We Can Manage Without a Nobel

Awarding the prize to Amos Oz would not make the Israeli occupation any better in the eyes of the world.

As happens every year, Amos Oz once again did not receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Even if we didn't expect him to win the prize, we learned about his disappointment from the media, which reported to us on the tense anticipation and the ensuing disappointment. Oz himself, who has received many prizes and honors, did not discuss his disappointment in public, although anyone who was interested could read it in the handsome and ascetic face of the man of letters.

Oz is a worthy candidate for the Nobel Prize, but there are others like him. Nor does Oz need the prize to bolster his fame or success. As someone whose books have been translated into dozens of languages, he is the most famous Israeli writer in the world. He does not lack for prizes, but apparently just for that reason, his desire for the Nobel Prize is understandable. It's the missing piece in the picture of his success.

But it's not enough that Oz wants the prize. To be a candidate, he must be recommended by academics, and people with diplomatic connections have to pull strings for him in the right places. They have been doing so for years, in fact. To win the prize, it is also desirable that the candidate not be a stranger to the members of the prize committee. Oz is one of the best-known Israelis in the world, almost like Nobel laureate Shimon Peres, who is tireless in his efforts to have Oz win the honor.

Many good people, no less worthy than Oz, have not received a Nobel, from Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges to Yehuda Amichai, Yoram Kaniuk and Philip Roth. This does not in any way detract from their influence on world culture. The connection between the prize's prestige and the quality it is supposed to convey is not always clear. But Oz is a candidate not only because of the body of his work, but also due to his many public appearances and because he is a brilliant speaker who advocates working for peace in Israel and the world over, without taking the risk of sliding into pacifism or the extreme left.

In his acceptance speech for the Heinrich Heine Prize for literature last year, he presented the conflict in the Middle East as "a real estate conflict" ... "if we neutralize the fanatics on both sides," whereas in his acceptance speech for the Goethe Prize, he explained that there are also just wars.

That may be why people like Peres are working to have the Nobel Prize awarded to Oz. They believe that Oz's victory would also be the victory of the sane voice on the Israeli side of the unending conflict and another victory for the peace camp.

But what would we get out of this victory? Nothing, in fact. Who should know that as well as Peres? The Nobel Peace Prize he received, like those received by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, did not change a thing in the no-peace situation or in Israel's status among the nations, though it did add to Peres' prestige as an Israeli who is especially loved the world over, the exception that proves the rule.

Awarding the prize to Oz would not be able to offset the Goldstone Commission report and would not make the occupation, the expulsion of foreigners, the social gaps and the civil-rights situation in the territories any better in the eyes of the world, whereas Oz is liable to become the fig leaf of Israeli policy. Perhaps it would be better for him to learn from Jean-Paul Sartre, just as important a writer as he, who won the prize but refused to accept it on principle. And we also know that one should not chase buses, men and prizes. There will be others. That's true of buses at least.