Icons are also fallible

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What motivates a prize winning Israeli author to write an op-ed in the New York Times urging Americans to oppose military action against Saddam Hussein?

Amos Oz is an Israeli icon – one of our most distinguished men of letters whose novels and essays have been translated and published throughout the world.

From an early age he was regarded as somewhat of a radical within the Israeli literary establishment that in those days took pride in identifying itself with Zionism. Oz became one of the founders of the so called Israeli peace movement, vigorously promoting the Oslo Accords in Israel and abroad, and insisting that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was a struggle between two people and could be resolved by territorial compromise. Some of his colleagues embraced post-modernism and post-Zionism, calling for “normalization” and rejecting “the worship of national symbols and tombs” for which they alleged many Israelis had needlessly sacrificed their lives. Today those of them not alienated by Arafat’s duplicity and terror, blame Israel for the conflict and display greater concern for the self-inflicted suffering of the Palestinians than their own people.

The radicals exemplified by groups like Gush Shalom are now isolated from the broad national consensus which has no desire to rule over Arabs but categorically rejects extending further concessions until the Palestinians bring an end to terror activities. They have effectively donned the mantle of defeatism and promote unilateral withdrawals parroting Arafat’s call to “end the occupation.”

Amos Oz shares some of these views. But to his credit he has resisted bracketing himself with the post Zionist trendies and continues to identify himself as a Zionist. He also usually exercises restraint when abroad and unlike many of his colleagues tends to avoid denouncing his government in order to curry favor in international leftist circles.

Yet for all that and despite familiarity with Jewish and contemporary history, Oz recently went on record in a New York Times op-ed opposing American efforts to displace Saddam Hussein by military means. He did dissociate himself from anti-America bashing and the anti-Israeli overtones of the demonstrations but he warned Americans that a war would unleash a wave of violent hatred against them and destabilize the region.

So far so good. Whilst perhaps questioning why an Israeli feels inspired to write in an American newspaper about this issue, one can agree or disagree with the views he presents. But Oz loses the plot when he warns that the war would crack “the ramshackle edifice of the United Nations” which he maintains would represent a tragedy for the world.

Why should Amos Oz lament the possible downfall of a body dominated by tyrants and dictatorships? How can an Israeli liberal defend a body which elects Libya to chair its human rights division and Iraq as chair of disarmament? Or even more importantly a body which occupies more of its time condemning Israel than any other issue, and exemplifies anti-Israeli bias? Surely all Israelis should rejoice at the demise of such an organization which could perhaps even pave the way for the creation of a new association composed of democratic nations.

Amos Oz also informs New York Times readers that he opposes an invasion of Iraq because “extremist Islam can only be stopped by moderate Islam” and “extremist Arab nationalism by moderate Arab nationalism.” Americans would have difficulty in visualizing “moderate” Muslims or Arabs preventing another September 11th disaster. In fact if we in Israel had to rely on moderate Muslims or Arab nationalists to stop terrorism we would have to import them from Kazakhstan because we certainly would not find any amongst our Arab neighbors courageous enough to morally condemn terrorism. Of course we hope that will change after Saddam Hussein and Arafat have been eliminated as evil role models.

Oz concludes his call by sanctimoniously pontificating that the greatest danger in combating terrorism is the “simplistic rectitude that aspires to uproot evil by force.” For an Israeli writer to express such palpable nonsense to Americans is perplexing.

It is paradoxical that these views resonate so well with the views expressed by the Europeans in the 1930s who called for “peace in our time” when they opposed the war against Hitler. It would indeed be interesting if Oz could enlighten us how in the absence of military means a terror regime based on totalitarianism can be dismantled. Did the defeat of Nazism by military means represent “simplistic rectitude”? Is there such a big difference between the aims and aspirations of Hitler and Saddam Hussein?

That somewhat bizarre statement by Oz is followed by a subsequent bon mot alleging that the success of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden is “rooted in the vast expanses of poverty, despair and humiliation” as well as “the terrible raging envy that America has aroused.”

The suggestion that evil is primarily an outcome of poverty is a simplistic Marxist approach which has been utterly discredited. In fact it is clearly demonstrable that those involved in terror cannot be correlated into any specific economic category. Many like Osama Bin Laden even come from wealthy backgrounds. Nor can Iraq be described as a poor country.

It would indeed be wonderful if we could resolve our struggle against terror by stimulating the economies of rogue states rather than by military confrontation. But without deprecating the benefits of social and economic stability no serious person could really demonstrate that this would have any impact on stemming terrorism. As an Israeli who has been exposed to middle class Palestinian families who take pride in breeding suicide bombers, Amos Oz should know better.

We have many examples of outstanding artists, scientists, and gifted writers who became imbued by a calling to resolve various problems of mankind. Whilst some regarded their solutions as equivalent to holy writ, the reality is that frequently they possess no inherent wisdom giving them greater insight to these problems than the average man in the street. Perhaps the time has come for us to stop saying amen or politely deferring to views expressed by eminent people if they cannot be substantiated on their own merits.

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