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The Prophet Amos Oz Was the Last of the Moral Zionists

Amos railed against the occupation from the very beginning, even if he took a symmetrical approach to the Israelis and Palestinians – a symmetry that never existed

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Amos Oz
Amos OzCredit: Ilan Assayag
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

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?

How can you love such an incorrigible optimist? How can you love the country’s loveliest face, a country whose image has been twisted into an illusion? How can you love such a polished person whose every spoken sentence sounds like it came from his last book? How could Amos Oz have been so beloved; how could he not have been so beloved?

The secret was in his winning personality and charm, his amazing modesty, his magic. Every meeting with him was a breathtaking experience; every telephone conversation was full of hope, including the last one the other day in which he promised that the minute his fever broke we’d meet up again.

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

There was something unforgettable about him every time we met. This was clear since the day I brought him a draft of one of Shimon Peres’ important speeches for him to comment on. It was clear on Yom Kippur 2002, when following in the footsteps of “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” I went to the house on 175 Ben Yehuda Street where his mother and sister had lived, and from there to Yefe Nof Street, the Tel Aviv alley where his mother last walked before committing suicide.

It was clear at the dinner in 2010 with A.B. Yehoshua and Mario Vargas Llosa, where Oz imagined that one of them would win the Nobel Prize a few weeks later. (Vargas Llosa won.)

Israel will be a different country without him. It won’t happen right away, but suddenly we’ll see that there’s nothing left of the country we once thought was beautiful and just. That we’ve been left with just Miri Regev.

We’ve already got a mini-Trumputopia here, but on the fringes there were some discernible old lights, ever so slightly illuminating the overwhelming darkness. Now these floodlights have been extinguished. We always knew that despite it all, we still had Amos Oz. That’s no longer the case.

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A few months ago he gave me a photocopy of a letter written decades ago by philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz to the editor the newspaper Davar, Hannah Semer. “I am close to Amos Oz’s opinion that the occupation of ‘territories’ – thereby enslaving a million and a half Arabs – will destroy the people and the country, and will corrupt us as Jews and as people from a national, social and humanitarian-moral standpoint,” Leibowitz wrote. “And we will become an Israeli Rhodesia, condemned to degeneration and destruction.”

The date was September 8, 1967, three months after the Six-Day War. Oz was 28. The Prophet Amos.

The Prophet Amos in 1989: “So messianic, ignorant and cruel, arising from a dark corner of Judaism, it threatens to destroy all that is dear and holy to us, to cast upon us a mad ritual of bloodletting …. Nablus and Hebron are only the means, only stations on Levinger and Kahane’s path toward spreading their mad control over Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Dimona.”

And the Prophet Amos, in the same speech: “If you don’t stand up – you Mr. Shamir, and you, too, Mr. Rabin … and call murder murder, even you won’t be immune from the murderers’ bullets.”

He wasn’t right about everything. He believed that the Jews and the Palestinians must divorce, as he put it, taking a symmetrical approach to both peoples, a symmetry that never existed in any way. In one of his last lectures, which went viral with more than 100,000 views on YouTube, he attacked the one-state solution, which his good friend Yehoshua had embraced, and said there could never be a binational state but only an Arab state with a Jewish minority.

In that speech he also came out against my descriptions of apartheid. The last of the moral Zionists couldn’t believe that the situation had grown so grave and incorrigible.

Yes, Oz was the last of the moral Zionists. Exactly as he believed the other day that we would meet for coffee, he believed that the country would be divided. Neither happened. They apparently never will happen. How sad, how very sad.

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