'A Guiding Light': Israeli Author Amos Oz Praised for Literary Talent, Peace Advocacy

Former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who described him as a secular prophet with 'burning moral passion,' among many who lauded the late writer's influence on Israeli public life

FILE PHOTO: Amos Oz attends a news conference in Oviedo, October 23, 2007.
REUTERS/Eloy Alonso/File photo

Esteemed Israeli writer Amos Oz, who died Friday at 79, was praised as a "literary giant," and a "passionate advocate for peace," as tributes poured in from fellow writers, politicians, Jewish leaders and others influenced and inspired by his work. 

Oz’s daughter, historian and author Fania Oz-Salzberger, broke the news of his death. She called him “a man of peace and moderation,” and hoped that “his good legacy” would “continue to amend the world.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Oz was one of the greatest authors in Israeli history, adding that although their opinions differed on many issues, he deeply valued Oz's contribution to Hebrew language and literature.

President Reuven Rivlin referenced Oz's autobiographical book "A Tale of Love and Darkness," calling the writer's life a “story of love and light and now, great darkness.”

Amos Oz, Israel’s literary giant, dies at 79

PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi lamented that the passing of Oz, along with other recently departed members of the Israeli peace camp, represented the loss of "critical & courageous voices who variously maintained their moral stature & formed the conscience of a currently unrepentant Israel."

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Historian Simon Schama lauded Oz as “a hero of mine, a moral as well as literary giant; a light to Israel and all who care for truth and justice.”

Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman, who adapted Oz's "A Tale of Love and Darkness" for the big screen in 2015, eulogized the novelist on her Instagram account. "My heart is broken. Today we lost a soul, a mind, a heart," Portman wrote alongside a photo of her and Oz. "Please hold him in your hearts and read his gorgeous books. My most loving embrace to his family, who he loved extremely."

Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland called the author, whom he interviewed several times, “a guiding light to all those who longed for a just Israel, living in peace with its neighbours.” He also called Oz an “eloquent advocate of both Israel’s right to exist and the moral necessity of ending the occupation and sharing the land with the Palestinians," doing so through "calm moral reasoning and with a poet’s gift for metaphor."

Former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks described Oz as a secular prophet with "burning moral passion."

American-Jewish leaders joined in the chorus of praise, with Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt lauding Oz as “a staunch and thoughtful Israeli and Zionist, and passionate advocate for peace.” Union of Reform Judaism President Rick Jacobs said Oz’s “penetrating and profound writing revealed the very heart of contemporary Israel.”

Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro lauded Oz's mind and voice. "His books will be an eternal gift left to the world. And may his memory be a blessing and a comfort to his family," he tweeted.

The Jerusalem-born author, an early proponent of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, spoke out numerous times during Israeli military operations in Lebanon and Gaza, urging dialogue and restraint.

Israeli human organizations also praised Oz for his political activity. "Oz was a beacon in the struggle against the occupation, courageously and resolutely fighting for a future of human rights, justice and equality for everyone living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea," B'Tselem said in a statement. 

Oz, an Israel Prize laureate, was the author of dozens of Hebrew-language books, including novels, novellas, short-story collections and essays, as well as some 500 articles for Israeli and foreign periodicals.

His most famous works include the novels "Black Box" and "My Michael," the memoir "A Tale of Love and Darkness," as well as the nonfiction works "In the Land of Israel" and "How to Cure a Fantatic."

Oz, born Amos Klausner to a right-wing family, received a raft of awards in Israel and abroad such as the Prix Femina and Ordre des Arts et Lettres in France, the Frankfurt Peace Prize and the Primo Levi Prize in Italy. He was also regularly touted as a favorite for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but never won.

"A Tale of Love and Darkness," which was published in Hebrew in 2002, won the Goethe Prize. It remains one of Israel’s best-selling prose books.