December 20th, 2007

Amos Oz


Laudation for the ceremony of awarding the Leo Baeck Prize, by the Central Council of Jewish Communities in Germany, to Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Berlin 10/5/2005

Dear Joschka Fischer, Dear Members of The Jury of the Leo Baeck Prize, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends, Good Morning, Shalom to all of you. Let me begin with a little personal confession; I can not review Joschka Fischer's biography, career, merits and achievements in an objective way, simply because I like this man too much to be objective about him.

I like this man and I feel close to him in several ways: as a peace activist to a fellow peace activist, as a recovered right-wing militant to a recovered left-wing radical, as a gymnasium drop-out to a fellow gymnasium drop-out, and as a former tractor driver to a former taxi driver.

Dear Joschka Fischer – if you allow me to switch into the second person – you are not just a statesman who I respect and admire, but also a political guide for many; your philosophical, ideological and practical stances prove that one can be a resolute left-wing leader without necessarily falling into left wing dogmatism, or into left wing sentimentalism, or into the set of clichés of either flower-waving youth or clenched-fist extremists.

Like many others, I have followed the story of your political growth, your political maturation, from a radical idealist into a kind of devoted "family doctor" who can deal patiently and expertly with several international crises: a skilful healer of conflicts, a wise and warm-hearted broker between various antagonistic parties. You have become, in the course of the last several years, a most prominent example of humanistic, enlightened yet realistic leadership.

Where lies the real difference between a radical world-reformer an patient evolutionary political healer?

The extremist is often no more than a walking exclamation-mark: he has an instant answer for every question: often, the extremist has the same simplistic answer for all the questions: often, he even has the answer before any question is asked.

The pragmatic family-doctor, on the other hand, knows that there are more questions than answers: that suffering can and should be treated and reduced, but could never be completely erased in one blow; that the obsession with complete an perfect justice is hardly ever compatible with peace and reconciliation.

The word compromise, for a pragmatic leader like yourself, isn't necessarily a dirty word. Healing wounds an resolving historical conflicts takes time and wisdom, and involves the art of compromise rather than righteousness, anger, protestation and indignation.

Compromises are never sweet. "A happy compromise" is an oxymoron: yet contrary to what certain idealists tend to think, compromises are not necessarily dishonest, or opportunistic, or sneaky: a compromise is, at least in my own vocabulary, synonymous to life itself. The opposite of compromise is not integrity of idealism. Often, the opposite of compromise is fanaticism and violence.

Last year, in an interview with the Arabic television station AL – GAZIRA (16.2.2004) you spoke about "a truly painful compromise between Israelis and Palestinians", you spoke about a two-state solution to the conflict, and about the need to put an end to Palestinian and other terrorism, as a crucial step toward peace, sovereignty and security for all the peoples of the Middle East.

Your attitude, dear Joschka Fischer, is the best example of how Europeans could be progressive, peace-loving, left-wing, without necessarily adopting shallow, trendy anti-Israeli attitudes.

You have also proven in the course of the last few years that one can be strongly critical of certain aspects of the Israeli policy towards the Palestinian without ever casting a question-mark on Israeli's right to exist in peace, integrity and security.

You have also demonstrated that one may resent the war in Iraq without automatically adoption a blind pro-Arab position on every controversial issue.

Your enthusiasm and devotion to the idea of European unity has never obscured your vision about European moral duties, and European commitment towards less privileged parts of the world. You have always been a benevolent European, not a selfish European and not Europocentrist.

Many people in Israel, many Jewish people everywhere regard you as one of our best friends in Europe: an honest friend, a persistent friend, and sometimes an openly critical friend whose intellectual and emotional commitment has always been beyond any doubt. Interestingly enough not only Israelis and other Jews trust you an regard you as a friend, but also many Palestinians and other Arabs feel the same about you. There is hardly another statesman currently active on the world stage that both sides are willingly to accept as an honest broker. This, dear Joschka Fischer, is a tribute to your honesty, to your integrity and to your wisdom.

There are many people all over the world for whom you personify the best type of leadership for Europe at this time: a pragmatic visionary, a stubborn peace-maker but certainly not an appeaser. In my own view, you are indeed, one of the finest "products" of the generation of the 1960's. Not each and every "flower" of the 1960's matured to produce a fine fruit: you certainly did.

The Jewish people, as you know, have a long and painful historical memory. It is through this perspective of our long and painful memory that we have been cautiously following New Germany's struggle against the criminal parts of the German past. What you yourself have been saying in public on many occasions, for many years, about German crimes of the past – I cherish and admire as major contributions to the renewed German-Jewish relationship. Even more so I admire your statements on the subject as major contributions to Germany's soul searching, to Germany's harsh dialogue with itself.

In the footsteps of several post-war German writers, particularly in the footsteps of the "47 group", you have always been bold, direct and unrelenting in your public dealings with German crimes against Jews and against others as well as with present and future German historical responsibilities.

In a speech in New York earlier this year (24.1.2005), you stated, referring to German Genocide against the Jews: "this barbaric crime will always be part of German history".

In your presentation at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in March (16.3.2005) you said that "the darkest depths of my country's history are burnt into our memories once and for all". These words are, indeed, an education for German people, some of whom tend to refer to the Nazis as some kind of aliens who invaded Germany and controlled it against its will, while other Germany recently defend German crimes by pointing a finger at other nations' crimes, or by diminishing or marginalizing the magnitude of Germany's crimes.

Moreover: you always struggle boldly against recent manifestations of anti-Semitism and of other forms of racism in today's Germany. You have never tried to wave those horrific relapse syndromes as minor, insignificant "episodes".

In you acceptance speech, of an honorary doctorate bestowed on you by Haifa University in 2002 (May 29, 2002) you said " I am ashamed when Jewish Germany have the feeling that they are left alone again … therefore the question whether Jews are safe and feel at home in Germany is the crucial question of credibility for our German democracy, a question which we Germans have to ask ourselves time and again".

Dear Joschka Fischer, I have heard some rumors about your recent political troubles here in Germany. I am no expert on German immigration regulations and I certainly have no intention of going into that matter this morning, yet permit me, dear friend, to tell you that I think it is much better to be blamed for holding the doors to your country widely open in the face of immigrants and refugees, than to be guilty of holding the doors of your country too tightly closed in the face of refugees and immigrants. I say this as a child and a grandchild of people who, seventy years ago, found almost every door in the world slamming in their face.

Rabbi Leo Baeck was the very incarnation of Jewish wisdom, tolerance, humanism and universalism. Very few personalities in today's Germany, or – for that matter – in today's word, are as deserving as you are to be awarded the Leo Baeck prize.

You deserve this honor, Dear Joschka Fischer, for your integrity and vision, for you imagination and for your courage, for your deep empathy with all victims of injustice and, last but not least, for your warm, unshakable empathy for the Jewish people and for Israel.

Coming, as you do, from a pacifistic youth, you nevertheless had the guts to advocate German participation in the armed intervention in Cosovo, an intervention which was launched in order to prevent genocide.

Coming, as you do, from a tradition of deep commitment to the Democratic Alliance of Nations, you nevertheless had the guts and moral integrity to object the military operation in Iraq, unless such an operation is authorized and carried out by the Security Council an by the international community.

Coming, as you do, from the radical far left, who often tends to side with the third world, "right or wrong" – you nevertheless have the guts and the wisdom to take a balanced stance on the Israeli-Arab conflicts as well as on other conflicts.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it may be perfectly true that you can not repel terrorism without using a gun – but then, it is no less true that the gun alone can not defeat terrorism.

Chasing a bunch of fanatics in the mountains of Afghanistan or in the alleyways of Baghdad is one thing, containing and healing fanaticism is quite another: fanatic violence feeds on hopelessness and despair: to reduce fanatic violence it is not enough to chase and catch fanatics: it is crucial to generate hope and to build some faith in a better future in the more depressed parts of the world.

My colleagues and I, in the Israeli peace movement, usually differentiate between "pacifists" and peaceniks": whereas pacifists believe that the ultimate evil in the world is war, and therefore they would simply refuse to take arms, no matter what, peaceniks on the other hand maintain that "the original sin" is not war itself but AGGRESSION: aggression should be described as "the mother of all wars". Consequently peaceniks, unlike pacifists, will sometimes take arms – but only in order to repel aggression, and not for any other purpose. Perhaps here, in Berlin of all places, the logic of the peacenik, contrary to the logic of the pacifist should have needed no further explanation. I regard you, dear Joschka Fischer, not as a pacifist but as a fellow-peacenik.

And finally, dear friend, if you ever find yourself out of a job here in Germany, you don't have to go back to driving a taxi; you may always come to Israel where you could easily be elected leader of the Israeli left and the Israeli peace movement.

Please allow me to tell you how proud I am of the jury of the Leo Baeck prize for bestowing this years' award on a great statesman who is also a great humanist and a great friend. Congratulations.