When it comes to high-tech and medical discoveries, Israel has no equal. The Jewish state has the highest production of scientific publications and museums per capita in the world. Israel is also second in the world in the publication of new books. But why did only one Israeli (Shmuel Yosef Agnon) win the Nobel Prize for Literature, despite Jews winning it completely out of proportion to their numbers?
The 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature was just awarded to Tomas Transtromer, a largely unknown writer compared to David Grossman, Amos Oz or A.B. Yehoshua, the Israelis who always appear in the list of possible winners. Israel’s most acclaimed poet, Yehuda Amichai, went to his grave without the prize and the chances of awarding Aharon Appelfeld are getting slimmer every year.
How is it possible that the “people of the book” is collecting only scientific awards? What does it tell us about Israeli literature? All the Jewish novelists who won the Nobel Prize came from the Diaspora: Boris Pasternak, Nelly Sachs, Saul Bellow, Isaac Singer and Imre Kertész. Israeli writers today make the news only when they rant against the “occupation” or boycott a cultural center in Ariel.
It’s true that the literature prize is awarded much the way that the chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Commission is determined (the last American to be selected was Toni Morrison half century ago.) But the crisis of Israeli literature has a deeper, frightening aspect.
Israeli literature is sick and decadent. Literature is always a sort of mirror of a society and authors are always part of the nation’s moral backbone and those lay out a vision for the country. Israel’s secular intellectual community, which most famous writers belong to, developed a deep enmity toward anything it conceived as representing Judaism or the Jewishness of Zionism. This came to include the Bible, Jewish history, the history of the Land of Israel and the classical Hebrew literature.
Self-hatred, suicidal tendencies
Astonishingly, the leading group of authors in Israel expresses today only alienation, suicidal temptations, and even self-hatred to the point of automatic identification with Israel’s enemies in their writings. They are victims of an “Oslo Syndrome” in which hostages come to identify with their captors.
Israeli writers appear to be willing to say almost anything that will portray them as being “pro-peace.” Any new book by Amos Oz is an important event in Israeli publishing. But Oz took a stance in favor of the Turkish flotilla in a Haaretz column one day after the IDF operation. He also supports the release of Marwan Barghouti, a convicted Palestinian terrorist leader.
David Grossman, another Israeli icon, urged dialogue with Hamas and has rejected most of Israel’s security policies. Yoram Kaniuk last week obtained from court a permit to “leave the Jewish religion” by altering his records in the Population Registry. Kaniuk wants any official state document on which he appears as “Jewish” to be changed to “Without Religion.”
In a region where all the rocks, guns and rockets are already directed at the tiny Jewish nation, it seems that some Hebrew literature has become another weapon against Israel and its people.
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism
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