In his first public statement on the conflict with Iran, David Grossman, the leading Israeli novelist of the past generation and the strongest voice of his country’s moral conscience, told The Nation that he opposed an attack on the Islamic Republic by Israel or the United States, saying the consequences are likely to be more daunting even than those of Iran building nuclear weapons.
“I don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but I think that if the sanctions do not work, Israel and the whole world, painfully, will have to live with it,” Grossman said, warning that bombing Iran would set in motion “a nightmare that’s hard to describe.” Nonetheless, he said he had “a very bad feeling” that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were going to order an attack, even against America’s wishes. “There is a dynamic to all these warlike declarations,” he said.
He spoke by phone on March 6 from his home outside Jerusalem. The day before, Netanyahu had brought his militant views on Iran to a White House meeting with President Obama, and later delivered a fright-inducing speech to an AIPAC convention, employing Holocaust analogies and vowing that “never again” would the Jewish people entrust their survival to any nation but their own.
“Israel,” said Grossman, “is a deeply traumatized community that finds it very difficult to separate real dangers from echoes of past traumas, and sometimes I think our prime minister fires himself up in mixing these real dangers with those echoes from the past.”
He said he feared that Netanyahu and Barak would bomb Iran partly out of a perceived strategic need to back up their threats with action but also because of what he sees as Netanyahu’s sense of historic responsibility to save the “people of eternity.”
“He has this idea that we are the people of eternity, am ha’netzach from the Bible, and our negotiations, as he sees it, are with eternity, with the primal currents of history and mankind, while the United States, with all due respect, is just another superpower like Rome or Athens or Babylon, and we’ve survived them all,” said Grossman. “I’m afraid that this way of thinking might encourage Netanyahu to take the step” of attacking Iran.
Grossman’s son Uri was killed in the 2006 Lebanon War two days after the author called publicly for a cease-fire, and while he was writing the last chapters of his greatly acclaimed epic of war and peace, To the End of the Land. An impassioned critic of Israeli militarism and the treatment of Palestinians, he deplored the overkill of the December 2008–January 2009 war in Gaza. He took part in last year’s weekly protests against the dispossession of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, and was beaten by Israeli police at one of them.
The 58-year-old author said the prospect of war with Iran was “the most basic concern of my life in this period. I wake up with it, I go to sleep with it and I spend hours every day trying to understand it.” He said he discusses it with colleagues, acquaintances and “people who have influence,” and everyone he’s spoken with is “reluctant” for Israel to initiate a war.