Amos Ke­nan


The Jewish Chronicle - - Obituaries -

HIGHLY TAL­ENTED as a satirist, poet, nov­el­ist, sculp­tor, stage and screen writer, and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist, Amos Ke­nan was both a deeply loyal son of Is­rael and one of Zion­ism’s most ar­tic­u­late and tren­chant crit­ics, writes Morde­cai Beck.

His very name en­cap­su­lated the para­dox of his in­tel­lec­tual and emo­tional iden­tity. As Amos, he was named by his par­ents af­ter the bib­li­cal prophet, scourge of his fel­low coun­try­men’s lax moral­ity and ar­ro­gance to the poor and weak.

Ke­nan, which he adopted in place of his fam­ily name, Levine, ex­pressed the “Canaan­ite” ideal of a new Is­rael re­born from Canaan­ite roots.

Born to sec­u­lar so­cial­ist par­ents in the still-young city of Tel Aviv — his fa­ther was orig­i­nally a build­ing worker — Amos dropped out of school at 16 and be­came a fac­tory worker and mem­ber of Hashomer Hatzair, the left­wing sec­u­lar youth move­ment.

Op­pos­ing the Bri­tish man­date, he first joined Lehi (the ter­ror­ist Stern Gang) but fought in the 1948 War of In­de­pen­dence in the Ha­ganah, the main­stream pre-state forces, un­der the leg­endary Bri­gadier Yitzhak Sadeh. He took part in the Deir Yassin mas­sacre -– a role which al­ways haunted him.

Leav­ing the army, he met the poet, Yonatan Ratosh, and joined his Canaan­ite move­ment –-a small group of ide­al­ists aim­ing at a sec­u­lar state for Arabs and Jews, without Ju­daism or Is­lam.

In 1950 he started his ground-break­ing satir­i­cal col­umn, Uzi and Co, for the pres­ti­gious Ha’aretz news­pa­per. Its shock value lay both in its anti-es­tab­lish­ment at­ti­tude and its lin­guis­tic style. Break­ing away from the stan­dard high-minded lit­er­ary tone of the day, he wrote or­di­nary, ver­nac­u­lar prose.

His col­umn ceased in 1952 when he was charged with at­tempt­ing to as­sas­si­nate the Min­is­ter of Trans­port, Tzvi David Pin­has, who brought in Sab­bath re­stric­tions on pub­lic trans­port.

Though ac­quit­ted, Ke­nan left for Paris in 1954. Dur­ing his eight-year stay, he cre­ated mon­u­men­tal sculp­tures and wrote stage and screen plays and ar­ti­cles for two Is­raeli pa­pers, Ha’Olam Hazeh and Ye­diot Aharonot.

Re­turn­ing to Is­rael, he mar­ried lit­er­ary aca­demic Nu­rit Gertz in 1962 — whose 2008 bi­og­ra­phy of her hus­band re­vealed that he had in­deed been part of the bomb­ing plot — and con­tin­ued writ­ing for stage, screen and press.

Though his play, Friends Talk About Je­sus, was banned in 1972 by the Is­rael Supreme Court for des­e­crat­ing Chris­tian­ity, his prodi­gious lit­er­ary out­put never flagged.

His ar­ray of na­tional and in­ter­na­tional prizes in­clude the 1962 Sam Speigel Prize, the 1970 Is­rael Cin­ema Prize (he wrote, di­rected and acted), an honorary award from the French Cul­tural Min­istry in 1975, the 1995 In­ter­na­tional The­ater Award, and the 1998 Bren­ner Prize.

A po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist, he cam­paigned af­ter the 1967 Six-Day War for two states for two peo­ples. On be­half of the Is­rael For­eign Min­istry, he in­ter­viewed lead­ing in­tel­lec­tu­als, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Her­bert Mar­cuse and Noam Chom­sky, on the Is­rael-Pales­tinian con­flict.

He saw Is­raelis and their Arab neigh- bours as nat­u­ral al­lies and thought Is­rael should carve out its own iden­tity, rooted in the Mediter­ranean and Mid­dle East. Sub­se­quent po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments left him feel­ing in­creas­ingly iso­lated as he ob­served that “the state of Is­rael has de­stroyed the Land of Is­rael”.

A vic­tim of Alzheimer’s, he is sur­vived by his wife, Nu­rit, and two daugh­ters; jour­nal­ist Shlomzion and Rona, a singer-song­writer and poet.

Amos Ke­nan: rad­i­cal writer, artist and po­lit­i­cal the­o­rist

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