left wing protest 298.
(photo credit: AP)
Leading intellectuals and mainstream politicians voiced their opposition to the offensive in Lebanon on Thursday evening at a left-wing rally in Tel Aviv that drew 600 protestors.
Every Friday for the last month, anti-war activists have staged demonstrations against Israel's massive offensive in Lebanon, but they never drew more than a handful of people. Opinion polls showed backing for the war at about 80 percent, and popularity ratings soared for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - newly elected and untested in crisis.
Some peace activists who had remained quiet and even supported the fighting are now saying the violence has gone on long enough.
Three of Israel's most successful authors and intellectuals - Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua - joined together Thursday to urge Olmert to focus on diplomatic rather than military initiatives.
"We are at a crossroads between the green light given for continuing military operations and explorations for a political solution," Yehoshua said.
The left's nascent turnabout came after the Olmert's Security Cabinet voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to expand the ground offensive and chase Hizbullah fighters beyond the Litani River, 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the border.
Israel has delayed the start of the expanded operation to give the diplomats a few more days to work out a cease-fire, officials said.
"Israel was right when it chose to respond with force to Hizbullah's violent provocation," said Oz, an eloquent voice of the Israeli left. Oz called Hizbullah an arm of radical Islam that would celebrate Israel's annihilation, and its defeat would be a triumph for moderates in the Middle East.
But the Lebanese plan "was not only a turning point, it was a victory for Israel's basic demand," Oz said. Israel should have told Saniora his plan was a good basis for negotiation and halted its offensive.
"If they had offered this to us a month ago, we would have jumped at it," said Grossman.
Continued warfare risks the gains Israel already has made and could cause the collapse of the Lebanese government, with Hizbullah emerging from the political chaos as Lebanon's predominant power, said Grossman.