August 9, 2014

In Blog


Amos Oz: Truly Concerned about the Holocaust and Dead Palestinian Children

Letter submitted by Maren Hackmann-Mahajan to Deutsche Welle (cc Qantara), 8 August 2014

On 30 July 2014, Deutsche Welle published an interview with the famous Israeli novelist and self-proclaimed “peacenik” Amos Oz: Underneath, Deutsche Welle posted the following note: “An earlier version of this interview indicated that Amos Oz’ relative had been liberated by American soldiers. Mr. Oz later corrected himself, explaining that Soviet soldiers had been responsible.”

The corrected passage reads: “The only alternative to continuing the Israeli military operation is simply to follow Jesus Christ and turn the other cheek. I never agreed with Jesus Christ about the need to turn the other cheek to an enemy. Unlike European pacifists I never believed the ultimate evil in the world is war. In my view the ultimate evil in the world is aggression, and the only way to repel aggression is unfortunately by force. That is where the difference lies between a European pacifist and an Israeli peacenik like myself. And if I may add a little anecdote: A relative of mine who survived the Nazi Holocaust in Theresienstadt always reminded her children and her grandchildren that her life was saved in 1945 not by peace demonstrators with placards and flowers but by Soviet soldiers and submachine guns.”

A quick Google search reveals that this is by no means the first time that Oz has made this astonishing error.

Right after the 2008/9 Israeli invasion of Gaza (“Operation Cast Lead”), he spoke to the British Guardian: Back then, Oz also said, “I am not a pacifist in terms of turning the other cheek. There is a difference between myself and some of the peace people in Europe: whereas they think that the ultimate evil in the world is war, I think the ultimate evil in the world is aggression, and aggression sometimes must be repelled by force. I will never forget the words of a relative of mine, who spent the years of the Holocaust in Theresienstadt concentration camp. Although she was a peace activist, she said to me, ‘You know, we were liberated from the concentration camp not by peace demonstrators carrying placards, but by American soldiers carrying submachine guns’” (my emphasis).

How could Oz, the prize-winning wordsmith, possibly conflate “Soviet” with “American”?

Is scholarship about the Nazi holocaust missing from Oz’s bookshelves? This is hard to believe in light of the Guardian’s introduction: “He was a bookish child, wanted to grow up to be a book; here in Arad, where the Judaean desert meets the Negev and drops towards the Dead Sea, he has created a burrow lined with books, most in Hebrew, a good number by him.”

If Oz “will never forget the words” of this particular relative, how likely is he to forget the circumstances of her liberation? If she “always reminded her children and her grandchildren” that the use of force can be justified, did she never mention who imparted this lesson to her?

How could this error have gone unnoticed for so long?

In his teens, the Guardian reports, Oz “tried to erase his hyper-articulate self by trying not to talk much.” Perhaps he should try that again.


For commentary on the rest of the 2014 interview, please see my reader comment posted at, a partner of Deutsche Welle, republished the interview two days later, alas, without any mention of the Soviets. In this version, Oz’s relative was simply liberated by “soldiers.”


The Guardian observed of Oz right after “Operation Cast Lead” in early 2009, “He is appalled by the numbers – ‘300 dead children. Hundreds of innocent civilians. Thousands of homes demolished’ – and while he would like to think that bombing UN structures was accidental, he is also appalled by reports that white phosphorus may have been used, and Dime bombs: ‘There is no justification. No way this could be justified. If this is true, it’s a war crime and it should be treated as a war crime.’” Five years later, is Amos Oz protesting the scandalous lack of accountability, which enabled the latest round of death and destruction in Gaza, or is he shielding the criminals and egging them on?

In the course of the past few weeks, Israel has killed an even greater number of children and hundreds of other innocent civilians, demolished even more homes, and once again bombed UN structures. Yet Oz brazenly invokes Israel’s right to defend itself. However, as the American-Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein has pointed out, Israel can only begin to invoke this right against Palestinian attack once it has withdrawn to its internationally recognized borders and ended its occupation:


According to the Guardian, Oz has described his nine-year-old self as a “bundle of self-righteous arguments, a little chauvinist dressed up as a peace-lover, a sanctimonious, honey-tongued nationalist, a nine-year-old Zionist propagandist.” At 75, his fancy dress is rather worn out.