Death of Israeli literary icon provokes debate and introspection around the world

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Well known Israeli novelist Amos Oz, widely respected as a man of letters, is dead of cancer at 79. Many Israeli (and North American) Jews saw Oz as a “peace activist” because of his strong stand against the occupation. But others note he remained a committed Zionist who supported Israel’s creation and its continued existence as a Jewish state to the detriment of the Palestinians. Read more….

“How can you love a person so much whose views express everything you hate about the Zionist left? How can you love a sworn Zionist so filled with a piercing faith in the justice of Zionism?”, wondered Gideon Levy in a deeply personal article in Ha’aretz newspaper about his longtime relationship with Oz headlined The prophet Amos Oz was the last of the moral Zionists“.

The Israeli writer’s ability to inspire Jews from across the Israeli’s political spectrum was remarkable. Even extreme right wing politicians like Israel’s Culture Minister Miri Regev, eulogized Oz, saying that “his work will resonate all over the world.”

Not surprisingly, the most positive messages about Oz came from the liberal Zionists who share his political viewpoint. The world is diminished by the death of Amos Oz”, wrote David Grossman, another celebrated Israeli writer who shares the liberal Zionist ideology in the British journal The Guardian

Oz’ death was also noted in Canada. “Amos Oz, Iconic Israeli Novelist and peace activist, is dead at 79” , headlined the Canadian Jewish News, pointing to the fact that Oz had been several times nominated for a Nobel Literature Prize (though unsuccessfully.)

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Natalie Portman’s instagram post showed her dancing with Amos Oz

Natalie Portman, the Israeli born American actress who had recently made headlines because she criticized Israel’s “racist” Nation State law, was also moved by Oz death. “My heart is broken,” she said on Instagram. ” Today we lost a soul, a mind, a heart, Amos Oz, who brought so much beauty, so much love, and a vision of peace to our lives. Please hold him in your hearts and read his gorgeous books. My most loving embrace to his family, who he loved extremely

While Oz’ personal warmth and exceptional literary skills seem to be unanimously respected, his politics provoked controversy and debate. “Fascinating to see Amos Oz revered as a “man of peace” by liberal Zionists and mainstream media … and as having “bad politics” by those to their left., noted Mira Sucharov, a professor at Carleton University on a FB post that drew dozens of comments, both supporting and criticizing Oz, from American and Israeli Jewish friends.

“To the majority of the Israeli public, Amos Oz is known for his persistent campaign in support of the Israeli “peace movement” that advocates for a two-state solution to end the political morass of the Israeli occupation,” noted Hatim Kanaaneh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel in a thoughtful essay in the digital publication Mondoweiss.

But Kanaaneh points out that for Oz, the Nakba of 1948 was a “done deal” and the only acceptable solution was two states. To support his argument, he quotes from Oz’ book “Dear Zealots”:

“Jews and Arabs can and should live together, but I would find it absolutely unacceptable to be part of a Jewish minority under Arab rule, because almost all the Arab regimes in the Middle East oppress and humiliate their minorities. And more importantly, because I insist on the right of Israeli Jews, like any other people, to be a majority, if only on a tiny strip of land.”

– Amos Oz, (from Dear Zealots)

“Oz was a stalwart and eloquent proponent of the two-state solution and a pioneer of Israel’s Zionist left. He helped found Shalom Achav (Peace Now) and supported the movement since its inception, said a special editorial from Canadian Friends of Peace Now, a Canadian organization that defines itself as liberal Zionist.  “May Amos Oz’s memory be a blessing, and an inspiration for Israel in pursuit of peace.”

For other Jewish writers, however, Oz’ passing raises the question of whether Zionism itself – in its right wing Netanyahu/Lieberman form or in the liberal Peace Now variety, – has come to an end.

Though for some the passing of Amos Oz is a time for mourning an international literary figure, on the political scene, regarding Israel’s place in the world, another question is in the air: Has the liberal Zionism, Oz represented, come to an end?”, wondered Dr Mark Ellis, professor of Jewish History at Baylor University.

Unsurprisingly, some Palestinian writers were less generous in their assessment of the Israeli writer. “Amos Oz was no dove”, wrote Heidar Eid Associate Professor of literature at Al Aqsa University in Gaza. “Through his glorification of the kibbutz regardless of the fact that it is built on a stolen land belonging to native Palestinians, he became an active participant in, and defender of, the aggressive colonialist politics of his country.  (…)  Oz’s literary work was truly a fusion of literature and Israeli ideology.”

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Dr. Hatim Kananneh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, offers a careful assessment of Oz’ contributions to literature and politics.

In death, as in life, Amos Oz will remain a contradictory figure.

“Amos Oz’s departure is a significant loss to the literary field and to the cause of Israeli liberal Zionism,” notes Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh. “To non-Zionist peace advocates, however, his light shined dimly at a distance. May other pure lights continue to shine in our skies”.

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Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) encourages a thoughtful discussion among Canadians on the Israel/Palestine issue, including a well informed and sensitive discussion of Zionism itself. CTIP accepts guest columnists and encourages brief comments (under 100 words) from serious readers. To learn more about what we do, contact us at chair.ctip@gmail.com.

 

5 comments

  1. Although not having read his wirk, do not think there is any inconsistency in Oz attitudes. He was a committed Zionist and advocate of the Jewish state but did not accept the occupation and probably worked all his life for something ressembling a 2 state solution. He is absolutely about the best you can get on the small Israeli left re the Palestinians which itself reflects how far Israel has moved to the right cancelling out any hope in Israeli politics and elections for a resolution. It is the global world which OZ partly represented that must carry the banner for a 2 state or other solution.

  2. Jews who were born during the Holocaust are often deeply conflicted, Very aware of the horrors experienced by our parents and grandparents, we are driven by the slogan “never again” and determined to do our best to make sure that this bit of history is not repeated. The inner conflict is whether the phrase means “never again for anyone” or “never again for Jews”. Oz appears to have wished for both but prioritized the second interpretation. He was not able to accept that logic says the first interpretation implies the second and that only the first interpretation can lead to peace. If you understand that the first interpretation is the only valid one, you will see that the world took the wrong turn in 1948. It is too bad that Oz could not accept that conclusion.

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