Amos Oz would never stand in the street in Tel Aviv shouting ‘Kill all the Arabs’
I woke up this morning to a nauseating report on the BBC: “Amos Oz: Saying Israel should not exist is anti-Semitic”. The report is a summary of an interview Oz gave to BBC Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark. Introducing Oz, the report says that he is “regarded as a liberal and is firmly in favour of a two-state solution for Israel”.
I can tell you exactly where I draw the line. If people call Israel nasty, I to some degree agree. If people call Israel the devil incarnate, I think they are obsessed, they are mad, but this is still legitimate. But if they carry on saying and therefore there should be no Israel, that’s where anti-Zionism becomes anti-Semitism. Because no one of them ever said after Hitler that Germany should cease to exist, or after Stalin, that there should be no Russia. So, criticizing Israel, legitimate, whether I like it or not, whether I join it or not. Saying that Israel should cease to exist or should not have come to being, this is crossing the line.
Amos Oz isn’t the kind of person who would stand in the streets of Tel Aviv shouting “kill all the Arabs”. He is too refined for anything like that. I’m sure he believes that he would never support killing anyone. But as far as I am concerned, he might as well be calling to kill all the Palestinians because he is a loyal Zionist and always has been.
Oz not only supports, but serves Israeli settler-colonialism and its crimes against humanity. Through his writing and commentary he has always helped to perpetuate the country’s false image of liberalism and enlightenment. Oz is hardly a “liberal”, except if you can somehow limit liberalism to your own group, and exclude those that your group is hurting. He is as liberal as any smug “liberal” or “Lefty” white Apartheid-supporting South African might have been. Israel likes Oz because he helps it feel virtuous and good about itself.
Just in case Oz has succeeded in confusing people yet again, let us not forget what Zionism and being a Zionist mean. Being a Zionist means that you support the idea that it is OK to create an exclusively Jewish state at the expense of another people. To be a Zionist is not just to be an apologist for, but to fully support settler-colonialism and its policy of eliminating the indigenous people. It doesn’t matter that the country happens to be called “Israel”, and it doesn’t matter that it’s Jewish people who are doing it. Settler-colonialism is what it is, anywhere, and at any time in history. Its inherent crimes are against human beings and it doesn’t matter who they are. Oz perpetuates the belief in Jewish exceptionalism and in the “specialness” of the state of Israel and its situation. But Israel is not special, and neither are the Jewish people.
Oz presumes to tell us that it’s OK to criticise Israel, but that it’s not OK to say that Israel should not exist. According to him, to say that “Israel should not exist” crosses the line from legitimate criticism to antisemitism. Oz is either poorly informed or deliberately misleading. There is a big distinction here that in Israel they conveniently ignore or are just blind to. No one, except maybe a genuinely fringe minority that believes in “an eye for an eye”, would say that Israel should be demolished and all Israeli Jews expelled. What the proponents and supporters of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) say, and what anti-Zionists (non-Jews and Jews alike) argue, is that Israel does not have a right to exist *as an exclusively Jewish state at the expense of another people*.
But of course if Israel could hear the full sentence, our problems would be over. To accept this sentence in its entirety rather than just the first bit that stops with the word “exist”, would mean that Israel is ready to recognise its settler-colonial nature and the crime against humanity that it is. But the first half, the one that Israel and Oz like to focus on, fits all too well within Israel’s victimhood narrative and the belief that Jews are surrounded by rabid antisemites whose entire life purpose is to kill all Jews.
This interview with Oz offers another example of the “language trap” that Israel has created for us, and that I discussed in my recent article, “The Palestine-Israel Language Trap”. Arguing against BDS, Oz says:
“South Africa was bad. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is bad, in a totally different way. You need a different prescription.”
In my article I warned against the use of the word “occupation”, and there it is again. What we have in Israel-Palestine is not “occupation”, it is settler-colonialism. Occupation implies that the problem began in 1967. It ignores the fact that the Zionist movement conceived and launched a project of settler-colonialism in Palestine in the late 19th century. Israel’s expansionist war in 1967, and the subsequent occupation of more territory were just another step in this ongoing project, whose ultimate aim has always been to create an exclusively Jewish safe-haven on all the land of historic Palestine. To fulfill this aim, it is necessary to complete the ethnic cleansing of 1947-1948, and remove the indigenous people. Everything Israel does, including but not limited to, the ongoing appropriation of West Bank land and the expansion of Jewish-only settlements (or rather colonies) is consistent with Israel’s settler-colonial aims. As a promoter of Israel’s narrative, Oz uses the word “occupation” which in English (but interestingly not in Hebrew!) implies impermanence. He helps obscure reality, and whitewash a crime. Using the word “occupation” buys Israel the time it needs to ward off unwanted critical world attention while it’s completing its project.
Does Oz really believe what he is saying? Is he lying consciously, or is he, as I used to be, simply a product of Israel’s effective indoctrination, too blind or too scared to acknowledge reality?
Either way, Oz should not be allowed to use a publicly-funded national broadcaster like the BBC to promote self-serving Israeli misinformation and image-making. It is a poor choice that the BBC will live to regret when Israel is finally held to account for its crimes against humanity. By giving Oz this platform to tell us how we should think and speak about Israel and Palestine, the BBC in effect colludes with whitewashing a crime against humanity.