Magazine article Newsweek International

Israel under the Volcano

Magazine article Newsweek International

Israel under the Volcano

Article excerpt

The expectation of many people outside Israel of witnessing a full- scale Jewish civil war will remain unfulfilled. --Amos Oz

Amos Oz is Israel's best-known contemporary author. In works of fiction and nonfiction alike, he often depicts his country as a society under emotional as well as physical siege. He also has taken sides in Israel's culture wars, as he did last week after a mass rally in Jerusalem by ultra-Orthodox Jews. The demonstrators were protesting recent Israeli Supreme Court rulings they see as opening the way to recognition of Conservative and Reform Judaism. In response, Oz signed on as a member of the Reform movement--a gesture of opposition to the ultra-Orthodox and their political supporters, whom he and other secular artists and intellectuals denounced as "enemies of democracy." A native-born Israeli, Oz, 59, served in two Middle East wars (1967 and 1973). Yet he remains a staunch advocate of peace and understanding between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. After 30 years on a kibbutz, Oz now lives in Arad, a town on the edge of the Negev desert. He spoke by phone there with NEWSWEEK's Jeremy Caplan. Excerpts:

CAPLAN: What led you to join the Reform movement? OZ: This was a demonstrative move, not a theological change of heart. It was an act of solidarity with Jewish religious groups who are discriminated against by Orthodox groups in Israel and are victims of the heavy pressure of the Orthodox on the Israeli Legislature and Supreme Court.

How do you explain the rising tension between religious and secular Israelis? Religious parties control only 15 or 16 percent of the Knesset [Parliament]. But for 30 years, Orthodox leaders have tipped the balance between hawks and doves, and have been in a position to determine who forms a coalition and who runs the country. Knowing that they are running out of time, they are trying to press for as much religious legislation as they can. Hence their crusade against Reform and Conservative Jews. But I don't foresee massive violence. The expectation of many people outside Israel of witnessing a full-scale Jewish civil war will remain unfulfilled.

What will be the determining factors in Israel's upcoming May 17 elections? In the last elections a set of suicide attacks decided the consequences of our elections for us, and indeed for the Palestinians as well. I'll give you a forecast: sometime after the next election a bipartisan foreign policy will be formed. The actual gap between Labor, Likud and the new central party is microscopic. All three parties are now willing to accept the existence of a Palestinian state next to Israel [though they] still differ on the magnitude of Israeli concessions of land on the West Bank. …

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