In an obscene escalation of the online #MeToo campaign against sexual predation, last week a New York geneticist compared having her rear end grabbed to the horrors of Auschwitz.
Dr. Jennifer Listman’s tale of aggressive sexual misconduct by famed Holocaust writer Elie Wiesel – completely at odds with his public persona – is making the rounds of traditional and social media. Her uncorroborated accusation arrives in the wake of sexual harassment and sexual assault claims against Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein (and before him, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, and others).
Listman joined the #MeToo online response to the scandals with her claim – repeated in Newsweek, Salon, and elsewhere – that in 1989, when she was 19 years old, Wiesel posed next to her for a charity dinner group photo and “over a period of seconds” touched her backside. Soon his “right hand had reached my right ass cheek, which he squeezed.”
And that’s it.
(Requisite disclaimer: grabbing someone’s posterior without permission is piggish, condemnable behavior.)
Remember the context: the recent accusations against powerful men in entertainment, news, and politics involve non-consensual intercourse, career repercussions for refusing sex, and rape of unconscious drugged women.
In her desire to shout “#MeToo!” about her own celebrity bad-touch, Listman has not only equated that incident with much more extensive sexual misconduct, she has had the chutzpah to compare her brief unwanted squeeze to Elie Wiesel’s agony in Auschwitz.
Wiesel, of course, won the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize as the moral conscience of the Holocaust generation. Not only was he responsible for helping us understand yesterday’s evil, his books and speeches have helped us fight today’s and tomorrow’s. Yet now an American Jewish woman is trying to sully that legacy by talking about “his evil act.”
Evil act? Elie Wiesel’s mother and sister suffocated in Nazi gas chambers soon after the family was deported to Auschwitz. At Buchenwald, he witnessed his father being beaten (he soon died) and for decades suffered great shame he could not intervene to help him. He had an effing number tattooed on his arm for the rest of his life.
Listman’s use of the word evil is no accident. Her 4,000-word screed at the no-editors web site Medium builds a rambling, free-association case that Wiesel is supposed to represent goodness, but she knows his secret: that he’s not “objectively good” and by extension, “there are no good people.” The Holocaust is the black-and-white Exhibit A for the worldview of good guys and bad guys – and Jennifer Listman wants the world to know that Elie Wiesel isn’t one of the good guys because Jennifer Listman experienced an unpleasant grab three decades ago.
Note that no other women have come forward (so far). That Wiesel had no power over Listman’s career. That there was no intercourse of any kind demanded or experienced. And that Wiesel’s death last year erases any risk he’ll repeat the behavior.
The ongoing news of late 2017 has empowered countless women to divulge experiences of sexual misconduct and hold men accountable for bad acts. But Americans have become so oversensitive to the validity of women’s testimony that we’ve lost sight that there are many degrees of tackiness, nastiness, offensiveness, and (yes) evil.
If everything is evil, then nothing is evil. Listman (and, often, America’s larger victim culture) is choosing to devalue and degrade the word bank of horror by applying it to anything bad. In her grandiose final paragraph, she boasts of “robbing the Jewish community of a leader (and) the world of a symbol.”
Pay attention: she’s not saying Elie Wiesel should lose his honored status because despite his accomplishments, he also victimized women. She’s saying he shouldn’t be “lauded as some kind of Tzadik” (righteous person) because he “molested” her. For a few seconds.
Unless she is immediately repudiated, she could be right. Elie Wiesel’s name may forever have an asterisk next to it, with the fact the episode was brief with a single witness eclipsed by the solitary word “sexual.” (Roman Polanski, Gary Hart, and Woody Allen have such asterisks.) All for an alleged 10 seconds or so.
Listman’s penultimate paragraph demands of people like me who find her exaggerations distasteful, irresponsible, even pathetic: “Don’t speak.”
Listman is offering a single harsh data point about a man deserving of great praise. Had she taken her #MeToo moment to write on Facebook, “Yeah, I too have been a victim – Elie Wiesel grabbed my butt when I was 19” that would be interesting and deserving of respectful consideration. Instead, she has put great effort into permanently tarnishing the reputation of a moral giant.
Don’t speak? Look in the mirror, Dr. Listman.
Perspectives expressed in op-eds are not those of The Daily Caller.