Silence, Wordsworth wrote, “is a privilege of the grave, a right of the departed. Let him, therefore, who infringes that right by speaking publicly of, for, or against, those who cannot speak for themselves, take heed that he opens not his mouth without a sufficient sanction.”
Others have said it less poetically: don’t speak ill of the dead.
The message has apparently been lost on one Jenny Listman, who posted a diatribe against the late Elie Wiesel on Medium this week. In the wake of the #metoo campaign, Listman accused Wiesel of having sexually assaulted her 28 years ago.
In her account, Wiesel squeezed her tush at a fundraising dinner that had more than 1,000 people in attendance. She further alleged that Wiesel “mistook me for an ultra-religious underage girl who was unlikely to tell anyone about it.” She went on: “he purposely chose to molest someone who he assumed was a minor and who would be compelled into silence.” She then recited a laundry list of her problems: suicidal tendencies, depression, panic attacks, etc., all of which she seems to blame on Wiesel’s alleged assault.
I know I will be vilified for this, but Listman’s tale is hard to believe. She not only describes behavior on Wiesel’s part that no one, in his half-century as a major world figure, has ever even whispered about; she seems to know he thought she was religious and was underage and would therefore never report his offense against her. How could she know what he had thought, what she had looked like to him? The fact she is free to advance these wild speculations as though they were truth impeaches her credibility.
For writing these words, I’ll be called a sexist and a misogynist; a victim-blamer and a survivor-shamer. So be it. Like most women, I too have experienced un-asked for attention, unwanted catcalls, and yes, on the subway, once, a touch I did not request and to which I did not consent. According to the wording of the #metoo campaign, and the endless stories I saw on my social media newsfeeds, I could have posted, I could have claimed the mantle. “Me too,” I could have said to the world. But I haven’t. Because, sadly, I know women who have experienced real sexual assault, the kind that cannot ever be confused for harassment or impropriety. To equate harassment and assault, as the campaign does, is to do a grave disservice to women who most deserve our support.
Elie Wiesel is gone from this world. He can no longer defend himself, proclaim his innocence, declare that Listman’s tale is a false one. Or, if she is to be believed, if he is guilty, he can no longer apologize. This is a moment when accusers are believed without question before they have even had to offer an iota of proof for their allegations. The pen is mightier than the sword. You or someone you love might be next. Does that worry you? #metoo.