Last week Israel lost one of its most known authors and political pundits: Amos Oz died at 79 on December 28.
An avalanche of accolades has predictably been bestowed upon his memory. A mix of appreciation for his person, his authorship, his liberal-Zionist politics. Described in sometimes saintly terms, he was also hailed for being, first and foremost, a ‘mensch’.
So let it be noted, I am not going to address Oz the private person, nor Oz the fiction-author. I am going to address Oz the political pundit and his ideology.
For this purpose, I have decided to translate highlights of a lecture by Oz at the Tel Aviv University in late 2017, in Hebrew. It appears to me that he summarizes his political credo here. He also promotes his recent booklet “Dear Zealots”, which the liberal-Zionist American group J Street has been offering as a premium recently. Oz calls the booklet “the conclusion of a whole life”, and it is a book of non-fiction, pure political punditry. This is where Oz ended his life, ideologically. This is what he should be remembered for (ideologically), by his own accord. As I will show, the contradictions inherent in liberal Zionism are here on full display, in the language in which Oz is most ‘at home’ with – Hebrew. I think many aspects in this lecture may come as a surprise to some, as for example when Oz shares his support for violence and the need to use a “big stick” at all times, while referring to a Palestinian refugee who expresses his wish to return as “ill”.
The 50-minute lecture is titled “The whole account is not finished.” Ynet (Yediot Aharonot electronic media) posted it a day after Oz’s passing, and it has been watched 6,500 times at this point.
Oz opens his lecture with an almost immediate promotion of his booklet “Dear Zealots”. It is worth noting, that in Hebrew, the title is “Shalom Lakanaim”, where “shalom” has the double meaning in Hebrew, of both a welcome greeting as in ‘hello’, but also ‘peace’. This duality, which also means “Peace to the Zealots”, is lost in the English version. Thus, Oz’s Hebrew title is a rhetorical alluding to the ‘peace camp’ that Oz identifies with:
A few months ago, I published a very thin booklet which is called “Shalom [sic] to the Zealots”, and I tried to load upon it, really, a conclusion of a whole life. I did it mostly for my grandchildren. I told them ‘your grandfather, in the public punditry, in the demonstrations, and all that, he was for many years in the storming echelon, now you are in the storming echelon, grandfather is now a supporter of the fighting. Helping in the replenishing, ammunition. Take this little booklet, this will be your ammunition’. I really tried to summarize in it, what I think about the most horrible plague of the 21st century (but not only), here, and not only here – the fanaticism. Also, what I think about Judaism, as a civilization, not merely as a religion, not only as a nation, but as a civilization, as a continuum of thousands of years of texts, and also what I think about the state of Israel, where it’s going, and where it could still be going, because the whole account is really not over.
That’s Oz’s overture. It is typically accompanied by the militant symbolism of fighting a “war of peace”. In Israeli rhetoric, it is very typical for the Zionist ‘peace camp’ to speak about the fight for ‘peace’ in militant terms, because militarism is a very strong component in all of Zionism, and such rhetoric often serves as a perceived bullet-proof vest against accusations of pacifism and naiveté.
Indeed, in the next bit, Oz points out strongly that he is no pacifist, and here we begin to get some more vivid depictions of how Oz thinks about how to fight this fight, and what he thinks about usage of a “stick” (that is, a ‘club’ with which to beat Palestinians).
“I’m not against a stick… You need a big stick”
What is between us and the Palestinians for over a century, is a bleeding wound, and not only a bleeding wound, it’s also a poisoned wound, it’s infected, it’s festering. You do not treat a wound with a stick! There is no such thing. You cannot keep beating the wound with another hit and another hit, to teach it a lesson that it should stop being a wound and stop bleeding. I’m not against a stick. I’m no pacifist. In opposition to my colleagues in Europe or North America, who often embrace me for the wrong reasons, ‘our brother art thou, our brother art thou’, ‘make love not war’ [said in English], in opposition to them, I never thought that violence is the ultimate evil in the world. I always thought, all my life and also now, that the ultimate evil in the world is the aggression. And aggression needs to be stopped by force, often. You need a big stick in order to inhibit and subdue aggressiveness. Aggressiveness is the mother of all violence in the world. And therefore I have never believed ‘make love not war’ [said in English], ‘we’ll turn the other cheek’, ‘all you need is love’ [said in English].
So let’s just summarize here – you need a big stick, but a stick can’t heal a wound. You need violence, to crush ‘aggressiveness’, which is the ‘mother of all violence’. Makes sense, right? This liberal-Zionist contradiction, this self-righteous notion of ‘peaceful violence’ is what allows bone-breaking ethnic-cleansers like Yitzhak Rabin to be remembered as men of peace. They need the ethos of violence to protect them from the horrible danger of being perceived as pacifists.
So how do you heal the wound anyway? According to Oz, by showing empathy.
“Language of healing wounds”
Oz advocates a language that would be conducive to healing. Not giving up the big stick, but applying soft language while holding it. What would that sound like?
Language of healing wounds begins with you saying to your opponent, to your enemy, the simple words: ‘I know, you’re hurting a lot, I understand’. Not the words of ‘you’re right and I’m evil’, not the words of ‘take everything, I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done to you’, not the words of ‘I’m ashamed of everything’, but these simple words, ‘you’re hurting, I know, I also hurt, let’s seek something’. These are simple, easy words. You do not need to even remove one caravan in a settlement – you need to say these words, and say them properly.
That is: on the one hand you hold the stick – the big stick, and you never let go; but on the other hand, you speak words of ‘healing’. And you don’t need to do anything, not even move a settlement, not even a caravan in a settlement. Because we’re all hurting, and we’re more or less even – colonizers and colonized.
The two-state solution is (or at least has been) the central and defining issue for the Israeli left, and an orthodoxy globally: it is seen as the securing of a ‘Jewish State’ that can be ‘democratic’, because it has a Jewish majority. It is instructive to see exactly how Oz thinks about it.
If there will not be two states here, and rather quickly so, then there will be one state. If there will be a one state here, it will not be a bi-national state – there is no such animal. It will be an Arab state, from the sea to the Jordan [river], sooner or later. With an intermediary stage of dictatorship of Jews upon Arabs and their opponents, or without it. With an intermediary stage of horrible violence and rivers, streams of blood, or without it. With an intermediary stage of apartheid or without it. All the roads, whatever happens, if there will not be two states, it leads to a one state, an Arab one, from the sea to the desert [sic]. Let it be clear – I have it good with Arabs. I have no problem living with Arabs. I have only one problem – I don’t want to be a minority! I don’t only not want to be a minority among Arabs, don’t want to be a minority anywhere.
Here, Oz resembles to some degree former Secretary of State John Kerry, who in his last major speech in office on ‘Middle East Peace’ (December 28th 2016), emphasized how the two-state solution is “what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state“, emphasizing that there’s “a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace”. Kerry was rejecting the one-state solution (despite growing support for it on the ground amongst both sides), by scare-mongering about permanent war. But Oz leaves out the “democratic” notion altogether. He just doesn’t want to be in a minority. And that’s not just an innocent or incidental omission – it really is the point. The ‘democratic’ aspect of the ‘Jewish and democratic’ doesn’t mean, and has never meant, ‘democratic’ for real. It meant a Jewish majority. By this Jewish majority, Jews could rule over a Palestinian minority and make supposedly democratic decisions on how to rule over them. This is a “racial democracy”, as Professors Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley wrote in a UN commissioned report on Israeli Apartheid in 2017: “As in any racial democracy, such a majority allows the trappings of democracy — democratic elections, a strong legislature — without threatening any loss of hegemony by the dominant racial group”.
Oz simply doesn’t want to be a minority. In the meanwhile, he’s living in a “never-never land” – Israel is somehow a democracy, and it might one day be in an “intermediary stage of Apartheid”, but that’s not right now. Let’s also remember how the Israeli Jewish majority was created to begin with: by ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Israeli historian Benny Morris (also a ‘leftist’): “Transfer was inevitable and inbuilt in Zionism – because it sought to transform a land which was ‘Arab’ into a Jewish state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population”. Oz says “I have no problem living with Arabs,” but makes clear that it’s only fine if he rules over them, and not them over him. Oz does not dwell upon that founding sin, the Nakba, as is typical for all the Israeli Zionist left, who see 1967 as the beginning point of the problem.
Remember that Oz said that there’s “no such animal” as a bi-national state. But he will now contradict himself. Because he knows that he contradicts himself, he has to apply irony. Repeating that there is “no such animal”, adding “multi-national” and “state of all its citizens” to the list of impossibilities, Oz says that there are six examples of thriving “multinational states”: “Switzerland, Switzerland, Switzerland, Switzerland, Switzerland, and let’s not forget, Switzerland”.
There’s some laughing in the audience. Now Oz is saying that “all the rest either disintegrated, or dipped in rivers, streams of blood”. He brings several examples of states which had split, or have some turmoil, as for example Cyprus and Lebanon, Ukraine etc. But then he’s bringing examples such as… Spain, Britain, Belgium, Canada: “Even Spain, with its Basques and Catalonians is shaking; even Britain is shaking; even Belgium is screeching; even from Canada I hear voices”.
This is pathetic. Oz’s ‘national’ theory suggests that all national or ethnic identities in the world simply atomize, since they cannot possibly join up in collective national constructs. But his last examples precisely show rather successful models of liberal democracies. With all their faults, these models are really incomparable to Israel, as they do not impose Apartheid. The whole point of the modern liberal-democratic notion of ‘nationalism’ is that the nation is defined within a certain geographic context. But Oz is an ardent adherent of the Zionist mythological “Jewish nation,” and he thus cannot perceive that Jews could integrate inside a larger national setting in which their Jewishness is reduced to less than a national construct. Hence Oz advocates the isolationist vein of Zionism and demonstrates its inherent incompatibility with modern liberal-democratic constructs. Eager to prove his false point, he looks around the world, and sees black. When his point is disproved by his own observations, he starts… “hearing voices”!
“Gideon Levy’s corner”
Later on, Oz returns to the booklet “Dear Zealots”, mentioning how he deliberately wanted it to be cheap, and how he distributes it also to settlers.
Why does the quarrel [sic] between us and the Palestinians seem so complicated, and [why does it] so madden the sensibility of people who are mostly very sensible, both here and in the world? [It] pushes very sensible people either to Gideon Levy’s corner… [long pause] – ‘Colonialism’, ‘Apartheid’, ‘the whole thing is rotten, the whole thing from its foundation shouldn’t have happened’… or to the other corner – ‘everything we do is good, and if it’s not good, look who’s talking, they should shut up, no one is better than us’… Why are people so confused? Because already tens of years, there are two wars going on here. The Arab Palestinians are enacting against us, simultaneously (not one after the other), two wars – one that is just as war ever can be, and one that is despicable and evil. The war that is just as war ever can be is the war over the right of the Palestinian people to be a free nation in its land. Without oppression, without enslavement [sic], without checkpoints [or barriers], without humiliations, without theft, without looting, without killing. Any decent person, even if they don’t justify the means, would say this is a just cause. But simultaneously the Palestinian nation is also conducting a war so that we would not have a right to be a free nation in its land – so that we would not have what they claim for themselves.
Oz is putting the Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy in a “corner”. And he is supposedly quoting Levy, but if he really were, he would be misquoting. When Levy has spoken about Zionism in recent years, he has indeed been suggesting that it “gave birth to a terrible national wrong that has never been righted”, but he is not really condemnatory about its beginnings. He has referred to “righteous Zionism”.
Levy is clearly a very brave man, who has moved a long way ideologically since his role as aide to Shimon Peres. And Levy showed Oz great respect in a eulogy titled “The Prophet Amos Oz Was the Last of the Moral Zionists”. This is a notion that I for one definitely do not share, but it shows a certain magnanimity from Levy, who while noting his ideological disagreements with Oz (especially Oz’s “symmetrical approach to the Israelis and Palestinians – a symmetry that never existed”), nonetheless considers Oz “prophetic” and “moral”.
Yet none of that sort of respect extends from Oz’s lecture towards Levy. Oz, in his self-righteousness, puts Levy in the corner of the extremists, who despite their original and inherent sensibility, have been turned mad. In the other corner are the supposed ultra-nationalists who don’t care about the world outside the Jewish state, and in the middle is Oz, the moderate. Because a democratic state of all its citizens is definitely on the extreme and must never-ever happen.
Oz to a Palestinian refugee: “You are ill”
This part is particularly interesting. Oz is indirectly relating to the Palestinian refugee issue, which is directly related to the 1948 Nakba issue, which is subject to denial by the Zionist left. This denial translates into a real personal encounter in Oz’s story. Oz tells how, just over 20 years ago, he had met a “Palestinian intellectual” in Paris. Oz doesn’t remember the name, but remembers he was a lecturer in some social science department in some university and that the man was about 30 at the time. Oz recalls that the first sentence this man said to him when meeting was “I’m from Lifta” (a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, ethnically cleansed in 1948). “It seemed a bit odd for me”, Oz says in his lecture. “A man of 30, how could he be from Lifta? I remember Lifta well – my parents’ house at Kerem Avraham was about 1.5 kilometers from Lifta”.
Oz describes how he, his Revisionist father, and his mother went on Saturdays to buy cheese, fruits and vegetables from Lifta (before 1948). So the Palestinian man said to Oz, that he wants to return to Lifta. He says he doesn’t care who controls Palestine, he doesn’t want to expel the Jews, or seek revenge; he wants the house in Lifta. He says that his office and his home are plastered with photos of his home in Lifta.
Oz interrupts the man: “Excuse me, were you ever there?” – the man says no, I have it in the photos. The man says that his family was expelled from there. Oz says, “Expelled, fled, doesn’t matter.” Then the man said, assertively: “Know, that you will not have peace or rest until I get the house that was my family’s house in Lifta”.
Oz sighs, and says in a somewhat deriding tone, that this was “very impressive, because the man has never seen the house in Lifta”. Oz says he thought about it a bit, and then said to the man: “You know, your house in Lifta – you will never get it [back], and not because of the Zionists. Even if tomorrow the Jewish nation will decide with an overwhelming majority that Zionism was a mistake and that we all pack and leave and give you back the keys – you will never get your house in Lifta back”. The man wonders: “Why?” Oz responds, “Tell me, do you want to live in that house in Lifta? Will you leave your position in Paris?” The man says, “No way, I want to come every summer, to sit under the vine and the fig tree, to listen to the spring and the sound of the goat bells as they come down the mountain. That’s all I want.” Oz says the man can’t get the house even if there was an agreed right of return, because at the time, the village was about 1000 people and now if they returned, they would be a village of 15-20,000, and this would mean “high-rises, at least one pharmacy, two or three supermarkets, a few streetlights, very difficult parking problems…” Thus, Oz tells the man that he would hear “neither the goats nor the spring”. And he tells him: “You are ill.”
Oz diagnoses a specific illness, which he himself has discovered: ‘Reconstritis’:
You are ill, I told the man. And I also diagnosed the illness. Those who have medical or paramedical education, take out the notebook and write: You are ill with Reconstritis. You are seeking in space, what you have lost in time.
Oz does not condemn the man for longing or missing Lifta. His suggestion is simply to write a book:
If you miss Lifta so much, write a book. Make a film. Write a play. Write up a research. Seek what you have lost in time, not in space… You miss your childhood? That’s OK, but if you start behaving like a 5-year old child [Oz is literally shouting here] because of your childhood longings, you need to be hospitalized!
This is probably one of the most offensive colonialist arrogant rants I have heard, and it is coming from a supposed liberal. On the one hand Oz offers ‘understanding’, but he is simultaneously mocking with his own invented ‘diagnosis’. He frames the Palestinian refugee wish to return, which is actually a human right enshrined by international law, as a juvenile madness.
I suspect many readers have already begun to wonder whether Oz is aware of his projection in the diagnosis of “Reconstritis,” when Zionism is so full of it. He wondered himself:
After we parted, I could not but ask myself, ‘Sorry, Amos, but isn’t Zionism also Reconstritis? What is Zionism? Isn’t it one big Reconstritis’?
Oz says he thought about it a lot, and that his basic answer is
No. In a limited way, in a limited way – mostly not… Not totally – not mainly Reconstritis.
Oz explains, that it’s true that for 2,000 years Jew have been reciting “next year in Jerusalem” – but – and this is such a central point that he finds a need to shout it, loudly:
BUT IF THEY WERE NOT PERSECUTED, AND TORTURED, AND HUMILIATED, AND MURDERED, THEY WOULD HAVE SAID IT FOR ANOTHER TWO-THOUSAND YEARS!
Thus, Oz opines that the decisive cause and factor of Zionism is not that romantic “Reconstritis”, but rather actual persecution. He considers the “Reconstritis” element in Zionism merely as a “tool of recruitment”. Oz returns to insist, once again, that it wasn’t the main ingredient or motive. He repeats this claim countless times in the lecture.
What is striking about Oz’s assessment, is not merely that Zionism doesn’t suffer that “Reconstritis” illness in any substantial way, which he seems to apply lip-twisting efforts to convince us about. No – it is the fact, that after this whole passionate shouting about Jewish persecution, he never, not once, returns to reflect about Palestinian persecution. That is, the element which is front and center in relation to giving Zionism a pass, is non-existent in Oz’s rendering of the Palestinian situation and collective psyche. This is a narcissistic denial of some magnitude, which is unfortunately also one of the main traits of Zionism, right and left. Oz shouts Jewish victimhood from the rooftops, but he is rather silent about Palestinian victimhood. He shows some ‘understanding’ about it – they should write books and plays – but it is simply incomparable to ‘our’ suffering, which is a justification for our realizing of ‘return’ – not after 70 years, but after 2,000. ‘Our’ suffering simply overshadows ‘theirs’ and is beyond constrictions of time or space.
Oz whitewashes Jewish European racism against Arab Jews
Just past the middle of the lecture, Oz mentions wrongs that were done to non-European Jews in the early days of the state. Here he speaks of the Middle-Eastern and Maghreb Jews, known in Israel as Mizrahim, who were brought into transit camps:
They were wronged, egregiously. Not from malice, but (and this I say in parentheses) because of the juvenile urge, which came from the 19th century, to create a new man. A new Jew, a new man – it is wrong to create a new man, don’t ever try it. Anyone who tries to mold humans in order to create a new man or new Jew – it ends up very badly. In the good case – in our case – it ends with an insult to several generations. ‘Excellent human potential, we’ll make them into a new man’. In the bad case, it ends with rivers, streams of blood.
But the attitude of the European establishment towards the Arab Jews in the early days of the state was not that this was “excellent material”, as Oz suggests. Leaders of early Israel were viewing them as lesser human material, which they at best may hope to ‘de-Arabize’. As first Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett (who was considered a dove in Ben-Gurion’s constituency) said, “There are countries – and I was referring to North Africa – from which not all Jews need to emigrate. It is not so much of quantity as of quality”. First Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who viewed Palestinian Arabs “as donkeys”, did not hold Jewish Arabs in much higher esteem. In a meeting concerning education in 1962, Ben-Gurion said: “The danger we face is that the great majority of those children whose parents did not receive an education for generations, will descend to the level of Arab children,” revealing his real opinion of both the Oriental and Arab communities. Ben Gurion added:
“In another 10-15 years they will be the nation, and we will become a Levantine nation, [unless] with a deliberate effort we raise them to [the level of] the customs you follow, as you, became used to them only among European Jewry, at a time when the Jewish nation was European… The problem is what the character of the Oriental communities will be. They will be the majority of the nation, they have six-to-eight children and the Ashkenazim only two children The question is whether they will lower the nation or [whether] we will succeed by artificial means and with great efforts to elevate them.”
This is quite typical colonialist white-supremacist thinking.
Furthermore, the “egregious wrongs” of the European-Jewish Israeli establishment included disappearing babies – hundreds of them, and mostly Yemenite. Babies were systematically separated from their parents, who often received the message that their baby was dead, but were not allowed to see the grave. Some were sold to American Jewish couples with the suggestion that the money would go to fund the nascent state. The matter is still not resolved, as so many cases have disappeared, despite the fact that many classified cases were opened in recent years.
Such a policy is genocidal. It is not just “juvenile.” Imagine, if we took Oz’s terminology, and applied it to the Nazis. No, they were not malicious, they were merely driven by this juvenile 19th-century urge to create a “new man”… And Oz sees “our case” as “the good case.” That is, he looks at the engagement of the European Jews with Arab Jews as an isolated case of Jews vis-à-vis Jews, that ended well, because after all they are all Jews and they didn’t conduct a civil war in Israel or something. Yet Oz does not see this as part of an overall colonialist paradigm, with strong European, orientalist, white-supremacist elements. If he would see it in that overall light, he would see that “our case” is not good at all. It resulted in ethnic cleansing and Apartheid, and it continues to carry these elements. But Palestinians apparently occupy only a peripheral part of Oz’s weltanschauung.
Oz warns that ‘Reconstritis’ may yet become the core of the Zionist venture
Oz has already established, by his own assessment, that Reconstritis has not been a primary element of Zionism. Yet he warns that this may become the case:
But, and this is my main point tonight, we are in danger, that the Reconstritis will become the core of the Zionist venture. Woe betide us. Not only woe betide us – it’s also ridiculous.
Here Oz goes to describe plans for the construction of a Third Jewish Temple upon Al Aqsa, which Oz says “more and more people are talking about”. He regards it as madness because “we will enact a world war against the Muslims – Arabs are already a small matter for us – we’ll make war with Turkey and Indonesia and nuclear Pakistan and Malaysia – we want the Temple Mount. Temple mount now, let the temple be rebuilt now – not tomorrow, not in 10 years, now!”
Oz is ostensibly admonishing Messianic Zionism which indeed is being widely institutionalized in Israel, even in school programs. But how does Oz rebuff this ‘Reconstritis’, beyond its being politically imprudent, as it were? Oz applies the same petty arguments which he applied towards the Palestinian intellectual he met in Paris:
Let’s assume for a moment – I am returning by inversion to the same fantasy which I described to the person from Lifta. Let’s assume that tomorrow they announce in the news, that the Supreme Islamic Council in Cairo, or in Riyadh, or in Damascus or in Teheran… arrived at the conclusion that the Temple Mount really belongs to the Jews… – do you know what would happen?… What would happen when in one of the high holidays, a million or 1.5 million [Jewish] people would come to Jerusalem for pilgrimage, and all of them would want to go up on the Temple Mount? Everyone. It’s a Mitzvah [decree]… Toilets for men and women on the Temple Mount?? For 1.5 million men and women? Parking? Below the Temple Mount? Instead of the Mount of Olives? Under the Mount of Olives? Central air-conditioning, yes, or no? Closed circuit cameras, yes, or no? Parquet floor yes? And if yes, only from the Lebanon fir-trees? If not is it possible with other trees? This is impossible in the same way that it is impossible to return to Lifta! Physically, it is impossible.
Oz is again being petty. What, seriously? That’s Oz’s argument for not building a Third Temple? That the question of air-conditioning or no air-conditioning would become an intractable problem? Is that what has stopped the Zionist colonial enterprise before, in times when there wasn’t even such a thing as air-conditioning? Did Oz forget that several millions of Muslims visit Mecca during the Hajj each year? True, not nearly as many Muslims go to Al Aqsa, the third holiest place in Islam, but that’s mainly for political reasons. If these were solved, it is estimated that millions would come. And did Oz forget the many Jews who come to worship at the Western Wall? Israel certainly solved that space issue: in 1967, Israel razed the whole Mughrabi (Moroccan) Quarter in a matter of days, to make a plaza in front of the Western Wall that can accommodate about 60,000 people at a time. If Israel wants, Israel will manage. Who is Oz trying to convince? The indeed zealous Messianic settlers? Does he think that the question about the type of parquet will deter them?
Oz’s initial argument about creating turmoil in Muslim countries was in itself logical, but it is a weak one for Zionists, because the whole Zionist venture constantly initiates such turmoil, and it becomes a question of damage control, and degree of severity. Thus, Oz finds himself in a weak spot. He is, after all, not against violence — only against ‘aggressiveness’ — so he resorts to petty arguments in a desperate attempt to convince the “zealots”.
Oz also makes mention of the settler’s wish to “capture every hill”, and makes the same argument that he did about the Third Temple:
And this is true concerning the wish to capture every hill, in the [occupied] territories. Let’s say they’ll capture every hill, let’s say that all the Arabs will get out of here, or will be forced out of here – what? There will be traffic lights and intersections. You know, it won’t be that biblical landscape that they miss. It won’t be the land of the prophets with the olive and the fig tree, and the spring and the herd. It won’t be the calm villages of the farmers.… There will be big industrial constructs, industrial zones, intersections, traffic lights, high-rises and parking problems. This is Reconstritis.
Once again, Oz resorts to these petty ‘problems’, which haven’t really been an obstacle for Israeli colonialism before. What, that their landscape would look more urban? They’ll manage. So far, Israeli settlements seem to manage fine, with nice villas, lawns, gardens, and scenery. Who does Oz think he is fooling?
Oz doesn’t really know what Zionism is
Towards the end of the lecture, Oz turns to contradict himself about the main motive of the Zionist project. He had supposedly already spoken about that before, and established that is was persecution, but now he is not sure. He opines firmly that the main drive certainly wasn’t ‘Reconstritis’, but now doubts what the main motive actually was.
What was the main motive? You may be surprised, but it’s very difficult for me to answer that. It’s difficult for me to answer that because from wall to wall, from one end to another, there have been completely different answers to this. You could not find, at least not in my childhood, maybe also today, two people who would actually agree what the purpose of the Zionist venture is. To reconstruct the kingdom of David and Solomon? Or to bring here a Shtetl from Eastern Europe and renew it in Bnei Brak or in Mea Shearim [Israeli neighborhoods with many ultra-orthodox Jews], like we had there? Or to build here a North-African Mellah like there was in Marrakesh?… Or to establish here a brilliant enlightened Scandinavian social-democracy?
Oz continues on to describe various perceptions on Zionism, to finally arrive at his point, which supposedly cuts through all of that:
So, what Zionism really was, I cannot answer you, besides the recognition that we do not have any other place. Whatever the master-plan may be, whatever the purpose of the ‘Reconstritis’ may be, from Stalinist Marxism to Mussolini Fascism, and everything in-between… they [the Zionists] all agreed, that whatever the dream may be, it can only be here. Because we haven’t got a chance in any other place.… So the basic common denominator was, Here.
What will it be in the future, I don’t know. I’m no prophet. I too would have wanted to know.
To summarize: It doesn’t really matter what our politics are. Let it be fascism if it were. Oz might prefer something else, but the most important point is that ‘we are here’. The presence, territorial survival, and supremacy of a Jewish collectivity is a goal in itself, which surpasses any other ideological concern.
Let me end this long read with a statement about Zionism and the importance of Amos Oz to that venture:
Zionism is a zealous ideology. It is a settler-colonialist ideology based upon ethnic cleansing. Now, how do you square that eliminationism with the circle of liberalism? You need a wizard. Someone who can tell stories, someone who can make that horrid reality look good, make it sell.
Israel has lost one of its all-time master propagandists, a wizard of words who could turn bullets into flowers and conspiracy theories into reality, one who could make settler-colonialism ‘moral’. That’s Oz, the Wizard of liberal-Zionist zealotry.
Oz may have been a good author, but he was a bad pundit. Though so many liberal-Zionists seem to adore him for his punditry, his task was difficult if not impossible. He had to reconcile the inherently illiberal colonialist ideology of Zionism with humanist morality and supposed liberalism. He had to merge the fact with the fiction. Many have fallen for it, because in the end, Hasbara is largely for the self-consumption of Zionists, to make themselves feel good about themselves. But when you scratch the make-up, it’s contradictory, and it ain’t pretty. I, for one, have chosen to walk off that yellow-brick-road of Zionism. Oz would have called me an extremist, he would have put me in the corner. So be it. I think he was the zealot.