tributes to a man he called “one of the great moral voices of our time,” but then does that really come as any surprise given the grip that Israel has had on American politics for some time.
Perhaps most surprising of all is that Wiesel was never apotheosized in Israel; a country which he had twice been offered the presidency of. The political left was wary of him because he never criticized the government, and the right always said he was outside of the nation’s debate because he chose to live in the US.
Nevertheless, Wiesel’s relentless dedication to ensuring that the world never forgot the heinous acts carried out by the Nazis is what he will be best remembered for.
There’s no denying that Wiesel leaves behind a decidedly mixed legacy. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair if his obituary labeled him as a tragic victim of the depravity possible during war and an apologist for those who commit such nefarious acts.