Amos Oz is a world famous Israeli writer whose works have been translated into many languages and who has lectured around the world and received many prizes. The advertised title of his talk was “Changes in Israeli Sociery” but he really did not address that specific topic. He spoke brilliantly about Israel and also his literary work. This is my attempt to summarize his talk
He said that he loves Israel although sometimes he doesn’t like it very much. He claimed that Israel is unique among the nations of the world in that it was started as a dream, but not one dream, many dreams. There were the biblical dreamers who wanted to re-establish the Holy Land as it was, and the socialist dreamers who wanted to build their utopia here, and the bourgeois Mittel-Europeans who wanted to reproduce here the high culture of their fatherlands, and the Eastern European dreamers who wanted to reproduce their shtetls, and the Western dreamers who saw the possibility to bring a modern technological State into existence, and the Sephardic and Mizrachi dreamers who wanted to reproduce their own Spanish or Arabic culture here. All these dreamers living within a stone’s throw of each other helped to build this unique country.
One thing that distinguishes Israel is that everyone is a potential Prime Minister, and great arguments and dissension can be started in a bus queue or in an army platoon over a simple remark. Often when he speaks to foreign audiences he is asked if criticism of Israel amounts to anti-Semitism, and he answers “No.” Legitimate criticism is not anti-Semitism, he and many other Israelis criticize the policies of governments of the right and the left constantly. Where is the line when it becomes anti-Semitic? He said that is easy to define, it is when someone denies the right of Israel to exist or believes that it should never have come into existence. No-one says that of any other country. For all that the Germans did in WWII, no-one said there should not be a Germany.
Regarding his literary works and particularly his autobiographical opus “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” he said that is was not meant to make any points. It started out as an investigation for himself into the circumstances of his early life growing up in Jerusalem. His father and mother were typical central Europeans, who had been kicked out (luckily for them) from their comforatable life there and were trying to adapt to their new existence. His mother committed suicide and it is clear that was was a traumatic event in his life, and his father then faded away, and so he was left on his own to try to solve this riddle.
He finished by relating that all human existence is based on tales, stories that were told around the camp fire, stories that we tell ourselves and others about sex and love and fear and being. This is what he tries to do in his writing.