In a memorable comment, Oz once explained that when he's convinced about something, he writes a letter to the prime minster, or perhaps an op-ed. It's when he's not certain, he said, that he writes literature. So he must have been pretty certain, the other week, when he wrote a column that appeared on the front page of Haaretz, but also in the New York Times, and probably elsewhere, where lots of people read him and agreed with him.
But Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. Hamas is an idea, a desperate and fanatical idea that grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians. No idea has ever been defeated by force — not by siege, not by bombardment, not by being flattened with tank treads and not by marine commandos. To defeat an idea, you have to offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one.Today Dina Porat responded, in Haaretz but not in the New York Times. Porat is a professor at Tel Aviv University. She's a competent writer but not an artist, a knowledgeable person but not an orator. Her power as a wordsmith is reasonable, while Oz has the power of a world-class master. Normally, this wouldn't make much difference, since Dina Poart and Amoz Oz are both of the same political camp: secular, moderate, peace-seeking and deeply Zionist. Amoz Oz is a very public figure; Dina Porat I've known for many years. So far as I can tell, they've both been voting for the same parties, certainly for the same camp, throughout their adult lives. Yet something about the strident certainty that led Oz to pen that column set off so many bells ringing for Porat, that she publicly reprimanded him:
Porat spends her days researching antisemitism; Oz doesn't. Perhaps that's the difference between them. It's hard to study antisemitism honestly and think people can be weened off it by civility or niceness, as if the hatred were only ever a matter of rational aggravation caused by Jewish misdeeds.
You say that "to defeat an idea you have to offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one." This, too, is an enchanting phrase; one can only dream that an idea could be defeated by the proposition of another one. I'm sure you are aware that throughout history wars have been waged not only because of conflicting interests, but also opposing ideas that carried the masses on each side. The idea of white supremacy, the idea of the righteousness of Christianity and Islam, the Bolshevik and the Fascist ideas all claimed millions of victims, even though other ideas were proposed at the time. Western culture today offers an alternative to fanatical Islam: democracy, rights for women and minorities, education allowing students free thinking and choice, technological progress, independent cultural pursuits. Here is an attractive, very reasonable idea. What do you think?
I don't pretend to be of the Porat-Oz political camp, so I'm allowed to say what they are not: Nazism was never defeated by an idea. It was defeated by the massive violence of the Red Army and the American and British air forces. Fascism wasn't defeated by ideas, either; it was destroyed by war. Even Communism was hardly defeated by an idea; it was defeated by superior economic prowess, which is why the Chinese Communist Party is still in power (that, and the treads of tanks in Tianmen Square). The human story is complicated, and there are no absolute rules for what works and what doesn't. Sometime this does, sometimes that, sometimes nothing works, sometimes no-one knows why what did work, did.
Still, it's part of our story that most Israelis know that Amoz Oz is wrong on this, while most external observers - those that care at all - swoon over the humane wisdom that he expresses.