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Pen Pals

David Grossman, Amos Oz, and A.B. Yehoshua have won international acclaim for being the intellectual leaders of Israel’s peace camp. It’s undeserved.

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Heroes of the left: Yehoshua, Grossman, Oz. (Abigail Miller/Tablet Magazine; A. B. Yehoshua and David Grossman photos: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images; Amos Oz photo: Jürgen Baeur/Houghton Mifflin)

If you are the sort that reads Playboy for the articles, a 1973 essay by Alfred Kazin might have caught your eye. Titled “The Writer as Political Crazy: Truth, Beauty, Totalitarianism and Other Sublime Things,” the piece takes on a curious conundrum: Why do so many writers, artful and astute, turn crazy when writing about politics? Kazin offers a gallery of rogues that includes both men of the right—Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence—and of the left, like Jean Genet, all moved to madness when confronting the vagaries of political action.

But, Kazin argues, we shouldn’t be surprised: Writers, the sort of cats who see the world with all its vivid intricacies, and who are accustomed to winning our praise for delivering precise and moving portraits of life, may be forgiven for assuming that they can do with political ideas what they do with words. That is to say, let us not be surprised that the same Ezra Pound who so vividly described the scene in a Paris Metro station—“The apparition of these faces in the crowd;/ Petals on a wet, black bough”—also, in his infamous World War II broadcasts from Fascist Italy, imagined the Jews as belligerent profiteers and President Franklin D. Roosevelt as biologically inferior to Aryans.

Why do we forgive our writers their feats of folly? Because we believe, like Shelley, that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” and because we take Pound at his word that he and his colleagues are the antennae of the race. We not only forgive our writers their political transgressions, but, for the most part, we celebrate them; the writer as political crazy is the writer we’ve come to expect.

Yet as the essayist Eliot Weinberger noted in “The Arts and the War in Iraq,” having come of age with neither existential nor economic crises to guide their upbringing, many of our writers, even the finest among them, have come to see their art as a sterile, commercial pursuit, one largely uninterested in the making of meaning. This is why we no longer have Robert Lowells, Dwight Macdonalds, Norman Mailers, Allen Ginsbergs, politically and morally committed in life as well as in art. Can you imagine Jonathan Franzen trying to levitate the Pentagon in protest of the Iraq War? Or Nicole Krauss leading a march of thousands on the National Mall in support of, say, immigration reform? In lieu of the armies of the night, we’ve settled for the solitary individuals of the late afternoon, polite and clever and opinionated and terribly disengaged. Weinberger correctly observes that “the Cheney-Bush II era has not produced a single poem, song, novel, or artwork that has caught the popular imagination as a condemnation or an epitome of the times.”

***

Out of such dire straits, American intellectuals eager to once again huddle around a thriving and politically active vanguard of writers may consider looking to Israel for comfort. There, it seems, the writer is king. In 2006, for example, the novelist David Grossman, having recently lost his son in the Lebanon War, thundered to a crowd of tens of thousands gathered in Tel Aviv, accusing the government of lacking a vision and losing its way. Grossman is also sporadically present in the weekly demonstrations against the questionably legal expropriation of Arab homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Together with his close friends, the novelists Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, Grossman frequently writes open letters to Israel’s political elite, publishes political tracts in newspapers, and infuses his novels with what the critic Susan Willis termed portents of the real. His most recent book, To the End of the Land, features a mother embarking on a prolonged hike, adamant in her belief that her soldier son will be safe so long as those army officials whose job it is to notify parents that their children have died in action can’t find her at home. Praising both Grossman’s work as a novelist and as an activist, the Frankfurt Book Fair awarded him its prestigious Peace Prize earlier this year and applauded him as “a symbol of the peace movement” in Israel.

The designation was intended as a laurel, but it is more poignant as a statement of fact. Together with his two prominent colleagues, Grossman is very much a symbol of the Israeli peace movement, a movement as earnest as it is ineffective. But even as the peace movement fades, the three writers who are so closely identified with its efforts gather encomiums from fellow writers and critics the world over. The praise, alas, is undeserved.

To understand this contentious statement—Grossman, in particular, is a secular saint of sorts among many literati in Europe and the United States—let us revisit the moment, late in 2007, when the novelist was awarded the Israeli prime minister’s Emet Prize for Arts, Science and Culture. Having expressed his strong criticism of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his Tel Aviv speech the year before, the novelist told the ceremony’s organizers that he would accept the prize but would not shake Olmert’s hand. The prime minister was informed, and remained seated when Grossman claimed the prize. Asked later why he didn’t shake Olmert’s hand, Grossman replied, “for obvious reasons.”

The Israeli media reveled in this scrap of theater, but, examined on its own merit, Grossman’s bout of disobedience grows pale and small. The man who in 2006 appealed to throngs of demonstrators, who decried “Israel’s quick descent into the heartless, essentially brutal treatment of its poor and suffering,” who spoke out against “this equanimity of the State of Israel in the face of human trafficking or the appalling employment conditions of our foreign workers, which border on slavery, to the deeply ingrained institutionalized racism against the Arab minority,” the best that man could do just a year later was refuse to shake another man’s hand. To sit the whole thing out—as Robert Lowell, for example, did when invited by President Lyndon Johnson to attend the White House Arts Festival in 1965—seemingly never occurred to Grossman. Nor did any other act that would have carried him over the threshold of the nice.

Of course, it would be foolish, even brutal, to expect anyone to become anything they’re not. When I interviewed Grossman on a recent afternoon in his American publishers’ offices—his evening would include an interview with Charlie Rose and a well-attended event with Nicole Krauss at the New York Public Library—the novelist, welcoming and sweet, began with an anecdote by way of warning. It’s the old hasidic tale of Reb Zusya, who, lying on his deathbed, has one more bit of wisdom to impart. When I die, Zusya tells his students, God will not ask me why I wasn’t more like Moses; he’ll ask why I wasn’t more like Zusya.

What the anecdote means to Grossman—what his definition of the ideal writerly self might be—became clear toward the end of the interview. Many floors below, the sun reflected off the Hudson River, and Grossman, as smiling publicists floated in and out of the room, spoke about the way his latest book was received around the world. It stunned him, he said, to hear people in the United States and elsewhere say they hadn’t realized how difficult and sad life in Israel really was. The problem, Grossman added, is that many Israelis hadn’t realized that either.

“Because we don’t understand the price we pay for life in a disaster zone, we don’t do enough to change it,” Grossman said in Hebrew. An author, he argued, “must always remind us that there’s an alternative. If you asked me what’s the thing that propels me to political action, it’s the desire to constantly remind that there’s an alternative, that people won’t think that there’s some sort of divine act that condemns us to kill and be killed, that we’re lords of our fate. We need to massage and revive the frightened and ossified consciousness of Israelis and Palestinians and remind them that they’re not condemned. Our story could be written differently.”

Which brings us back to the same question that plagued Pound and Oppen and nearly anyone who has ever made a living observing the world and committing his or her insights to print: How to rewrite reality?

***

For Grossman, for Oz, for Yehoshua, the solution is more statements, more letters, more talk. Last week, for example, the three signed a letter in support of an artistic boycott of the newly opened cultural center in the settlement of Ariel. Receiving the Siegfried Unseld Prize in Berlin this September, Oz (who shared the prize with Palestinian professor of philosophy Sari Nusseibeh) delivered a touching speech about the importance of the two-state solution. In October, in Paris, appearing alongside philosopher Alain Finkielkraut and Green politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit in support of a dovish new Jewish lobby, Yehoshua did the same.

Paradoxically, the more celebrated the three authors are in Israel and elsewhere in the world, the more moribund the values on behalf of which they so adamantly speak appear. If politics is an act of imagining better endings to our shared story, Oz and Grossman and Yehoshua aren’t being terribly creative.

Luckily, others in Israel are. For the past few months, for example, Ilana Hammerman, an award-winning translator and editor, has been smuggling Palestinian women and girls out of their besieged villages and towns, taking them for a day out on Tel Aviv’s beach. Most of these women, despite having been born and having lived their entire lives just a few miles away, had never before seen the Mediterranean; their joy at this shard of normal life is great. Hammerman, of course, is breaking the law: In smuggling the women she runs afoul of Israel’s intricate policy of border control, enforced by roadblocks and checkpoints. Yet Hammerman believes that the moral duty of allowing fellow human beings the chance to run barefoot on the beach is paramount. She has inspired scores of Israeli women to follow her example by taking a novel approach to reality: Instead of railing against injustice, she showed her peers what life could look like if we cared enough to perform small acts of kindness to benefit those people that Israelis usually see only as foes.

Even without breaking the law, it’s not difficult to imagine other creative political stories for the three to compose. They could, like playwright Shmuel Hasfari, promote the claim that because the Jewish settlements of the West Bank were never legally annexed by Israel, any measure of cultural activity there—from the selling of books to the performing of plays—should be subject to a foreign licensing agreement; such an act would send a clear message and serve to undermine the legitimacy of settlements, a premise all three authors, to some extent, strongly support. Or they could arrange for forums where real Israelis might meet real Palestinians, an increasingly rare opportunity for both sides these days. Many more alternatives, some more intricate than others, suggest themselves; but Oz, Yehoshua, and Grossman steer clear of the real and stick to the purely symbolic.

This should surprise no close reader of their work. If there is one thing that binds the three’s different styles and sensibilities it is the nearly religious adherence to symbolic structures, grand metaphors from which all meaning is meant to unfurl. Oz’s famous My Michael, for example, tells the tale of a woman married to a kind but unthrilling man—a geologist, in case his connection to the land of Israel was too subtle to grasp—and who sinks into fantasy to escape her anxieties. These fantasies involve Arab twins with whom she had played as a child in Jerusalem. The dreams sometimes get steamy—what else can The Other do than appear naked in our shower and allow us to relieve ourselves of our urges and fears? A woman escaping her fate is, of course, also the subject of Grossman’s latest novel. It is also the theme of Yehoshua’s The Liberated Bride, in which a young woman bolts out of a marriage after one short year and in which her judgmental mother-in-law is a judge and inquisitive father-in-law, the one who refuses to let go of the past, is a historian. There are other books, and other similarities, but, with few exceptions, the following generalization still stands: Oz and Yehoshua and Grossman tell stories of men and women who are wrecked by reality, who try to escape it but can’t, who do their best and discover that their best isn’t enough.

The same could be said about their political sensibilities. Grossman described it best. “It’s not that I think that suddenly Jews and Arabs can walk hand in hand towards the sunset,” he told me. “That’s not the case. But I think there’s a place somewhere in between the Hollywood ending and being tossed into the sea. There is nuance. And that’s where we need to go, to those places where we can have a life that is possible, where we could slowly douse the flames and control the madness, no more.”

But the madness, as artists should know better than most, is often all that there is. The madness starts wars and writes great novels and propels throngs of people to either love or hate their fellow man. And the madness is what we need writers for, because the madness is sublime and without it there is much that matters but not much that can move us.

***

The direction we move in is, of course, up to the writer’s own conscience, and it hardly dictates allegiance to the left. The poet Yonatan Ratosh, for example, proved better than most that the lyrical was political when he founded his ultra-right-wing Canaanite movement in 1939. Calling for the struggling Jewish state to abandon its religious foundations and return instead to the archaic, pre-biblical, pagan civilization of the region, Ratosh did violence to the carefully constructed prose of his contemporaries; his name, which he gave himself (he was born Uriel Shelach), is a play on the Hebrew verb le’ratesh, to tear apart. He selected as his themes the myths of prehistory, and he wrote lines that were terse and muscular and sounded like the beat of ancient drums.

Although the Canaanite movement was short-lived, it attracted a committed cadre of writers—Benjamin Tammuz, Amos Kenan, Aharon Amir—that went on to shape Israeli culture from the 1950s onward.

A more recent example is Moshe Shamir: Having abandoned his socialist upbringing and becoming one of the standard-bearers of the settler movement, the writer co-founded the right-wing Tehiya party and briefly served as a member of Knesset. His political madness—shortly before Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, he likened negotiating with the Palestinians to collaborating with the Nazis—echoed his literary sensibilities. His novels were a thunderstorm of short, strong sentences and searing social criticism. He was inspiring as both a legislator and a writer because, politically and aesthetically, he was on fire.

The mission, politically and aesthetically, of Grossman, Yehoshua, and Oz is very different. It is, as Grossman told me, to douse the flames, to control the madness. This is why they produce so much symbolism, and this is why so many of their protagonists are running away from life. The alternative would be to fight like hell and dream up wild, new paths to redemption. As leaders, as writers, Israel’s three most famous writers, unlike several of their less heralded peers on the left and on the right, have failed to do just that. Rather than hail them as paragons, anyone committed to the future of the Israeli peace movement would do well to thank them warmly for their concern and hope for a writer to come along and write a better ending to this mad, mad story.

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What exactly is the Israeli peace movement? The Oslo accords which led to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians? The withdrawal from Lebanon which led to the Lebanese war? The withdrawal from Gaza which created a rain of missiles and another war? If this is the “peace movement” then I’m not interested. I’ve read some these 3 author’s books and have enjoyed them, but their political views have been proven to be way off base. They should stick with writing.

I don’t know why writers should be given a platform in politics. I reminds me of Phil Rizzuto flogging for the “Money Store”

A

Wodek Szemberg says:

In my modest opinion which so well matches my moderation in all things, this is crazy talk. Without any suggestion of there being a more effective literature offering a truer picture of reality, Leibowitz dreams of vitalism and writers who ACT. Doesn’t matter where the impulse comes from; the politics behind it are immaterial. What matters is that writers should dare to act in the moment and I guess be examples to others. As much as I applause Ilana Hammerman’s very humane act of smuggling Palestinian women to the beach, this is not the answer to the psychologically painful choices neither side is willing to make.

Wow, what a petty and misguided analysis of these writers. Certainly, they are not gods, but this is the most pathetic and unfounded set of criticisms I could imagine.

To the best of my knowledge all of these men remain Zionists (certainly Oz, and I believe Grossman and Yehoshua too), not anti-Zionists, who want peace between Jews and Arabs, and they have spoken this way for decades in a society in which many Jews do not want peace.

The complaints here seem absurd. Oz deals in vast symbolic structures, says the author, and the evidence is one of his earliest novels, My Michel, his third novel, written in 1968! He has since written a dozen others. Most memorable however was Po v’shem, Here and There in the Land of Israel… reports of interviews with real people who condemn themselves with their own words. A Tale of Love and Darkness is deeply autobiographical. And others. Oz seems to believe that art can transform people by revealing deeper truths about their lives, personally and politically. And for this ordinary artistic idea, he is criticized? Whatever, dude.

These guys are all getting old, and the conflict has not been resolved on their watch. But what does Leibowitz want of them? They have fought the good fight from within the establishment. I suppose if she is completely opposed to that establishment (that is to say a dedicated anti-Zionist) then nothing that an artist who thinks of himself/herself as an Israeli and a Zionist could possibly be good enough. And maybe at this stage in history, true artists do need or will need to simply reject the state. But for much of the last 40 years the idea that Israel could be saved, and that peace could be made, was not demonstrably false. To criticize men who labored artistically within that political framework is unduly harsh.

Today, in 2010, perhaps such a position is becoming untenable, and younger artists must take a different path. But these old guys, they have done well and good.

As a playwright, and as other playwrights, when someone suggests the story go another way, our response is often, ‘That is another play.’ You are asking these writers to be people other than who they are. And in fact, at their ages, having lived through different phases of relationships with surrounding Arabs, their response is perhaps different than yours. It is in the more recent years that the 2 state solution has gained feet – and the peace movement has become more defined. Perhaps it is for younger activists to take more action. But as a slightly younger writer, they have given me much to consider – that is their job. Being American but a fairly frequest visitor to Israel, I am not so in touch with all the peace movement does. But I don’t hear much of political peace activists. Why is this?

Steph F. says:

Pound, Eliot, Lawrence, Genet — they, too, relied on “talk” more than “action” (I would even go so far as to say they saw talk as action). I hate to break it to you, Liel, but that’s par for the course with writers. We love words and believe in their efficacy too much not to operate that way. It’s what you are doing by writing this piece, no?

Miriam Hirschfeld says:

The article is right on. Even though there are not insignificant differences in the positions of Grossman, Oz, and Yehoshua, when they open their mouths, especially abroad, it makes me say, at the very least, “with friends like these …” — using status for political manipulation of the most nefarious kind, for in Israel everything is so “gorali”.

I have heard Grossman a number of times in Italy, where I visit often and where he has become a favorite of the media. I don’t miss any opportunity to delegitimize his position and present a different point of view.

Interesting article but I am not sure I would be so quick to castigate writers such as Oz, Grossman and Yehoshua as undeserved. Certainly, I agree that writers write about madness in the attempt to control the madness but it also key to recognize that the messenger, the writer if you will, often delivers messages that are unpopular to hear. The question we should be asking is this: Is it the writer who descends into political madness? Or is the writer who is able to frame into words, phrases and textures the madness of the world around them, at least how they see it? Certainly, there exists other direct actions that some activists take in their pursuit of peace but I would not dismiss the contributions of writers by naming their art as undeserved either. I would argue that writers serve a different purpose, that is to offer perspective and alternate explanations, than direct action which is chiefly aimed at creating stir and attracting attention to a cause. A good writer, however, can do both. Writers offer new perspective, often at odds with existing norms and perceptions, and writers, good ones anyway, offer hope that escape from the madness is possible. I would not dismiss the role of these writers as undeserved simply because their art is not direct-action, rather, I would welcome their necessary and valued contribution as a means to help others understand a new way of looking at an existing situation in a way that is decoupled and distinct from the usual feel-good political spin and wordsmithing common in political circles. So that said, I ask, does the writer descend into political madness? Or is it politics itself that is mad and the writer only reflects that reality through the written word? Is blaming the writer as undeserved more simply a matter of merely shooting the messenger? Why is it often thought that writing is not an action? Isn’t writing an action too? I think writing is an action equal to other direct actions.

Phillip says:

Here is the Tablet profile of Liel Libovitz:
“Liel Leibovitz is the executive producer of Tablet’s video and interactive media. He is the author, most recently, of Lili Marlene: The Soldiers’ Song of World War II, published in 2008 by W.W. Norton. A native of Tel Aviv, he completed his doctoral studies in communications at Columbia University, researching the ontology of video games. This means he spends more time playing games than a grown man should. He is obsessed with coffee.”
In other words, he’s a sad escape artist. At least these writers he rants about didn’t waste precious trees writing a book on Lili Marlene!

This article is another example of how the left eats its own.

Mark S. Devenow says:

Aliza -

Phil Rizzuto flogging for the “Money Store” was a spectacle much more benign than the pageant of Grossman, Yehoshua and Oz being assailed for not being activist enough by this leftist moron critic. Where in the world does Tablet come up with these crazy critics?

Carl — there was a rain of missles before the withdrawal from Gaza, too, and Israel fought wars with Lebanon before withdrawing, too.

To Tzvi–exactly my point. The Israeli public was sold the story of “if only”. If only we withdraw from Gaza we will have peace. If only we bring the PLO in from Tunisia to rule over the West bank we will have peace. The thing is that the Israeli public seems to have learned from their mistakes, while these three keep trying to sell the same old goods that no one is interested in buying anymore. They are living in a world of wishful thinking because they don’t want to contemplate the alternatives.

M. Brukhes says:

A profoundly but predictably misguided, confused, and unilluminating misinterpretation not only of these three authors but also of the role of the writer in society. As Mary McCarthy once said of Lillian Hellmann’s memoirs, “every word is false, including ‘and,’ ‘but,’ and ‘or.’” The question that remains of this ridiculous editorial is not why Leibovitz wrote it–one is accustomed to his thick-headed pontifications on any number of themes–but why Tablet published it, or any of us bothered to read it.

Has your Liel Libovitz nothing better to do critisize. Does the TABLET
pay him only to put down others. If he has something constructive to
offer, I hope The Tablet gives him another chance. Or is he to bussy
playing with his video games, or himself. Get Real.

I was almost killed in a Palestinian terror attack. Something that helps stop such attacks are the roadblocks which Liel thinks is a “human kindness” to avoid so Palestinians can be brought into Israel.

Thanks but no thanks, Liel. Please, spare me. A thinking person knows that the walls & roadblocks are there for one reason – to stop terror. And most were put up after the murderous intifada of years 2001 +.

So while terror has, thankfully, decreased dramatically, that doesn’t mean Israel just put up all these blocks just to be “cruel”.

But….I know reality ought not impact you too much. Better to write self absorbed stuff from NY.

This is not a very convincing, nor ultimately critically thoughtful statement; a strong democracy needs a number of vigorous forms of dissent and consciousness-raising. These writers are Israel’s few remaining voices of conscience and they have enormous impact.

fred lapides says:

Thee are many fine comments to the piece. I would not add my voice but to say that Pound and Eliot–that is older writers–reflect the antisemitism of their time which was so readily accepted by most people in the West. Pound’s real troubles began when in fact he did decide to act. He broadcast his antisemitic views to the world in behalf of the Nazis, and thus was a traitor to his place of birth, the US, which he found himself in when put in a hospital for the insane, but from which he left, when released, to live in Italy.
In sum: say what you will about the left writers in Israel living and writing today, but is is misleading to begin by pointing to writers outside of Israel whose views reflected earlier beliefs.

Ken Besig, Israel says:

Impaired intellects produce impaired literature, and stupidity usually leads to bad politics. These three Israeli Left wing writers are pretty third rate and were it not for the Left wing domination of the Israeli press and literati, they would be totally ignored. Indeed, these three hacks are internationally renowned, not because of their really poor writing, but rather because of their bitter, unfounded, and slanderous criticism of Israel and the Jews living here.

virginia says:

I believe that Grossman and his friends are saying there is an alternative to war in the world, but it is very difficult to think from the viewpoint of peace. It is a struggle to achieve objectives by peaceful means in a world attuned by violent video games to movies and books urging the answer to everything is kill, kill, kill. It is so easy to plant the seeds of future ears from present wars, but for ourselves and our children it is smarter to pursue thoughts of peace.

To Carl – was the only point of the withdrawals to achieve peace? Seems to me that Israelis were tired of sending their kids off to continual military service in those places. Doesn’t seem to me that the country is worse off for the pullouts.

Pete Levine says:

I knew he was off-course when he quoted Weinberger as “correct” that “the Cheney-Bush II era has not produced a single poem, song, novel, or artwork that has caught the popular imagination as a condemnation or an epitome of the times.”

Hasn’t Libovitz heard “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” by James McMurtry?

The problem with those novelists is that they don’t live in the real world and don’t even see it. The citizens of Israel have never before lived in such harmony and prosperity as they do now: civil liberties, gay rights, freedom of religious observance, wealth and entertainment – they all are on the level with the most advanced countries of the world and some cases even exceed it. Israel is like a flower in the Middle Eastern desert. The piece of paper signed by some ruthless dictator won’t change anything. But the Israeli (and not only Israeli) fantasists cannot understand that.

Karen Davis says:

Everyone is entitled to hold political opinions; even authors. It’s up to others to choose whether to listen to them or not.
Furthermore, Liel is self-contradictory–first stating that the authors of the Bush-Cheney years were not known for being politically committed. Then, he condemns
Israeli writers who live and write politically. The personal is policital and vice versa.

Others have rightly criticized Liebovitz for arguing that these politically engaged writers are not politically active enough. Liebovitz’s aethetic argument against their use of symbolism is equally flawed and seems to yearn for a return to the ideologically heavy handed realism of Israeli writers who were active in the years immediately following independence. Apparently Liebovitz’s criticism lacks the aesthetic sophistication of contemporary Israeli writers (and filmmakers).

Yonatan Ratosh “was born Uriel Shelach”?

Nope.

Uriel Heilperin was his birth name. He altered his last name actually three times.

And the proper founder of the Canaanite Movement was Adiah Gurevitch (AG Horon) who issued a journal in pre-war Paris entitled SHEM. He and Ratosh then met, developed the Canaanite idea which in 1944 emrged in Ratosh’s famous essay.

M. Brukhes says:

OK, OK: HERE’S what’s wrong with this article:

1) Neither Alfred Kazin nor Shelley are models of where contemporary literary criticism is at.

2) Hasn’t Leibovitz implicitly equated Oz, Grossman, and Yehoshua with Eliot, Pound, and Lawrence?! That is, liberals with fascists?

3) And yet, while bemoaning the foolishness of literary writers in their embrace of political extremism–thereby absolving, apparently, accountants, dentists, tattoo artists, and notary publics for the same folly–he at the same time chastises these authors for…their political moderation?!

4) By contrast, he claims they should be more like Norman Mailer, leading a march against the Vietnam War: but who even READS Norman Mailer in 2010, and of those who do–did he write anything after 1967 that would reward the effort?

5) Nicole Kraus has never lead a march on Washington–but a political clown (Glenn Beck) and two political comedians (Stewart and Colbert) DID lead such a march (full disclosure: I was at the latter march, with no regrets after the fact…), and Tablet panned the latter march, as well. So artists can’t win for losing with this outfit?! And maybe the shift from a novelist to comedians leading our protest movements accounts for wider changes in the literary marketplace that Leibovitz refuses to account for?

6) But the real point of comparison for Leibovitz isn’t Mailer, Pound, or Shelley, but Ilana Hammermann, who represents genuine political commitment in Leibovitz’s discerning view. (By the way, Liel: how many protest marches have you led? How many novels have you written? What’s holding you back?) But if that’s the model, why not just write about her? Why demean these three writers to elevate her? Like his recent juvenile “review” of Orly Castel-Bloom: why not let her be herself, instead of insulting the others.

7) Finally, he bemoans the absence of good protest art coming out of the Bush wars. I guess we should just start more wars, then, in hopes of producing better art?

Liel Leibovitz says:

Mr. Medad,

I stand corrected. And thank you for bringing up Adiah Gurevitch. I hope more people take the time to learn about this thrilling and important movement.

Bravo Mike,Sy weiss, Ramen ….
It’s the first time that i receive this letter .
OZ,IEHOSHUA and GROSSMAN are the 3 worth israeli writers .
As novelists,they fight as much as they can for peace .
That guy,Liel Leibovitz must be an armchair zionist ,giving money to the AI PAC which gives money to zionists to settle in the occupied territories .
These writers are the voice of Isrelis who want to achieve peace.
To write in a same sentence the name of these writers and T S Eliott who visited Goebbels and broadcat in italy for the fascists shows that this guy is not worth reading ..

I see. A ex-Israeli middling writer, Leibovitz, assails 3 universally acclaimed Israeli writers because they are not sufficiently left-wing for his taste. How edifying.

Daniel says:

This author thinks he is so much braver and morally-wiser than these writers? Perhaps these writers should all follow the brave example of the author of this piece and move to safe America, and then from that safe distance harangue Israel that it has not made enough concessions to those who in the past have uses every concession as a means to kill Israelis. Oh, and after that so-brave move, continue to earn your living off the jewish community, as this author does.

(Please note I am writing sarcartically.)

Why does Tablet publish this drek? What are its redeeming qualities?

tillkan says:

He is not hard enough on them – unless I am misinformed, they all supported the attack on Lebanon in 2006 and the attack on Gaza in 2008. That makes them warmongers, not peaceniks.

M. Brukhes says:

Tillkan: you are misinformed. All three have been critical of Israel’s conduct in Lebanon in 2006 and the Gaza in 2008.

tillkan says:

No, they were critical AFTER the wars started.

tillkan says:

They criticized the “conduct”, not the wars themselves.

Giants like Oz, Yehoshua and Grossman don’t need to be defended by us from pilpul-pushing post-grads and panicked hawks. Their work can do that with elegance,.

virginia says:

Did anyone see “Dogs Decoded” on PBS last week? Through blood tests scientists have discovered that young mothers and new born babies have the same hormones that help them bond together. The same hormones exist between pet owners and their dogs. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to get these young mothers and dog owners together in a proper atmosphere. Then let them discuss ways to peace while they are filled with bonding hormones with their babies and dogs?

I have my disagreements with Grossman, Oz and Yehoshua but I respect
these three Israelis a lot more than Liel Leibowitz sitting in New York
and complainning about Israel.

Jehudah Ben-Israel says:

I am yet to meet a single Israeli Jewish citizen who is not eager to achieve an accommodation of peaceful coexistence between Arab and Jew, between the Muslim-Arab world and the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel.

The attempt to paint matters otherwise, to refer to “peace camp” vs… is pathetic!

If one is so eager to divide people, to compartmentalize them, the division should be between those eager to achieve an accommodation of peaceful coexistence between the nation-state of the Jewish people vs. those who, to this day, refuse to accept the RIGHT of the Jewish people to its own independent nation-state.

It is high time some open their eys, ears, minds and hearts to realize against which forces of evil and racism the Jewish people, in the form of its nation-state of Israel, is facing…!!

greeneyeshade says:

Liel Liebovitz seems to think that the Sixties literati like Norman Mailer who protested the Vietnam War were unconditionally on the right side. I always want to ask someone making a statement like that if he’s consulted the boat people, or the survivors of the Cambodian genocide.
I could quote Yeats, Julien Benda, Alexis de Tocqueville et al on the folly of writers trying to make policy, but for my money Oliver Kamm, a self-described “Europhile lefty” now with the London Times, put it in a nutshell 7 years ago: “When writers take a stand on international politics the intensity of their indignation is almost always inversely related to the intelligence with which they express it.”¶

Reading these comments reinforces the sad truth that very few of these respondents have ever studied history of any kind. The same is true of their knowledge of the works of the writers mentioned ! I suggest they get a library card and begin reading !!!

Surfingthe net will not provide an education !

VHJM van Neerven says:

Hello Leil,

Please, explain something to me: Why do you write?
You wrote: “But the madness, as artists should know better than most, is often all that there is.”

I am enough of an artist and know enough artists to agree that, yes, artists should know better than most. But does that mean we, artists and others, should abide by the madness and sound off: No alternative?

Surely, if madness exists, then its opposite must exist as well — or be made to exist!

As far as I know, you, Leil, are no psychologist or psychiatrist and you do not write case histories. Right? Then what do you write? And why?

The question is the more pressing for me as I am an avid reader of your ‘liturgical’ writings, this year on the parasha’s. I find it hard to see the same M, Leibowitz in those writings and in the above.

We are a People of the Book. If the great vision of all the great fathers and mothers in the Book is so off, why write at all?

Yours,

VHJM van Neerven, Amsterdam

VHJM van Neerven says:

Post Script:

My humble apologies for mis-spelling your given name, Liel.

I’ve said that least 113308 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

Thank you for this information I had been researching all Google in order to uncover it!

Rafael says:

eu recomendo na verdade as
Buceta da Valesca
obrigado

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Pen Pals

David Grossman, Amos Oz, and A.B. Yehoshua have won international acclaim for being the intellectual leaders of Israel’s peace camp. It’s undeserved.

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