Author Mario Vargas Llosa: I'm Ashamed to Be Israel's Friend

Former Peruvian presidential candidate blasts Israel's 'out of proportion' Gaza operation at Madrid convention.

Internationally acclaimed author and former Peruvian presidential candidate, Mario Vargas Llosa, over the weekend slammed Israel's "out of proportion" operation in the Gaza Strip, saying he was ashamed of being Israel's friend.

The Jerusalem Prize recipient rebuked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's administration at a Madrid convention organized by the International Freedom Fund, a South American research fund headed by Vargas Llosa and based out of Argentina.

"Israel had become a powerful and arrogant country, and it is the role of its friends to be highly critical of its policies," Vargas Llosa said.

On the Israel Defense Forces operation in the Gaza Strip, Vargas Llosa told Haaretz that "my impression is that among military and security circles there is a lack of confidence in your new Defense Minister. He was soft and moderate during the election campaign, and it looks like the current activity of the IDF is being used by the army in order to test him and the new government, and push them to take more extreme measures in order to prevent any change of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians."

"Israel's response to the abduction of the soldier and the firing of Qassam rockets was excessively severe," he said.

"Undoubtedly the abduction of the soldier is an unacceptable move, and the firing of Qassam rockets proves that there are radicals on both sides, but the Israeli response is out of proportion. Paradoxically, the extremists on both sides have a shared agenda and its purpose is to prevent any chance for negotiations and mutual concessions."

At the symposium in Spain, Israeli, Palestinian, American, Latin American and Spanish intellectuals were in attendance. Among them were Professor Shlomo Ben-Ami and Yasser Abed Rabbo, former Culture Minister in the Palestinian Authority.

The gathering was held following the publication of the new book by Vargas Llosa, "Israel-Palestine, Peace or Holy War," a collection of essays he published in some of the most important daily newspapers in the world after his last visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority last September.

The book raised a storm of protest in South American, mostly among the Jewish community there, because of what they considered an anti-Israel bend.

In addition to the Palestinian point of view and focus on the suffering of civilians, Vargas Llosa also writes about his conversations with settlers and victims of Palestinian terrorism.