Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Good Morning, Elijah: Amos Oz Does The Peace Tour
Good Morning, Elijah: Amos Oz Does The Peace Tour
By:Steven Plaut Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I have long believed the world would be much better off if Hollywood
airheads would stick to entertainment and never pretend to be
intellectuals, spouting off with their .ideas. about politics, diplomacy,
etc. I am no less convinced that popular literary figures do little more
than embarrass themselves when they attempt to serve as political
Amos Oz is arguably Israel's best-known writer and at the same time
the leading member of Israel's Literary Left. Proudly declaring himself a
major thinker in the 'peace movement,' Oz celebrates his political biases
I am in the large hall of a Belgian university to listen to a speech
by Oz, who is to receive an honorary doctorate and meet with students and
faculty. Oz's books have been translated into many languages and he is
well known in Europe. He has been invited to speak about literature to the
university audience, but devotes the entire speech to politics, without
mentioning literature even once. Oz is an eloquent speaker, but there is
an enormous gap between his command of words and images and the depth of
his understanding of political reality.
There is an old saying that a shallow moral symmetry is the
hobgoblin of small minds. Oz is the master of shallow moral symmetry. The
Arab-Israeli conflict (which he invariably calls the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict, which it is not) is neither black vs. white nor good against
bad, he tells his listeners, but rather a conflict between two goods, even
if the behavior of both sides is often that of two bads. He condemns
Israeli 'oppression' and mistreatment of Palestinians as morally symmetric
to Palestinian terrorism and xenophobia.
Oz is at his silliest when he tries to distinguish between stark
unequivocal moral choices and complex ambiguous ones. 'You Europeans have
a tendency to frame everything in simplistic good vs. bad terms,' he says.
'This is OK for some conflicts, like that between fascism and
anti-fascism, or that between colonialism and anti-colonialism, or that
between the U.S. and Vietnamese, but the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is
Of course, the allegedly simple moral conflicts offered by Oz tell
us more about him than about the conflict. Anti-fascists have at times
been worse than fascists; anti-colonialists generally were far more savage
and brutal than European colonialists; and Oz's insistence that the U.S.
was the unambiguous evil power in Vietnam is little more than the attempt
of an Israeli leftist to pander to fashionable anti-Americanism, to
ingratiate himself with those who imagine Europe is the moral superior of
the U.S. - something Oz tries to do repeatedly throughout the evening.
The other problem with Oz's silly characterization of moral clarity
vs. ambiguity is that the Arab-Israeli conflict is actually as morally
unambiguous as was World War II. Yes, Allied troops sometimes conducted
acts of injustice and, yes, German and Japanese civilians were often
killed as the war was fought out, but that changes nothing about the moral
unambiguousness of that conflict.
The Arab-Israeli conflict exists because the Arab world, controlling
22 states and territory nearly twice that of the United States (including
Alaska), is unwilling to allow the Jews to enjoy any self-determination or
control over even a tiny piece of territory. Ultimately, the tremendous
damage that Oz and his kind have done has been in muddying what should be
a clear moral understanding of the Middle East war, all in the name of the
sanctity of moral symmetry, and this muddying has undercut Israeli
willingness to resist and fight.
Oz devotes his entire speech to promotion of the 'two-state
solution,' by which Israel will withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, removing
nearly all settlements, making way for a Palestinian state. This solution
is not liked by either side, says Oz, but perhaps 80% of those on both
sides declare they expect that this is what in fact will happen. That of
course is not exactly the same as accepting a plan or policy as
legitimate, and Oz diplomatically skips over the inconvenient fact that
nearly all Arabs see this 'solution' as a temporary stage in the process
of destroying Israel. Oz declares over and over that the bulk of
Palestinians understand that Israel is 'here to stay' - something that
would come as a great shock to them.
In reality, Israel's decades-long pursuit of a national policy of
surrender, cowardice and weakness has convinced virtually all Palestinians
that the Jews are on the run and that achieving their dream of
exterminating Israel is now within their grasp. Oz declares that less than
30% of Palestinians support Hamas, and the audience smiles approvingly at
this complete lie.
Very few in the audience know that two partitions for the purpose of
creating 'two states for two peoples' have already been attempted. The
first was the detachment of Eastern Palestine in 1921 to form Transjordan,
a step that was supposed to make a Jewish homeland in all of Palestine
west of the Jordan possible. Then, in 1947, the UN proposed a new
partition of Western Palestine, creating an Arab Palestinian state in one
half and a Jewish one in the other. The Arabs reacted by attempting to
commit genocide against the Israeli Jews.
No one in the audience thinks to ask Oz about the total failure of
his 'ideas' in the Gaza Strip (in a sense, a third partition). Almost
immediately after Gaza.s Jews were expelled and the territory turned over
to the Palestinians, Sderot became the first Israeli Guernica, bombarded
daily by rockets; Ashkelon is now well on its way to becoming the second.
In other words, Oz's lovely 'two state solution' was already implemented
in part in Gaza, and it produced the worst terrorist bombardments of
Israeli civilians in history.
Oz is at his most 'Peresian' (Peres-like) when he insists over and
over that history is irrelevant, that there is nothing to be gained by
trying to dredge up the past, to draw lessons from it. An inverse of
George Santayana, who wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are
condemned to repeat it," Oz tells the audience that his dream is to
disconnect all the microphones whenever Arabs or Jews start to mention the
'I refuse altogether to look at history,' he says. Of course,
learning from the past might allow na.ve audience members to pick out Oz's
factual errors or to understand how his 'two-state partition' will achieve
nothing more than a new all-out Arab war against Israel.
A few years back, a group of Israeli Jewish literary figures met in
Haifa with Arab writers to discuss politics. Each of the Jewish writers -
good doves all - got up and declared that he accepted the legitimacy of
the Palestinian people, supported their right to a state, and acknowledged
their having as much moral right to independence as that of the Jews. (I
believe Amos Oz was one of the people present.) They waited for the Arab
writers to get up and make similar statements about the legitimacy of
Zionism and Jewish self-determination. Not a single one did.
A slang expresion among Israelis is 'Good Morning, Elijah.' It is a
sarcastic statement, roughly analogous to the American 'Well, duh!' It is
a wonderful literary summation of Israel's obtuse literary leftists.
2. Dear professor S
DEAR PROFESSOR .S.
A Letter to an Academic Critic of Israel
Dear Professor .S.:
Thank you for your note asking me what my reaction is to the recent event
in which an Israeli tank crew fired a shell that killed some civilians.
Professor, I am not sure I understand your question. You asked what is my
reaction to this incident.
My reaction is quite simply that if the Palestinians would stop sending
mass murderers out to murder Jewish children and other Israeli civilians
intentionally, then Israel would not have to send out tanks and other
units to hunt down the murderers. If it were no longer necessary to send
out Israeli tanks to hunt down Palestinian mass murderers, then errors in
judgment, mistakes and mishaps in which Palestinian civilians and minors
accidentally get killed would not take place.
It is all very simple. When the Arabs stop mass murdering Jews, there will
no longer be any innocent Arabs accidentally killed or injured by Jews.
My reaction, in other words, is exactly the same as it would be had you
asked me what was my reaction to the fact that many, many Japanese and
German children died in the bombings of Cologne, Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg,
Tokyo, Okinawa, and Hiroshima.
My reaction is: Tough.
Those who do not want innocents to be accidentally targeted must stop the
fascist aggression and terrorism by the Arabs (like that of the Germans
and Japanese), which makes such incidents inevitable. How many innocent
children were killed in Afghanistan thanks to Islamist fascism? How many
Iraqi civilians were injured in the two Gulf Wars? Whose fault was that?
People who support Palestinian terrorism make such deaths of Palestinian
children inevitable and bear much of the blame.
Meanwhile, you claim that it is unfair of people to accuse you of being
anti-Israel, and all the more so of being an anti-Semite. You say you are
merely endorsing the positions of some Israeli leftists, and you name Uri
Avnery and Shulamit Aloni. You say you endorse a complete withdrawal of
Israel to its 1967 borders, removal of all settlements, and creation of a
Palestinian state with half of Jerusalem as its capital . because you love
Israel and want it to live in peace.
I do not believe you.
I do not believe that you love Israel. I do not believe that you desire
Israel to survive and live in peace. I do not believe that YOU believe
that your prescription will bring peace.
Suppose someone . a non-American . would announce that he is not
anti-American, but he merely endorses the political position of people
like Taliban John and Edward Said and Louis Farrakhan regarding the United
States. Suppose he were to insist he is in fact PRO-American, but just has
pro-positions of .dissident. Americans.
Of course, such a claim would be ludicrous. Such a person would be
supporting American traitors, people driven by hatred of America. Such
people.s .ideology. is nothing more than anti-Americanism, and foreigners
supporting such people would be in effect admitting that they themselves
are anti-America and wish America harm.
Your support of Uri Avnery and Shulamit Aloni is exactly the same thing.
Israel.s leftist extremists are motivated by anti-Israelism and
anti-Semitism in exactly the same way that the extremist left camp in
America is motivated by hatred of America.
Moreover, your own positions belie your pretended love for Israel. When
you support sanctions against Israel and against Israeli academic
institutions because you disapprove of Israeli government policy, you are
revealing your hostility to the existence of the country, not to this or
that specific policy. You are not trying to influence Israel.s
decision-making, you are delegitimizing all of Israel and exhibiting a
desire to see Israel destroyed.
When you encourage those who are organizing mutiny and insubordination in
Israel.s army, you are showing that you wish Israel destroyed. You are
also showing your fundamentally anti-democratic proclivities.
If Israel.s far leftists wish to try to persuade the rest of the country
of the correctness of their ideas, they are free to do so democratically.
But mutiny is anti-democratic and designed to divide and paralyze Israel.s
military and prevent Israel from making decisions about its own
self-defense in a democratic manner.
But your position is even more untenable. At least Israel.s extremists
will bear part of the costs of the foolish policies they advocate if such
policies are adopted by their country. They have already borne parts of
the costs of the Oslo debacle and they are at risk every time they go
outside thanks to their own policies having been pursued.
You bear none of those costs or risks. You are seated on your comfortable
suburban sofa over there and spouting advice. And if your advice turns out
to be harmful, you can just sit back and say, .OOPS., and switch the
But there are other reasons why I do not believe your protestations of
affection for Israel. Israel has already applied your philosophy and your
approach. It already turned most of the West Bank and Gaza over to the
PLO, agreed to the establishment of a PLO state, offered the PLO parts of
Jerusalem, and at Camp David Ehud Barak offered the PLO its entire wish
list, including a partial .return. of Palestinian .refugees., the Old City
of Jerusalem with the Western Wall, all of the West Bank and parts of
pre-1967 Israel. You know the result perfectly well.
For the past ten years, every single step Israel has taken to implement
YOUR philosophy and YOUR vision of peace has produced escalated violence
and bloodshed. You have had more than ample empirical proof that YOUR
approach is simply incorrect. Israel.s goodwill gestures and flexibility
have ALWAYS produced Arab atrocities, not reductions in Arab hatred and
violence. Israeli moderation always produces Arab aggression.
Israeli niceness is interpreted by the Arabs as weakness and
destructibility. This is NOT a matter of .ideological disagreement. but of
The fact that you still advocate endless Israeli submission to Arab
demands can be interpreted in one of two ways. Either you are too stupid
to acknowledge the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of empirical proofs that
your approach to settling the Arab-Israeli conflict is incorrect, or you
in fact understand perfectly well that your approach is really designed to
produce the destruction of Israel. I happen to believe the second
explanation for your behavior as the correct one.
You continue to oppose all forms of Israeli self-defense short of
capitulation, since the only form of defending herself you are willing to
allow Israel is her complete submission to the Arab world.s dictates and
her placing her neck in a noose where she has to trust the goodwill of the
Arabs not to pull the rope.
I do not agree that you are a real Jewish patriot. I think you are a
Jewish Taliban John, a Jewish Uncle Tom. I think you really want Israel
weakened and destroyed because it will allow you to posture and feel
righteous, that it will allow you to save face and avoid embarrassment
when you are hanging out with your leftist friends.
Professor Steven Plaut
University of Haifa
The Grand Marching Song of the Anti-Zionist Left