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Remembering Aharon Appelfeld, One of Israel’s Most Distinguished Novelists

Aharon Appelfeld—the author of 47 books, including numerous novels—died yesterday at the age of eighty-five. Born in the Romanian city of Czernowitz (now Chernivtsi, Ukraine), Appelfeld survived World War II as a child in hiding—an experience that informed much of his fiction. He came to Israel in 1946, where he first began to learn Hebrew, the only language in which he would write; his final novel was published in September. Unlike Israel’s other literary giants, Appelfeld steered clear of politics in both his writings and his public pronouncements. In 1983, Ruth Wisse appraised his work up to that point:

Appelfeld’s short stories and novels are concerned with the effect of [World War II] on the assimilated Jews of his boyhood milieu. His work is classified as Holocaust literature because of its subject matter and because of the sense of doom that presses down on most of his characters even when they temporarily manage to elude their earthly predators. Yet Appelfeld’s writings are actually more engaged with the world into which he was born than with the forces that determined its extinction. Like Kafka, the writer with whom he is often compared and to whom he acknowledges a major debt, Appelfeld knew anti-Semitism from the inside, from the anti-Jewishness of his own home, before he encountered it in society, and it is this initial discovery that has remained the more decisive. The hostility of outsiders appeared to be almost proper retribution for the spiritual meanness of his assimilating family. . . .

Appelfeld’s The Age of Wonders, [published in English in 1981], . . . traces the remorseless pressure of anti-Semitism in the late 1930’s upon a family that is ill-equipped to understand or to escape it. Under Nazism, the [protagonist, then a boy], and his mother—expelled from an idyllic summer retreat—become aware of the meaning of their identity. The boy’s father, who had just begun to attain some recognition as a writer, is set upon in print by anonymous critics, and is gradually cut off from all his cultural outlets. This is the more unbearable to him since he shares in the general hostility to Jews, of whose evil and unpleasant ways he considers himself free. . . .

The ontological condition of this book is anti-Semitism, and one can think of few such thorough descriptions of its spread among Jews themselves. The boy’s father is the purest example. . . . The boy, grown to a man, avenges his father by a peculiar act of definition: if six million corpses were not enough to satisfy the anti-Semite’s hatred, the Jew can at least refuse to play the complementary role of the self-hater. So he slaps his enemy, returning the aggression where it belongs. But he cannot slap his father for the inglorious and ugly legacy he has been given, nor can he free himself from its oppressiveness. “His father, his father—the wound that never healed.”

Read more at Commentary

More about: Aharon Appelfeld, Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Hebrew literature, Holocaust fiction, Israeli literature

Putting Aside the Pious Lies about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Jan. 23 2018

In light of recent developments, including Mahmoud Abbas’s unusually frank speech to the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s leadership, Moshe Arens advocates jettisoning some frequently mouthed but clearly false assumptions about Israel’s situation, beginning with the idea that the U.S. should act as a neutral party in negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah. (Free registration may be required.)

The United States cannot be, and has never been, neutral in mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is the leader of the world’s democratic community of nations and cannot assume a neutral position between democratic Israel and the Palestinians, whether represented by an autocratic leadership that glorifies acts of terror or by Islamic fundamentalists who carry out acts of terror. . . .

In recent years the tectonic shifts in the Arab world, the lower price of oil, and the decreased importance attached to the Palestinian issue in much of the region, have essentially removed the main incentive the United States had in past years to stay involved in the conflict. . . .

Despite the conventional wisdom that the core issues—such as Jerusalem or the fate of Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines—are the major stumbling blocks to an agreement, the issue for which there seems to be no solution in sight at the moment is making sure that any Israeli military withdrawal will not result in rockets being launched against Israel’s population centers from areas that are turned over to the Palestinians. . . .

Does that mean that Israel is left with a choice between a state with a Palestinian majority or an apartheid state, as claimed by Israel’s left? This imaginary dilemma is based on a deterministic theory of history, which disregards all other possible alternatives in the years to come, and on questionable demographic predictions. What the left is really saying is this: better rockets on Tel Aviv than a continuation of Israeli military control over Judea and Samaria. There is little support in Israel for that view.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, US-Israel relations