The most famous name in Israeli literature has packed the U of T's Medical Sciences Auditorium.
But the draw tonight isn't the writing of Amos Oz, who many expect to have a shot at snagging Israel's first Nobel Prize in literature for his portraits of characters who are both beautiful and repulsive, much like his depiction of his homeland.
What brings people here is the other part of his life's work. Oz is a leading figure in the Israeli peace movement, and his literary gifts allow him to grace his insights with more poignance than other visitors who pass through with messages of moderation.
The title of his talk is Curing A Fanatic: Bringing Peace To The Middle East. But it becomes clear that he believes there are budding fanatics everywhere. There may even be some in this very room. The representative of the U of T Centre for Near and Middle Eastern Studies, the lecture co-sponsor, apparently fears there might be, for he begins the evening with a gentle homily about the importance of academic freedom and of affording the right to speak even to those you don't agree with.
But he needn't have worried. Hillel, the Jewish student group, is the other sponsor, and there's some self-satisfaction in the air tonight that such unabashed defenders of Israel can also present such an outspoken critic of Israeli government policy. "Would the Arab enemies of Israel be capable of such magnanimity?" is the rhetorical question that needs neither asking nor answering.
But despite Hillel's sponsorship, there are few students in tonight's crowd, which is overwhelmingly grey-haired . Perhaps it's one thing to sponsor a nuanced view and another to listen to it.
The man of the hour is dressed in grey slacks and sweater, fitting attire for the literature prof he sometimes is. He has the cadences and soft "r"s of Ariel Sharon but few of the politics of the Israeli prime minister, whom he considers as much a blight on the Middle East as Yasser Arafat. "Sharafat," he contemptuously calls this two-headed creature.
Oz starts with a dissertation on the potential in all of us for fanaticism, "an ever-present component in human nature." But this is merely a prelude to the main event, Oz's thoughts on how to draw the curtains on the Israeli-Palestinian political dance of death. Finally, he reaches the end of the beginning, puts his papers aside and looks directly into the crowd.
"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a religious war," he says. "It's a territorial conflict, although the fanatics on both sides want to turn it into a religious war, because they know that territorial conflicts can be solved.
"The Palestinian Arabs are in Palestine because Palestine is their homeland, in the same sense that Holland is the homeland of the Dutch and Greece is the homeland of the Greeks. There is no other Palestinian homeland."
Time and time again, he says, he gets invitations from peace-loving organizations in Europe and North America to spend the weekend in the company of Palestinian intellectuals "so that we can get to know each other.
"This is based on the common Western assumption that every conflict in the world is no more than a misunderstanding. Well, I tell you, there is no misunderstanding between Israeli Jew and Palestinian Arab. It is a tragedy of two nations rightly clinging to the same tiny country the size of Sicily and their only homeland in the whole world. Rivers of coffee drunk together cannot extinguish this tragedy."
After 30 years of bloodshed, battle fatigue has set in on both sides and Oz says that he and his Palestinian peace colleagues believe the majority of their respective populations are prepared to make the hard choice for peace. And the thing is, everyone knows what it is - "a return to the pre-1967 boundaries, give or take a mile here and there."
But unhappily for the many with Oz's position, the Jewish diaspora has become an obstacle to peace by producing such capable hawkish lobbyists that even middle-of-the-road governments like Canada's are unwilling to punish Israeli human rights abuses if it upsets an influential constituency.
Tonight, though, reason triumphs. The audience stands to applaud this Jerusalem-born man who has told them that the Palestinians are morally equally to and just as stupid as Israelis, both having unnecessarily sacrificed the lives of thousands of their people.
It's a hard lesson, one that perhaps only a poet could deliver.