Elie Wiesel, who until now has scrupulously stayed out of politics, endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday at a press conference here in which the two criticized the Palestinian Authority for continuing to publish anti-Semitic school textbooks that promote the hatred of Jews.
"We can’t afford to be indifferent to the lessons taught in Gaza and the West Bank," Clinton said at the Hunter College School of Social Work. "For generations, lessons of hatred and violence have been a vital part of the curriculum in Palestinian schools. Not only history books but maps, grammar exercises and language lessons have been deliberately infused with incendiary ideas and images … designed to deny the legitimacy of Israel, to encourage violence and to foster racist attitudes among a new generation of Palestinians."
Wiesel observed that Clinton, the Democratic candidate for U.S. senator from New York, "has always been on the side of those who fight hatred and fanaticism. … I support her candidacy. This is my friend; I support her."
He said later that it was the first time he had endorsed a candidate and that his decision was based on a number of things since getting to know her in 1993.
"In many endeavors I was involved in, she has always helped me," Wiesel said, declining to be specific. "She didn’t do it for publicity."
At the Upper East Side press conference, Clinton noted that in the Oslo peace accord in 1993, the Palestinians promised to remove all such language from their textbooks. The only thing that has changed in seven years, she said, was that this year the Palestinians rewrote the first- and sixth-grade textbooks to remove such incendiary language. Clinton said the changes were part of a pilot project and that nothing was done about textbooks in the other grades.
Clinton’s staff illustrated her point by distributing excerpts from the textbooks. "And when Israel is mentioned, it is as an occupying force," she noted.
For instance, Clinton said, a section designed to test a child’s reading comprehension is titled "Why must we fight the Jews and drive them out of our land." And another claims Nazism and Zionism as the "clearest examples of racist belief and racial discrimination in the world."
"We cannot ignore even small lessons of hate," said Clinton, adding that she calls upon Palestinian President Yasir Arafat as education minister to "remove all anti-Semitic rhetoric."
"If you truly seek peace for your people, then honor the commitments you have already made at the negotiating table," she said. "Stop teaching hate to your children.
"No child is born with hatred, you have to be taught to hate. That is why we can’t allow another year to pass with messages of racism and hatred [in Palestinian textbooks]."
Michael Marr, a spokesman for Clinton’s Republican challenger, Rick Lazio, said: "We’re pleased that the Senate candidate who once kissed Suha Arafat on the cheek after she accused the Israelis of gassing babies now recognizes that such rhetoric is inexcusable and wrong."
Wiesel said he was at the press conference because "wherever hate is being taught, I am on the side of those who denounce it. I have been involved in fighting hate for years and years."
He said later that not until he read the excerpts from the Palestinian textbooks Clinton’s staff had assembled had he "realized that it was so strong."
"I said that this was too much. As much as we want the peace process to continue, there are limits. … [Hillary] feels very passionately about it."
A Democratic political consultant not connected with the campaign, Hank Sheinkopf, said he believed Clinton’s criticism of the hate textbooks was another important step in her attempt to capture the Jewish vote. He said it would give "Jewish voters the sense that she is with them on issues that matter."
"We are going into the final stretch of the campaign, and Jewish voters are going to turn out for [Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman], and she wants to make sure she does well with the Democrats."
Sheinkopf said there is a ìsenseî that the Clinton campaign is picking up momentum, and that by surrounding herself two weeks ago with Lieberman and now with Wiesel, she was "picking appropriate imagery and symbolism."
At the press conference, Clinton said also that she believes it would "be in the best interests of all of us" for the release of all material connected with the case against Jonathan Pollard, save for "information properly redacted in the interests of security."
Pollard is the former Navy intelligence officer imprisoned since 1985 for giving classified American secrets to Israel, for whom he worked as a spy.