Text size

Last week, on my way home from Tokyo, I saw an Uzbek or perhaps Kazakh passenger, his fingers adorned with massive gold rings, reading a book in German: "A Tale of Love and Darkness," by Amos Oz. To tell the truth, I was elated and proud. Two years earlier, in the restored library of Alexandria, I saw the same book being borrowed by an Egyptian reader. I was elated and proud then, too. I also spotted Oz's books on shelves in the settlement of Ofra, and even Rabbi Avraham Ravitz (a Knesset member for United Torah Judaism ) told me not long before he died that he was secretly reading Oz.

There's little need to elaborate on Oz's global literary success, the countless translations, copies, awards and prestige his work has brought to both him and Israel. There's no Israeli in the world of whom we could be more proud. But in our own Assaf Harofeh Hospital, this success story comes to a grinding halt.

This narrow-minded hospital on the Tzrifin army base decided to cancel an awards ceremony for outstanding physicians after one of its staff members protested Oz's invitation to give the keynote speech. And why did the doctor protest? Because Oz dared to send a copy to jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, with the following dedication: "This story is our story, and I hope you read it and understand us better. Hoping you will soon see peace and freedom."

It's doubtful whether the protesting physician has actually read the book, but the story of Oz's canceled invitation is, indeed, our story - a story of love and darkness. First of love, for Oz, followed by the darkness that falls on all of us as we stand on the edge of a precipice: an ugly witch hunt that reached all the way to Oz - a middle-of-the-road, profoundly Zionist and patriotic author.

Oz was never a radical. He even supported Operation Cast Lead in the beginning, embarrassingly enough - before quickly recovering, calling for a cease-fire and admitting the damage to the south and the brutal strike Israel carried out in Gaza were disproportionate. He also bravely wrote in an op-ed published in the International Herald Tribune (in June 2010 ): "Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. Hamas is an idea, a desperate and fanatical idea... No idea has ever been defeated by force."

He and his fellow novelists A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, our own Three Tenors, have always spoken truthfully, even if they are often late, sometimes appallingly so.

Still, we should bow our heads in great appreciation of the three writers' social and political activity, each in his own way. While most of our artists and intellectuals sit silently obedient, toeing the line, like the cowardly conformists they are, Oz and his two comrades never hide in their studies. In a smug and muted society, they have broken the silence. They provided a light, which, though at times too small, shines an unmistakable ray through the darkness.

Oz could have long ago chosen to rest on his many laurels. He could continue writing books, picking up awards and raising the bar of success. Instead, he chose to send one of his novels to Barghouti, with an honest, poignant dedication. Heaven forbid if Oz wants Barghouti to get to know us better. But in 2011 Israel, this was enough to provoke aggression and censorship. Now it isn't just Barghouti who is labeled as a monster, but Oz, too.

Oz doesn't need the physicians of Assaf Harofeh, but the physicians need Oz. If this hospital canceled its invitation, it means the facility is really, really sick. It's no longer just the incited street and market, the wonky right and the dark rabbis - Zhdanovism has already reached the doctors' cabinets. The preposterous MK Danny Dannon (Likud ), who called for the retraction of Oz's Israel Award, is not alone; now we have censorious physicians, too. Indeed, a tale of darkness.