From the Archive: Elie Wiesel’s presidential appeals

Elie Wiesel issued a public call this week to President Obama and Congress urging the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program.

“I appeal to President Obama and Congress to demand, as a condition of continued talks, the total dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and the regime’s public and complete repudiation of all genocidal intent against Israel,” Wiesel wrote in a full-page New York Times ad. “And I appeal to the leaders of the United States Senate to go forward with their vote to strengthen sanctions against Iran until these conditions have been met.”

The Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor has a long history of appealing to presidents on issues of Jewish concern and human rights.

In 1979, he urged President Carter to help Southeast Asian “boat people” who were fleeing communism. He expressed the hope that Carter would take the lead in addressing the issue. “We hope that this nation will grasp this clear opportunity to learn from the history of the Holocaust and not to err again,” Wiesel said.

In 1985, Wiesel unsuccessfully appealed to President Reagan to cancel a planned visit to Germany’s Bitburg military cemetery where some members of the Nazi SS were buried. “That place is not for you, your place is with the victims,” Wiesel beseeched Reagan as the president awarded him a medal at a White House ceremony.

In 1991, he asked the first President Bush not to pressure Israel. “We are confident that persuasion rather than pressure, trust rather than suspicion will continue to govern your relationship with Jerusalem,” Wiesel said at a White House ceremony in which he conferred an award from the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity on the president.

Throughout the 1990s he encouraged President Clinton to take action to stop atrocities in the Balkans. In 1993, at the dedication of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Wiesel issued an appeal about Bosnia. “We must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country,” he said. In 1999, he told Clinton that U.S. and NATO troops “will have to serve as a kind of living buffer” in Kosovo to “prevent a bloodbath.”

In 2006, Wiesel led a group of 62 Nobel laureates in calling on the second President Bush to name a special envoy to deal with the violence in Darfur.

And Wiesel’s recent Iran ad is not his first such appeal aimed at influencing President Obama’s Middle East policy. In 2010, following a U.S. rebuke of Israeli building in eastern Jerusalem, Wiesel issued what was seen as a criticism of the Obama administration’s approach to the issue. In a full-page ad in leading American newspapers titled “For Jerusalem,” Wiesel warned that pressuring Israel on Jerusalem would not bring about a solution.

That appeal, while not explicitly mentioning the Obama administration or the United States, garnered Wiesel an invitation to have lunch at the White House with Obama. The meeting apparently alleviated Wiesel’s worries. “It was a good kosher lunch,” Wiesel told reporters afterward, explaining that the U.S.-Israel tension “is gone.”

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