Interview with Amos Oz

The Jerusalem Post has published an interview with Amos Oz, the Israeli author and left-wing political activist. I don’t always agree with Oz– I think, for instance, he has too much faith in the so-called Geneva Accords— but as usual, he has a lot of thoughtful and interesting things to say.

On the idea of combining Israel and Palestine into a binational state:
I think the idea that two parties that have been warring for a hundred years should all of a sudden be pushed into a honeymoon bed together is insane. It’s as if someone had made Poland and Germany into one country in 1945.

A year ago, I was interviewed in Sweden by someone who was very enthusiastic about the idea of a binational or post-national state. He couldn’t understand why the Israelis and the Palestinians just couldn’t become one happy nation. I said to him, ‘I think the way the Scandinavian peninsula is divided is very strange – after all, the Swedes and Norwegians have the same church, have strong cultural ties, and have not fought a single war in over 200 years. Why don’t you become one country?’ His answer was unforgettable: ‘Clearly, you don’t know the Norwegians; if you knew them, you would never suggest this.’

Some people want to behave as if nationalism didn’t exist. I myself am not hugely enthusiastic about the idea of nation states. I wouldn’t complain if we had lived in a world where there were hundreds of civilizations and ten of thousands of local regimes and no nation-states. But I would be insane to suggest that the Jews be the first and only ones to pioneer the post-nationalist era, by giving up their nation-state.

On Zionism:
I regard myself as a critical Zionist. Zionism is a troubled family, and some of its members have trouble recognizing me as part of it, just as I have real trouble with certain other kinds of Zionists. Yet from the outset we had Communist Zionism, chauvinist Zionism, racist Zionism, sentimentalist Zionism, pragmatic Zionism.

On the post-9/11 world:
The war at stake is not between the Muslims and the rest of us, but between fanatics and the rest of us.

No one could have predicted that the 20th century would be immediately followed by the 11th. Blowing up abortion clinics in America differs from bin Laden in the range of the crime, but in its essence it’s the same crime. It means I will erase him who is unclean in my eyes.

The issue is that you cannot just chase fanatics with a big stick, and I’m not sure Americans understand this. They have the answer in their own history – The Marshall Plan, which was the single most generous act in human history as well as the best investment in the history of the US and of the world.

On Israel today:
Jerusalem is obviously much more haredi and militant, although in my childhood, too, it was full of redeemers and self-fashioned prophets. Nevertheless, two thirds of Israelis live on the coastal plain. They are noisy and angry and warmhearted, materialistic and hedonistic, a very Mediterranean society. Israel today is far removed from a socialist paradise, but also from aspirations to recreate the kingdom of David and Solomon or the life of the shtetl.

On his autobiographical book, A Tale of Love and Darkness (to be published in English this spring):
When I wrote this book, I imagined it would be read by very few readers – those from the same village or the same vintage as myself. Surprisingly, it was read by many people and evoked responses by people who felt a need to tell me their own life stories in return.

On the plane to Geneva, a well-known Israeli Arab told me that reading my book was the first time he understood why Jews came to this country.

I immediately wanted to have it translated into Arabic.