It''s a key rule of schoolyard politics that you don''t shove the biggest kid in the lot. But though AIPAC gathered 13,000-plus supporters for its conference in the Washington Convention Center just three weeks before J Street brought 2,500 backers to the same place Saturday night, that didn''t keep Amos Oz from picking a fight.
Taking the podium to kick off the rival lobby''s conference, the renowned Israeli author leveled a sharp blow.
Referring to his lifetime of travels to America to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he told the audience, "For 45 years they were always trying to hush me by telling that, ''Well, in Israel you might have your differences but here in America we ought to be united.''
"My answer is: United by all means, absolutely. Let us all be united. But why unite under the militant, hawkish, extremist banner of AIPAC?"
His words elicited loud cheers and applause from the audience, with a few even jumping out of their seats to applaud him.
In contrast, the 72-year-old famed peace activist praised J Street and thanked it for its work.
"J Street, I have been waiting for you all my adult life," he said, to more enthusiastic cheering.
He did, however, call for realism on the peace process and giving ground on both sides to reach a two-state solution, swiping also at young idealists who disdain the idea of compromise.
"They tend to think that compromise is dishonest, compromise is lacking integrity, compromise is somehow soft," he said. "Not in my vocabulary. In my vocabulary, the word compromise is synonymous with the word life. And where there is life there are compromises."
He then quipped: "Believe me, I know a few things about compromises having been married to the same woman for more than 50 years."
Knowing as he does what marriage and family consists of, Oz also dismissed the vision of a one-state solution where peace-loving Jews and Arabs co-exist in democratic harmony.
"We cannot live like one happy family because we are not one, because we are not happy, and because we are not family. We are two unhappy families," he said to laughter. "What we need is not a honeymoon but a fair if painful divorce."
He summed up his position using a twist on the peace activist catchphrase "Make love not war."He told the audience: "Make peace not love."
Though Oz dropped the word "war" in his aphorism, he could have added it back in later when talking about Iran.
Though Tehran is run by "one of the worst regimes on earth if not the worst," he pointed to Iranian know-how and motivation to build a nuclear weapon.
"It''s impossible to bomb the know-how and it''s impossible to bomb the motivation," he said. "So I think it would be a mistake for Israel to launch an attack on Iran."
And taking on a comparison made explicitly by Prime Minister Netanyahu when he addressed AIPAC in Washington on March 5, Oz urged the J Street crowd to reject the "demogogical comparisons" between the threat Israel faces from Iran and the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust.
"Today Israel is far from being defenseless, and the world is far from being indifferent about the Iranian program," he said, though he didn''t offer a comparison he felt was more apt or suggest what Israel should do.
And then, surprisingly, Oz found common ground with the group he called extremist and militant.
"Iran is a problem of the whole world, not Israel alone," he said, echoing a phrase heard frequently at the AIPAC conference. That too was applauded.
- Hilary Leila Krieger