(JTA) – The son of the late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel excoriated the rhetoric and policies associated with President-elect Donald Trump, but also cautioned Americans to respect each other however deep the political divide. “He believed strongly in the role of this museum and broadcasting the dangers of viewing the other with distrust and suspicion,” Elisha Wiesel said Wednesday evening, Nov. 30 at a memorial service for his father held at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“Here is what we are commanded to do over and over and over again,” the younger Wiesel, quoting from Exodus and other biblical passages: “And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. A stranger you shall not oppress for you know the heart of a stranger. You were strangers in the land of Egypt. The stranger that travels with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“Is that clear enough?” Wiesel thundered after completing the passage, and then – without naming Trump – specified classes of people Trump has derided or dismissed throughout his presidential campaign, including Syrian refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, women and African American activists. Wiesel then added to the list of entities needing protection two classes Trump did not generally assail: the LGBT community and Israel, which Wiesel said is “treated as the world villain simply for making sure that Jews will never again be without a home.”
The younger Wiesel said that his father would not have isolated those with whom he disagreed and pleaded for an end to the post-election rancor between supporters and opponents of Trump. “In seeking to change hearts and minds and create a more tolerant society, there is a danger we may treat those opinions we find offensive as ‘the other’ in turn,” he said. “This was not my father’s way. He was not a shouter. And he did not belittle those he disagreed with. He spoke to them. He listened.”
The theme of a crisis of political differences threaded throughout the memorial service. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recalled Wiesel as someone who “taught us to celebrate our collective strength and channel our commonalities to fight the waves of prejudice that really leap at our shores.”
Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, described Wiesel’s courage in being the “great rebuker of our time” and who was unafraid to confront the powerful.
He noted that Wiesel, in inaugurating the museum in 1993, departed from his prepared remarks to berate then-President Bill Clinton for doing nothing to stop the massacres in the collapsing Yugoslavia, and that in 1985, he pleaded with President Ronald Reagan not to visit Bitburg, a German military cemetery where members of the notorious Nazi SS unit were buried. Dermer added to that list Wiesel’s attendance in March of 2015 at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress decrying President Obama’s Iran policies.
“Elie Wiesel sat in the gallery of Congress to listen to the prime minister of the one and only Jewish state speak about a threat to the survival of Israel,” Dermer said. “Sometimes people listened to Elie. Sometimes people didn’t.”