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October 3, 2013 9:51 am

Elie Wiesel: Jewish Response to Syria Gas Attack Not Powerful Enough, Considering Gas Was Used by Nazis to Kill Jews

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Chairman of The Algemeiner Journal's Advisory Board, Professor Elie Wiesel speaking at the newspaper's 40th anniversary gala, on April 22, 2013. Photo: Sarah Rogers / Algemeiner.

Chairman of The Algemeiner Journal's Advisory Board, Professor Elie Wiesel speaking at the newspaper's 40th anniversary gala, on April 22, 2013. Photo: Sarah Rogers / Algemeiner.

Famed Nobel laureate and humanitarian, Elie Wiesel, told a New York audience Sunday that the U.S. Jewish community should have responded to the recent use of poison gas, by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, by organizing a mass demonstration of half a million people, according to a recording obtained by The Algemeiner. Wiesel, who also serves as Chair of The Algemeiner’s Advisory Board, said that the use of gas should have elicited an especially strong reaction from Jews considering that it was used by the Nazis to kill Jews during the Holocaust.

“Here I feel very bad about our own leadership,” said Wiesel, responding to a question from the event’s moderator Rabbi Shmuley Boteach who asked, “What do you think about Syria? should we punish Assad for gassing children? And for us Jews of course, gas has the worst possible connotation.”

“Jewish leadership, the moment we knew that they are using gas should have organized a mass demonstration of 500,000 people in the streets. Go to Washington and say, ‘this is beyond. Enough. That we cannot take. Gas?!’ When we know what was done with gas to our people two generations ago,” he said. “When that came out, there should have been a reaction, a very powerful reaction, and organize really something that should force the world to stop and say, ‘hey, hey, hey, wait. It is true. Gas?! That we cannot take. We cannot allow. We cannot accept.'”

Wiesel also lamented the transient nature of the media’s coverage of the event. “It became something like, one day’s news, next day you don’t talk about it. Where is memory? Where is sensitivity? Where is responsibility? So here I am afraid our leadership was not on the level. I expected more. It can be done in 24 hours,” he said.

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” the world’s most famous Holocaust survivor responded when asked by Boteach if he thinks that “both the Jewish leadership and the American political leadership should be help accountable for not doing enough to punish Assad for using chemical gas.”

“The fact is, gas has been used for the first time, and therefore it cannot be used again, and those who use it again should be, I think, arrested, imprisoned, charged […]. Anyways, something must be done, we cannot let it happen without a reaction,” Wiesel concluded.

The event which took place at Cooper Union’s Great Hall, was hosted by Boteach’s This World: The Values Network organization. Titled “Genocide,” the forum included Rwandan President Paul Kagame and philanthropists Sheldon Adelson and Michael Steinhardt. Wiesel also shared strong words about Iran and the genocidal rhetoric of the country’s leaders.

Following news in August of the gas attack in Syria, Jewish groups almost unanimously backed President Obama’s initiative to launch punitive strikes against the Assad regime. Political divides appeared to be set aside as both the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Republican Jewish Coalition joined forces as did many others from across the political spectrum. Action in Syria did not receive popular support, and was ultimately averted when the U.S. accepted a Russian proposed deal for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to the international community. This week, United Nations inspectors began the hunt for Syria’s chemical weapons.

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