Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua

Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua

A tale of political twins


This extract is featured in The Jewish Quarterly 250: The pen and the sword. To read the full issue, log in, subscribe or buy the issue.

“Come over again, we’ll talk. There are decisive questions on the table: what sort of state are we going to have here?” said A.B. Yehoshua, at eighty-five, when we said goodbye at his apartment door exactly a month before his death.

I looked at him: he was gaunt and had trouble standing up, yet the familiar smile of curiosity and amusement was still on his face. It’s impossible to understand what goes through the mind of someone approaching death, or to see the world as they see it. And in that moment, I understood even less. Why were these “decisive questions” preoccupying Yehoshua even as he acknowledged his impending death, talking of it openly and sometimes humorously? After all, we’d been debating these issues for seventeen years, and had never made the headway we’d hoped for. From where, even now, did he draw the strength, the curiosity, the concern for the future of this place? “I know how to fill life with hope,” he once told me. Perhaps that was part of it.

Which “decisive questions” was Yehoshua referring to? Above all, there was one: the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and his new approach to solving it, on which he was very focused in his last years. Whenever we met, he expressed anger at my generation for not being sufficiently involved in political issues, for not making our voices heard. “If you take responsibility,” he said, “you’ll be more meaningful writers. You may not reach our status, which is unique and was created in the aftermath of the ’67 war, but you will be meaningful.” And he was absolutely right: Yehoshua and his literary peers had achieved an exceptional standing.

One topic that we only discussed openly at our last meeting was Yehoshua’s relationship with Amos Oz, who had died in 2018. When I was a boy, in the 1980s, they were already considered the two most important Israeli writers.

“I had other friends,” Yehoshua said, “but my friendship with Amos was the most significant. We used to show each other our manuscripts, and comment on them. That shows trust. I loved him, his sharpness and his integrity.”

I asked if there was any competition between them.

“There was envy. Undoubtedly. I overcame the envy. I did not let it hurt our friendship. He gained more esteem and fame than I did, especially outside Israel. There aren’t many writers I envied: all my envious energies were diverted to him. But I did not allow my envy to sabotage our friendship. And he envied me, too, because I was a more frequent object of literary research. I don’t know if there’s any such thing in your generation: a twin to deal with.”

“We don’t have that twin thing,” I replied.

“That’s not good – you must always have a twin: someone who annoys you but whom you love. Someone who pulls you ahead, and you him. And there’s something else: the issue of responsibility. We felt responsible for Israel’s political and moral image.”

Yehoshua often spoke of responsibility and the author’s role. To him, an author is not just a storyteller but a person with a moral role in society. Political involvement is practically an obligation, not a choice. Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua’s standing in Israeli society was puzzling to many writers I met around the world, who saw themselves as storytellers, not moral voices. In fact, it was only after my own books were published in other languages and I met authors from different countries that I understood how uniquely Israeli was Yehoshua’s and Oz’s status. Of course there are politically active authors in other countries, but there are very few who can compete with the clout that both Oz and Yehoshua wielded. These two authors did not create a new slot. The politically vocal author’s position in Israel goes back to the circumstances of the state’s founding, and to the importance attributed to intellectuals by political leaders – among them Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion – in a burgeoning society that needed both great stories and moral justifications. Most leaders of Mapai (the party that dominated Israel’s political system in its first three decades and was the progenitor of the Labor Party) came from Eastern European cultures that gave considerable weight to writers’ political stances.

Political writers such as Yosef Haim Brenner were active in pre-state Israel, and the generation that preceded Yehoshua and Oz – known as “the 1948 Generation” – included several writers who were extremely political. The most prominent among them was Yizhar Smilansky (known as S. Yizhar), one of the greatest Israeli writers, whose monumental Days of Ziklag probed the 1948 war, and who also wrote Khirbet Khizeh, a novella about the expulsion of Palestinians from a fictional village and the demolition of their homes, which provoked outrage when it came out. Yizhar was also a member of the Knesset. He was not an especially outspoken politician, devoting more time to writing than to legislation, but the fact that he was offered a seat in the Knesset by the ruling party indicates the importance of the politically involved writer in Israeli society.

It was not only in the centrist Mapai party but also on the Israeli right that intellectuals ran for parliament. “One could certainly say that in the young Israel, intellectuals held special status on the right, too,” says Avi Shilon, who studies the Israeli right wing. “It’s interesting that, unlike the centre-left, which focused more on prose writers, the right wing tended to embrace the Polish model of nationalism, which positioned poets alongside leaders as prophets of sorts. The poet Uri Zvi Greenberg served in this role, and was placed on the Herut party’s list for the first Knesset by party leader Menachem Begin. Over the years, and with the decline in poetry’s status in Israel, the alliance between poets and right-wing politicians subsided.”


Yehoshua correlates the status awarded to him and Oz in Israel (and beyond) to the Six-Day War of 1967. To him, that was the turning point. After the war, many Israeli intellectuals were swept up by the country’s widespread triumphalism. The “Greater Israel” movement, which advocated for settling the occupied territories, included former army generals and politicians, but also renowned intellectuals such as S.Y. Agnon (who had won the Nobel Prize in Literature a year earlier), author Haim Hazaz and poet Nathan Alterman. The occupation of the Western Wall in Jerusalem unleashed a yearning marked by messianic notes, which many secular Israelis found irresistible: the fulfilment of the Biblical vision of a “whole” Land of Israel. “The crux of this victory,” wrote Alterman, “is that it erased the difference between the State of Israel and the Land of Israel. This is the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple that we possess the Land of Israel. State and land are now one.”

A journalist who was affiliated with the Labor Party for many years and is avowedly secular once told me, only half-jokingly, that the Jewish claim to the land is based on the Biblical story of the covenant between the Jewish people and God: “In principle, we in the party believe that God gave us the land, but we wanted a secular state and so we decided He wasn’t around anymore.” One could argue that the Labor Party always used the Biblical narrative for its needs, which is why the post-1967 redemptive euphoria enthralled the party’s secular wing, too.

Agnon, Alterman and Hazaz, who all signed the petition for “Greater Israel”, were not only a generation older than Oz (born in 1939) and Yehoshua (born in 1936), but also better known at the time. Although both the latter had grown up in Jerusalem, they had very different backgrounds. Yehoshua came from a longstanding Sephardi Jerusalemite family, and as a boy he accompanied his father to synagogue every Friday night. Oz grew up in a secular Ashkenazi family with ties to literary and academic circles. After his mother committed suicide when he was twelve, his family essentially fell apart, and he left Jerusalem as a teenager and moved to Kibbutz Hulda. “I was an ‘outside kid’ on the kibbutz, and I always wore the same clothes, the same underwear, the same socks. The kibbutz didn’t pay for clothes for ‘outside kids’, and my father didn’t pay either,” he told his friend, the author Nurith Gertz. “I would go home to Jerusalem on the Sabbath and I had nothing, no one. I was completely isolated. Those were very bad years.”

Oz and Yehoshua first met as teenagers, on those difficult weekends in Jerusalem. Oz recalls that he would come from the kibbutz and spend his time at the Scouts’ meeting place, since he had no family to go home to. Yehoshua was a Scouts counsellor, and Oz remembered being one of his charges, but Yehoshua disputed that account and often told him: “You weren’t there.”

Yehoshua, unlike Oz, had a stable home life. “I was a good kid, and I gave a lot of support to my mother, who immigrated to Israel from Morocco and did not speak Hebrew,” he told me. “My father loved me, even slightly admired me. I grew up appreciated and loved.” Yehoshua believed that he did not have an underlying childhood wound like Oz did, and that he’d had a normal and fairly happy upbringing. Perhaps that is why he rarely wrote about his childhood and did not produce an autobiography, while Oz’s greatest work, A Tale of Love and Darkness, is a memoir of his childhood in Jerusalem.

By 1967, Oz and Yehoshua were young men, gifted writers who had been publishing fiction and essays since the late 1950s. In 1965 Oz had published his first book, Where the Jackals Howl, a collection of short stories that drew popular attention and critical praise, while Yehoshua’s acclaimed Death of the Old Man, from 1963, comprised short stories rich in imagination verging on the surreal, in a style very different to that of his predecessors, who mostly wrote social and psychological realism. Oz was better known than Yehoshua and more vocal in public, having been outspoken even before the war on controversial issues, including his support for former Minister of Defense Pinhas Lavon in his strident battle against Ben-Gurion. Both writers were perceived as principal members of Hebrew literature’s future generation.

In August 1967, two months after the Six-Day War, Oz published a strongly worded editorial in Davar, the organ of the reigning Mapai party, in which he expressed unequivocal opposition to the writers and poets who supported the Greater Israel vision, and criticised those who had yet to weigh in on the question. Oz pointed to the profound moral failing of Israel’s control over hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were now without rights. In response to Moshe Dayan’s assertion that “the Israeli administration does not depend on cooperation with the Arabs”, Oz commented:

These words are worrisome. Because they give off a whiff of the victor’s intoxication, of arrogance and impatience. No government anywhere has lasted long without free cooperation on the part of its residents ... Even occupiers who took extreme steps in the path of oppression found themselves sitting on thorns and scorpions in most places – until they were removed. Not to mention the total moral devastation wrought by prolonged occupation on the occupier.

Oz’s warning against this “moral devastation” marked the launch of his public political role. His positions set him apart from most well-known writers at the time, and also went against the Israeli zeitgeist. He had stripped the war of its exceptional mantle – the romantic, historic return of the Jews to their ancestral land – and likened the Israeli occupation to other occupations around the world.

A few months later, The Seventh Day: Soldiers’ Talk about the Six-Day War, co-edited by Oz, presented the oral testimonies of kibbutz soldiers who had fought in the war. These young men talk about their experiences on the front, including accounts of looting and mistreating Arab prisoners of war. By relating ordinary soldiers’ inner doubts, the book offered a very different picture than the familiar image of the victorious army. The Seventh Day provoked heated debate in Israel, with political leaders including Golda Meir viewing it as a vital document. Over the years, however, the book was also criticised for being a central part of the “shoot and weep” culture. Writing in Haaretz, in 2018, about the fiftieth-anniversary reissue, historian Tom Segev noted sardonically that the kibbutz ethos represented in the book “added to the self-image projected in the urban victory albums: not only mighty and heroic, but righteous, peace-loving, bleeding-heart boys. They are thoughtful, racked with doubt, sad, confused, tormented by the war.” Segev believed the book was intended to protect the kibbutzniks’ status among the Israeli elites.

At the end of 1967, some 250 intellectuals signed a public statement opposing the annexation of the newly occupied territories and the Greater Israel concept, and called on the state to “reinforce security and strive for peace as a supreme purpose of the state”. Among the signatories were A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz. Yehoshua recognised that when it came to the war and its repercussions, Oz was ahead of both him and the majority of the intellectual elite at the time. In an opinion piece for Yediot Aharonot in 1982, he expressed his appreciation for Oz’s prescience and courage: “It was Amos Oz who, immediately after the ’67 war, before the sounds of gunfire had died down, launched a public political war. He was among the firmest, clearest, sharpest voices, and I believe also the most effective.”

It is worth noting that the statement signed by the two writers in late 1967 was fairly moderate. It did not advocate a complete withdrawal from the territories, in contrast to the far-left socialist movement, Matzpen, which issued a much more strident manifesto at around the same time: “Holding on to the territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims. We must leave the occupied territories now!”

In 1967, my father, Uzi Baram, was a young leader in Mapai. Later in life he became a close friend of Oz’s. I asked him what he thought of the positions taken by Oz and others at the time.

“The blatant way Oz spoke out against the government, and his warnings about moral collapse, seemed like hyperbole to us,” he recalls. “We were all in a state of euphoria after the great victory. I wouldn’t have signed the public statement that Oz and Yehoshua signed, because the idea of peace seemed impossible. But their rejection of the Greater Israel doctrine does reflect my own position in those years.”

“And what did you think of the Matzpen people, who called for an immediate withdrawal from the territories?”

“We thought they were crazy. Really crazy.”

Oz and Yehoshua were not considered “crazy” by the Mapai leadership. Despite their critical stance, they were perceived as rooted in clear-cut Zionism. They were, to some extent, necessary voices. “The situation after ’67,” Yehoshua told me in that final meeting of ours, “was that the major writers didn’t know what to do with the issue of the territories, and others were captivated by the mysticism of ‘Greater Israel’. And then we turned up with a clear position. The war differentiated us from them, and that is where Amos and I began to sound a moral voice that became more and more acceptable. Many of the signatories to the Greater Israel petition later regretted their involvement. Simply put? It was eventually proved that we were more prescient than the generation above us.”


On a Friday afternoon in mid-July 2022, hundreds of people crowd into a Tel Aviv auditorium to mark a month since Yehoshua’s death. Among the participants are literary scholars, family members and actors who will read from plays based on Yehoshua’s books. The president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, has sent a videotaped eulogy. It is not a surprise to see such a large crowd and so many emotional responses to Yehoshua’s passing. As well as the loss of a beloved author, his death signifies the departure of the State Generation, of which he and Oz were the foremost representatives.

The event was organised by Avi Gil, who studies Yehoshua’s life and work and was very close to him. He and I sit in a small room backstage and watch the crowds filing in. The overwhelming majority of attendees are from Yehoshua and Oz’s generation, Israelis who started reading their work in the 1960s as young men and women, and who saw them as a political compass over the decades. They have come to say their farewells.

“Yehoshua had a very strong generational perception,” says Gil, “and it was a significant component of his identity. He saw himself as part of a certain generation, and he wrote for that generation – his. That’s why he often declared that he was ready to die, and in fact wanted to die. As he saw it, he was the last of the State Generation’s prominent writers, and his time had come.”

Gil and I discuss Yehoshua’s “twin” concept, and his advice that I find my twin. As Yehoshua saw it, competitiveness, love and the whole complicated emotional turmoil that accompanies the notion of twins propelled him and Oz. I ask Gil about the ways in which Oz and Yehoshua were political twins.

“They met at a young age, studied at university together, sat in the same lectures, moved in the same literary milieu. As writers, they really did grow up together, and they also had common mentors, like Gershon Shaked, the influential scholar and critic. The affinity that evolved in those years would only become a friendship years later. Their perception of the ’67 war and its outcomes was also similar: Oz was one step ahead, but Yehoshua did join him eventually. And after that, they acted in concert for many years.”

“Did they believe they could influence public opinion?” I wonder.

“Far more than that: they had the profound sense that they were supposed to save Israel from the terrible consequences of the occupation, and promote the idea of peace.”

“They actually wanted to save Israel?”

“Expressly so. That was their designation. They were both very Zionist, they believed that a state in which Jews were the majority was essential: this was a major convergence point between them. And they both believed that in order to preserve the Jewish democratic state, we must achieve peace. They were sceptical of politicians’ commitment to human rights and peace, and felt that they had to constantly push the centre-left parties, in particular Labor, to end the occupation and resolve the conflict.”

Until 1977, no one perceived Labor (Mapai’s successor) as a left-wing party. It was a nationalistic, militaristic, centrist movement, far from willing to resolve the conflict and give up the West Bank or the Sinai and the Golan Heights, all of which had been occupied in the 1967 war. Oz certainly shared this opinion of the party, and before the 1977 elections he came out publicly against voting for Labor, which was then led by Shimon Peres. After the dramatic reversal in the 1977 elections, when Likud took power, Labor remained a long way from the peace plan that would become its hallmark fifteen years later. Yisrael Galili, a senior Labor politician, outlined the party’s post-election position: “It is most essential that, even as an opposition movement, we not fall into a negative polarisation in terms of the continued settlement effort, the opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the opposition to a return to the June 1967 borders.”

My father, who was on the left end of the Labor spectrum, believes that Oz and Yehoshua’s true influence crystalised in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, when the notion of the occupation as a cancer in the body of the Jewish state gained traction, and there was a constant prodding of Labor voters towards the idea of peace. Many factors contributed to this shift, including the emergence of Peace Now as a large protest movement, and pivotal events such as the Lebanon War and the First Intifada. But in his opinion, Oz and Yehoshua’s role in Labor’s newfound emphasis on Israeli–Palestinian reconciliation should not be underestimated.

“A man like Yisrael Galili couldn’t have imagined that the peace party of the ’90s was the same party he’d belonged to for decades, and that change resulted, in part, from Oz and Yehoshua’s consistent work,” my father says. A similar argument can be heard on the right: Amnon Lord, a journalist and right-wing activist, wrote that “Oz and Yehoshua moved the Labor Party far to the left”.

My father and others also point out Oz’s direct influence on Shimon Peres when it came to the Palestinian issue. Their well-known friendship lasted for many years, and both men boasted of it at various points. In the 1970s, Peres was considered further to the right than Rabin, and actively supported the construction of settlements. Yet in the 1990s he became the figure most identified with the peace effort.

The audience is sitting down now, and I feel a slight tremble. I’m supposed to speak about Yehoshua’s attitude towards young writers, and about my relationship with him over the years. I feel overwhelmed by all the stories I can tell. I first met Yehoshua when I went to his home in Haifa to interview him for Haaretz, and we remained friends ever since. I remember his repeated demand that I should become a father. He once said that he knew fatherhood would give me more stability and help me personally, and he declared that he wouldn’t read any more of my books until I had a child. It was a sort of regular joke we shared, but it says a lot about the way he viewed his friends: never as a means to an end, but as full, complex human beings.

I ask Gil about Yehoshua and Oz as literary twins. “Yehoshua felt that they were twins in the first few decades, but starting in the ’80s, when he began publishing his great novels – The Lover, Mr. Mani – he viewed them as quite far apart, stylistically. Amos once advised him to delve deeper into his characters’ psychology, as he did in a number of his own books, but Yehoshua was interested in investigating ideas and moral quandaries in his writing. So he believed that as writers they had grown apart, but still perceived them as political twins.”

Oz also spoke of “the moral issue” as something that differentiated his and Yehoshua’s writing, and he was far less enthusiastic about fiction that engages with moral questions. In What Makes an Apple? he explains: “I have an ongoing argument about this with A.B. Yehoshua, who locates the issue of morality at the forefront of literary creation ... I think there is a moral dimension in a different sense: putting yourself for a few hours under another person’s skin, or in another person’s shoes. It has an indirect moral weight, although it’s not very heavy, let’s not exaggerate.”

As we walk to the auditorium, we come across two older women paging through Yehoshua’s The Lover. “Let’s go, it’s starting soon,” an older man urges them. One of the women looks at him and says, “On the contrary: it’s already over.”


Beyond their different approaches to writing, Oz and Yehoshua had distinct attitudes about their ability to leverage their influence. Oz met regularly with Israeli politicians, travelled to international meetings and was acquainted with leaders around the world. Yehoshua, conversely, did not maintain close ties with politicians. (One exception was former president Reuven Rivlin, a friend from their days in the Scouts youth movement in Jerusalem.)

Yehoshua recalled that Oz used to phone him and report on his discussions with political leaders. At times, Yehoshua believed that Oz had too much faith in these meetings. Yehoshua did not hold contemporary politicians in high esteem, nor did he usually believe them. Politicians, for their part, strove to maintain ties with both Oz and Yehoshua – sometimes for prestige and sometimes out of curiosity. Mostly these were members of left-wing parties, such as Peres, Ehud Barak and others. Inviting a writer or intellectual to one’s home for counsel has been a familiar ritual for Israeli politicians ever since the state’s founding days, and from the late 1970s onwards, Oz and Yehoshua were two of the most prominent intellectuals in the country. Despite differing on the utility of ties with politicians, the two writers shared a clear goal: resolving the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Oz believed – and when it came to Peres, he might have been right – that direct influence on leaders was an important means of effecting change.

Meanwhile, in the public arena, they collaborated frequently: signing petitions, speaking at protest rallies and conferences, supporting political leaders. They called for a national unity government after the 1984 elections, and expressed vocal opposition to the wars in Lebanon – the first (in 1982), and the second (together with David Grossman, whose son was killed at the very end of that war, in 2006). They also acted independently, as with Oz’s appeal ahead of the 1977 elections. Of course, they also wrote about issues other than the Israeli–Palestinian conflict: secularism, ethnic tensions, Israeliness versus Jewishness, identity questions and so forth – but most of their energy was devoted to the peace process.

They did have disagreements – for example, regarding Israel’s national character. In the 1980s, Yehoshua came to believe that Israel must integrate within the Mediterranean sphere, at least culturally, and forge an identity that would not be wholly alien in the Middle East. “Yehoshua is completely serious when he asks whether it is possible to switch identities or travel on a ‘cross-identity’ path,” wrote Dan Miron, considered the greatest State Generation literary critic. “Identity is necessary,” he continues, “but the ability to transcend it and break through its borders is no less necessary.”

Oz was unconvinced by the idea of integration, fearing it would have a negative impact on Israel’s political and legal systems, and on Israeli democracy, which he thought should embrace the Western model. These differences likely stemmed in part from the two men’s different backgrounds: Yehoshua’s father, who spoke Arabic, was very familiar with the neighbouring cultures, while Oz observed Arab culture from a distance, like most political leaders of the time – people with a distinctly European orientation. These disagreements, however, seemed minor at the end of the twentieth century, a time when both acknowledged that integrating within the Middle East was not practical until the most urgent matter had been resolved: the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

“We had a lot of disagreements around the priorities of the Israeli left,” says the writer and historian Fania Oz-Salzberger, Amos Oz’s daughter. “While I held that gender equality and social justice were no less vital than liberating the Palestinian people, Dad and Yehoshua both gave top priority to the occupation, which demanded certain alliances (for example with the ultra-Orthodox) that would delay any progress on issues such as gender equality. To their mind, it was a price worth paying.” Furthermore, Oz-Salzberger detects something very masculine in their position: “They always said: the first thing is the occupation, the Israeli–Palestinian issue. After that, we’ll address the other issues. On social-economic matters, for example, they were both fairly superficial socialists, and did not devote a lot of thought to those matters.”


In 2011, there was keen public debate in Israel around a potential attack against Iran. Haim Oron, at the time a member of Knesset with Meretz and a close friend of Oz’s, was a sort of liaison between two groups: the first comprised military men, like the former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and former Mossad chair Meir Dagan, and the second included intellectuals, led by Oz, with Yehoshua among them. The two groups united around a common goal: stop the planned Israeli attack on Iran, or at least delay it as long as possible. Oron recalls that Oz was acting on behalf of Peres, who by then was president of Israel, a largely symbolic role that precluded him from expressing his position publicly, and that Oz’s involvement in the group’s activity was daily.

Oz wrote an appeal that both groups were to sign, which asserted that it was not Israel’s job to finish the anti-Iran campaign: it should be left to the United States. The fact that former generals (considered a public authority on Iran) and intellectuals (who were not perceived as strategic experts on the Iran nuclear question) were able to join forces says a lot about the latter group’s standing in certain circles of Israeli society.

“I saw Amos’s involvement in the Iranian question as a natural step,” says Oron. “I’m a member of Amos’s generation, and in leftist circles we always valued intellectuals’ opinions. Here’s an example: in the early ’70s, a few officers had reservations about the army’s belligerent conduct in Gaza, so we held an event in Tel Aviv to discuss the issue. Imagine this: Prime Minister Golda Meir attended. Amos was one of the speakers, and he asked Golda, ‘What do you dream about at night?’ She answered, ‘I don’t have time to dream. I can’t sleep because the phone rings at night with updates on casualties.’Why had Amos been invited? Because his participation gave the event a certain depth, a broader context.”

I ask Oron: “For politicians, was it mainly ostentation, and tradition? Or is there a real benefit to encounters between politicians and intellectuals?”

“I often sought advice from Amos, but also from Yehoshua, on political questions: from the future of the state to whether I should run for the Meretz leadership. To me, Oz had a rare ability to put things into words, a capacity to distil the essence of whatever was being discussed. Many politicians publicly used phrases they’d heard from Oz in private conversations. But forget about me for a moment – it made sense for me to talk with Amos. The question is why right-wing politicians wanted ties with him.”

“And what is the answer?”

“It’s not like politicians on the right had anything to gain politically from being associated with Amos. But look: Eli Yishai, when he was the leader of the Sephardi religious party, Shas, wanted me to introduce him to Oz, even though his constituents had no sympathy for Oz. I set up a meeting for them at my home. Yishai saw Amos as a sort of gateway to secular Israelis, and perhaps also an authority in that sector. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was the supreme authority in Shas, and perhaps Yishai viewed Amos as a parallel figure: the rabbi of centre-left secular Israelis.”

“What happened when they met?”

“They sat together for long, deep talks, which veered from the future of the conflict, to questions about the degree of secularism in the country to tensions between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Naftali Bennett also met with Amos a few times. I find it interesting that young right-wingers from a completely different generation saw Oz as an authority.”

Oz understood his unique status in Israeli society, and he was also aware of the resentment and envy it aroused. “He was everywhere and nowhere,” he said of himself in What Makes an Apple?, “even prime ministers ask to meet with him, and he gets quoted on the radio, in the newspapers. There’s almost no leftist movement he isn’t in some way centrally involved in. He’s at all the big protest rallies in Malchei Israel Square ... The Israeli arena is small, hardly touched by a single ray of sun, so why does that ray always shine on him? He should step aside.” ▤

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This is an extract from The Jewish Quarterly 250: The pen and the sword. To read the full issue, log in, subscribe or buy the issue.