Nobel laureate Professor Yisrael Aumann of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem went head to head with colleague Professor Shlomo Avineri on Wednesday over whether Islam is at war with Israel.
The verbal sparring match came during a panel discussion at the Jerusalem Regency Hotel during the annual Jerusalem Conference over which threats are facing Israel and the West, and whether there is, in fact, a “clash of civilizations.” The two were joined on the panel by Likud MK Silvan Shalom and former Prisoner of Zion and minister, Natan Sharansky, currently the chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies.
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As did most of the other speakers at the conference, as well as the others on their panel, both focused on Israel’s current security issues as well as its past.
“I want peace,” proclaimed Aumann, “but the truth is, we are the terrorists. We have brought the terrorism upon ourselves.” Aumann blamed the past three years of rocket fire from Hamas terrorists on the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza.
“We expelled thousands of Jews from their homes in response to the last intifada,” said Aumann. “We destroyed synagogues. We destroyed homes, families.
“We left Gaza, and that brought Hamas to Gaza, and increased the rocket fire to the south,” he stated flatly. “It hurts me terribly over our sons that died, and it hurts me terribly over the Arab residents that died. We are to blame,” he continued, “because we told them, keep pressuring, keep up the fight – we will fold. And they understood. They got it right.”
Aumann, whose main focus was the issue of how to achieve a lasting peace in Israel, underscored the view that one must be ready for war in order to avoid it.
“The way to bring peace is not to yell ‘Peace, Peace!’, it’s not with arguments, and concessions and all these things. All these things bring us to war… You only need a little straight intelligence and knowledge of history to understand; they knew it 2,000 years ago, they understood how to be ready for war, not only with armor and weapons, but also with the soul.
“If you are not spiritually ready for war, you bring war,” he warned. “You don’t even need to go back 2,000 years. Just take a look at the Soviet Union, and look at our own people these days.
“Enough! Enough!” he declared, striking his hand on the podium sharply. “Come! Let us prepare for a struggle – and real peace.”
Within 15 seconds of taking the podium, Avineri had expressed his strong disapproval of Aumann’s words.
“With all due respect to my colleague, I do not recommend to anyone to say that we brought upon ourselves the terror,” he stated. “I do not recommend that anyone say that, the words of Jewish confession during the Yom Kippur prayers notwithstanding. We did not bring upon ourselves the terror.”
Avineri contended that the concept of the struggle itself, however, is misunderstood by most of Israel’s leadership, if not most of the Jewish population.
“The fact is, there is a struggle, and there is a war, but it is not between civilizations,” he said. “The struggle is not with another civilization. It is not with Islam. We have no war with Islam.”
According to Avineri, Islam is not at war with democracy but rather at war with itself. “There is a war within Islam,” he maintained. “It went through a change. It is worth remembering that there is very deep frustration and deep change taking place.
“One of the biggest enemies of fundamentalist Islam at the current time is Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, who is not at all democratic or liberal in any way. Another enemy of fundamentalist Islam is the secular Fatah faction,” he said, noting that Hamas’s rival, led by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is also not known for its gentility.
“It is important to remember who the enemy is,” said Avineri.