Candidly Speaking: Intellectuals and the Left

The most talented Israeli intellectuals and writers frequently display gross political naiveté.

Arabic copy of Amos Oz’s book 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Arabic copy of Amos Oz’s book 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
The most talented Israeli intellectuals and writers frequently display gross political naiveté. Amos Oz is an Israeli icon, recognized throughout the world as the doyen of the Israel literary arena. His books, primarily relating to the wide spectrum of life in Israel, are enormously popular and have been translated into many languages.
Oz, always regarded as a supporter of the Left, was also admired as a consummate and devoted Zionist. Until recent years, he expressed his political views with gentle restraint and moderation and was perceived as a national rather than partisan intellectual.
I have fond recollections of his visits to Australia in the ’80s, when he insisted while abroad on assuming non-partisan positions and refused to publicly air his political differences with the Likud government then in office.
In contrast, today Oz unhesitatingly exploits every opportunity, even when abroad, to bitterly demonize his government. Moreover, his criticism has become so vehement that he effectively blames Israel for the impasse with the Palestinians.
Most recently, Oz even proudly publicized his prison visits to Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian terrorist condemned for five life sentences for the murder of five Israelis plus other orchestrated attacks on Israeli civilians and who only recently called for a third intifada and global boycott of Israel. Sadly, Oz morally identified himself with Barghouti, insisting that they both share the same national objectives, and expressed the fervent hope that the ruthless killer would soon be released.
David Grossman, another highly acclaimed and talented Israeli writer, whose son was killed during the Second Lebanon War, behaves in a similar manner. He recently penned an op-ed in the viciously anti-Israeli UK Guardian proclaiming that the greatest threat confronting the Jewish state is not Iran but the paranoia of its leaders.
These two writers exemplify the irresponsibility and extremism that has consumed a number of prominent leftist Israeli intellectuals and academics.
Needless to say, they are hailed as heroes by Israel’s “elitist” but dramatically declining newspaper Haaretz, which over the past decade has radicalized itself to such an extent that it is recognized as one of the most potent sources for global anti-Israeli propaganda.
The extent of this newspaper’s venom – directed from the “top” – was recently demonstrated in an op-ed written by the publisher, Amos Schocken, who accused his country of becoming an “apartheid” state and last week in an editorial which criticized President Shimon Peres for “publicly” calling on US President Barack Obama to release Pollard.
It is hard to comprehend how seemingly rational educated Jews can behave in such a manner. Of course, Jews turning against themselves are not a new phenomenon. In the Middle Ages Jewish apostates emerged as the most vicious anti-Semites. But one can rationalize that their disgusting behavior may have been motivated by an obsession to ingratiate themselves within their host societies.
Likewise the alienation from Judaism of Karl Marx and many of the early Jewish socialists could be attributed to desperation for emancipation from what they considered to be a stifling religious and ethnic identity in order to qualify as cosmopolitan citizens of the world.
The same can also be said for the Jewish communists who vigorously applauded as Stalin executed their kinsman and justified the persecution of Soviet Jews. Many of them convinced themselves that by destroying Jewish particularism, they were paving the way for a messianic secular era in which the brotherhood and equality of all men would resolve the Jewish problem.
But after the Holocaust and with the creation of a Jewish state, one surely expected less alienation and a more rational approach.
Prime minister David Ben-Gurion, a genuine social-democrat, was highly conscious that left-wing extremists represented a major threat to the Zionist enterprise. He was especially scathing towards the Marxist Mapam which continued to idolize the murderous Stalin and the Soviet Union – even after Mordecai Oren, one of their senior political leaders, had been arrested in Czechoslovakia in 1951 during the Prague Trials on trumped-up charges of having acted as a CIA agent.
But after Khrushchev’s exposure of Stalin’s cult of personality, the loony Left in Israel was marginalized to splinter groups like Matzpen.
The dominant Labor Party was uncompromising in its commitment to the State of Israel and proudly stood at the forefront of Zionism. It had no truck with the post-Zionist intellectuals and ensured that they were isolated and condemned.
It was only following the huge public divide over the Oslo Accords that the Zionist Left began to fragment. Although Rabin himself remained a steadfast Zionist throughout his life, de facto he became allied with a new breed of Labor activists, many of whom flirted with post-Zionism.
Dr. Yossi Beilin, a key architect of the Oslo Accords, even expressed public regret that his grandfather, one of the original Chovevei Zion delegates to the early Zionist Congresses, had voted against Herzl’s plan to adopt Uganda as a Zionist homeland.
Some Labor leaders, in order to alleviate public hostility about the “peace process,” felt obliged to defend the Arab case and began understating or trivializing statements by Arafat and other Palestinians leaders who were telling their people that Oslo was merely a preliminary step toward achieving the ultimate objective of destroying the Zionist entity. They also suppressed the mounting evidence that the duplicitous Arafat was directing terrorism.
This impacted on our response to terror with repeated mindless statements, even from Rabin, that we would fight terror but continue pursuing peace – with the very same Palestinians initiating the terror.
As a result, the Zionist core of the Labor movement rapidly eroded, with extremist radicals emerging and expressing sentiments that would have been considered treasonable during the period of the Mapai hegemony. Ultimately the radicals all but hijacked the Labor Party.
Of course, criticism of Israel is a guaranteed passport for elevation to heroic stature in certain Western liberal quarters, and thus represents an additional incentive for failed Israeli politicians like Avram Burg and his ilk to join the anti- Israeli pack and act as principal propagandists of the adversaries of Israel.
The situation became exacerbated in recent years with a major change in public perceptions and the emergence of a consensus moving the country somewhat to a right-of-center approach to the Israel-Palestinian impasse, thus further marginalizing the far Left. To the dismay of the radicals, their bête noire, Netanyahu, far from being reviled, emerged as the most popular leader.
Oz and Grossman are neither post-Zionists nor self-hating Jews. They unquestionably love Israel. But the public support of the government appears to have unhinged them and a number of other “doves.” In their frenzied desperation to dissociate themselves from the national consensus which broadly endorses Netanyahu, they succumbed to employing vitriolic language that comes perilously close to being indistinguishable from the anti-Zionist Left.
One can only hope that under the new leadership of Shelly Yacimovich, the Labor Party will reaffirm the Zionist credo and encourage Labor Zionists who lost the plot, to return to the fold.