How Israel Has Made ‘Never Again’ a Reality
The world marked two events of great importance to the Jewish people during July 4th weekend. The first was the death of Elie Wiesel. The second was the 40th anniversary of the raid on Entebbe.
The two events inform the way the world sees modern Jewry, but they do so from opposing poles. Wiesel’s works embody the Jew as Victim. The raid on Entebbe symbolizes the Jew as Warrior. The differences have consequences.
As the Jewish state’s image shifted from Wiesel’s world of suffering to the triumph of the Entebbe operation, so did sympathy for Israel give way to hostility.
Elie Wiesel was one of the world’s most honored writers, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize. The touchstone of his writing was his ordeal in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.
In the Spring of 1944, his family was sent to Auschwitz. Like all new arrivals, they lined up for “selection.” His mother and youngest sister were sent to the gas chamber. He and his father were selected for work. They survived the horrors of slave labor. In January 1945, they were force-marched through the snow, just ahead of Soviet troops. Later, they were jammed into open cattle cars for a 10-day journey to Buchenwald. Only 12 of the 100 prisoners in Wiesel’s wagon survived the trip. His father, suffering from dysentery, died in Buchenwald.
Wiesel’s memoir of his experience, entitled Night, established his reputation. He embodied Jewish suffering. The Raid on Entebbe cast Jews in a different light.
On June 27, 1976, German and Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France Airbus, and forced it to fly to Uganda, where Idi Amin provided military protection. They separated the passengers by religion, and freed the non-Jews. On July 4, a team of Israeli commandos led by Yonatan Netanyahu, flew 2500 miles, killed the terrorists and 45 Ugandan soldiers, and rescued all but 4 of the hostages. The sole Israeli combat fatality was their commander.
One can sense the gap between the liberation of the surviving Jews of Buchenwald from the liberation of the Jewish passengers in Entebbe by comparing the accounts of a death at each place.
Here is Wiesel describing the death of his father:
I heard his voice … yet I did not move.
It had been his last wish to have me next to him in his agony, at the moment when his soul was tearing itself from his lacerated body—yet I did not let him have his wish.
I was afraid. Afraid of the blows….
Instead of sacrificing my miserable life and rushing to his side, taking his hand, reassuring him, showing him that he was not abandoned, that I was near him, that I felt his sorrow, instead of all that, I remained flat on my back, asking God to make my father stop calling my name, to make him stop crying. So afraid was I to incur the wrath of the SS.
“Eliezer! Eliezer! Come, don’t leave me alone . . .”
His voice had reached me from so far away, from so close. But I had not moved.
The Israeli commandos did not abandon their leader; they followed him into battle.
One can also sense the gap by comparing pictures. Below is a photograph of Buchenwald. The inmates’ faces bear the hollow, docile look of men who do not control their fate.
Here are the swaggering faces of the Israeli commandos, just returned from Entebbe
Thirty years and 100 million miles separate the skeletal Jewish youths in the concentration camp from the cocky Jewish youths back from Uganda. And in that distance lies the paradox of power. For as long as the image of Jewry was Wiesel’s emaciated face, Israel commanded the pity and the affection — if not the respect — of the world. When the image metamorphosed into brash commandos, the world’s affection for Israel cooled.
The memories of the past Fourth of July evoked both faces. It also evoked a third, more ominous face.
The day before Elie Wiesel died was al-Quds Day in Iran. Hundreds of thousands marched and chanted, “Death to Israel.” General Hossein Salami, deputy chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards, announced: “In Lebanon alone over 100,000 missiles are ready at all times to fly … at the heart of the Zionist regime. Tens of thousands of other missiles … have been planted across the Islamic world and are awaiting orders so that with the push of a button a sinister and dark dot on the political geography of the world disappears forever.”
Perhaps someday the threat to push a button to make the Jewish state disappear forever will be carried out. Perhaps a survivor will emerge from the wreckage to bear witness to this second Holocaust, and perhaps he will be as gifted a writer as Elie Wiesel. If so, he will no doubt wring sympathy and tears from a mourning world.
Memories of Entebbe remind us that tears are not enough to prevent the next Night.