let the dead bury their dead—Matthew 8:22
Few people have been awarded the questionable honor of being featured by the exclusive Obituaries Section of this website. To his horror, one of them—a former Mossad Director—is not even dead yet.
On June 8, 2013, Yoram Kaniuk died. Author of The Last Jew and A Good Arab, he is worth mentioning because in the impossibility of his views, he symbolized the inviability of the State of Israel. The Last Jew left us a heritage of hatred disguised as humanism.
A Good Arab is a Dead Arab
Kaniuk was one of the stars in an angular article, Israelis say: “A Good Arab is a Dead Arab”. That article commented on Hebrew graffiti that appeared near the site of a violent attack on a mosque in Israel, on December, 15, 2011.
The word “milhama” (“war” in Hebrew) was drawn in red and was widely reported by international media. American media were more restrictive with a different graffiti on the site, which said: “aravi tov (u) aravi met.” This is Hebrew for “A Good Arab is a Dead Arab.” Venezuelan and Spanish television networks showed the writing on the wall but missed its meaning.
Later that day, Hebrew media reluctantly repeated unwilling condemnations by Israeli politicians. Yet, this is a common Jewish-Israeli saying.
Years before, in 1984, Kaniuk had published Confessions of a Good Arab (the original Hebrew is entitled “A Good Arab”). The book tells the fictional history of Yusuf Sharara, a.k.a. Yosef Rozentzweig*.
The cover of the book is reproduced below. Its top is red with what looks as a bullet wound. The nasty street phrase has been successfully conveyed to the reader, part in text, and the less polite part in a schematic drawing. “A Good Arab is a Dead Arab” Israelis say on the streets, in their homes, in their books, and even on the mosques they burn in their free time.
Born to a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, Yosef/Yusuf lives a double life. Jews know him as a Bezalel graduate living in Tel Aviv, son of Hava; his maternal grandparents had reached “Palestina” before WWII. Palestinians know him as the son of an academician living near Acre and member of the Communist party. Kaniuk’s life was similarly split.
The Unbearable Boredom of Nihilism
Despite dying at the age of 83, at the moment of his death Kaniuk was still a child unable to define a coherent world view. Born in Tel Aviv, he served in the Palmach, short for “Plugot Meyuhadot,” the “special companies” of the Haganah, the IDF predecessor. These were the Zionists’ commando units prior to the incomplete foundation of the State of Israel. For a while, Yitzhak Rabin was their commander.
Despite looking like a paragon of Zionism, he married a Christian woman, Miranda. Their children were registered by the State of Israel as having “no religion**.” In October 2011, a District Court Judge, approved Kaniuk’s petition to change his religion status from “Jewish” to “no religion.” Frome that moment on, a linguistic war surrounded him. Ultra-Orthodox Jews kindest words towards him are “Jew Hater;” secular Jews coined a new verb “leytkanyek,” namely “to become Kaniuk***,” in an amusing reference to being listed as having no religion.
He rejected Judaism as a religion, sticking to its ethnic definition. He claimed to be a humanist; yet, as usual happens with them, it was nothing but a cover up for institutionalized discrimination. He disliked what he perceived as religious discrimination; he favored secular-humanist discrimination and fought for it in its best commando units.
“Aravi Tov” “Good Arab”—Poster by Lahav Halevy Oddly, the artist’s name means “Blade of the Levy.” He sells the poster as part of his artistic output. The product was professionally prepared using minimalist lines and a smart design. The poster is obviously not the result of a hothead redneck seeking revenge. Its top line reads: “Good Arab.” Below it: “Yasser Arafat 1929-2004.” One could claim that this is a respectful poster honoring the Palestinian leader. However, every Israeli would recognize the first half of the nasty street phrase: “A Good Arab is a Dead Arab” (“a” is not needed in this Hebrew phrase); the second part is implied. Arafat is dead. A phrase that Israelis would prefer now not to have coined, it is proving as not being exactly a nasty street phrase, but part of the consensus. The poster wasn’t banned; many Israelis hung it proudly in their living rooms and watch it seeking for inspiration while chatting with their friends over a bowl of pistachios on Friday’s nights. The artist was left to keep producing his racist art freely. Can you imagine what would happen if an artist in New York would create a parallel work saying: “A Good Jew is a…?” All of the sudden, hate laws would come into existence and, probably, he would be jailed for life.
Waiting for Messiah
Attempting to avoid being buried with a Jewish rite+, he donated his body to science. Doing so he created another inconsistency.
“I’ve donated my body to science. Then I want my body to be cremated. I have no desire to leave behind bone dust that will fade away and disappear, and I want my ashes in a bottle, or, if my family so wishes, it can be scattered somewhere and I’ll make room for someone else. We are all a chain. One leaves and one comes. In the Bible, the Hebrews did not deal with what happens after death. During the Mishnah period as well (people) were buried for a year, and then their bones were exhumed. Many (of the bones) were placed in a sarcophagus or thrown away. When you die – nothing remains,” he wrote.
Considering this, it is difficult to understand his worrying about what would happen to his dust.
As expected, reactions to his death were extreme and politically ridiculous. Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (see The Rebirth of the Stern Gang) can be defined as bitter political enemy of Kaniuk, yet in her eulogy she called him one of the greatest writers of our time,” explaining that he had been a cornerstone in the creation of the Israeli ethos. Since he won many Israeli literature prizes, she couldn’t have said anything different.
Knesset Member Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) was quick to denounce Livnat. “When I hear that one of the haters of Judaism died…Someone who declared he wanted to become non-religious and married a foreigner, (Livnat) bemoans the great loss as a result of this Jew hater’s death. It’s unbelievable. Is this Jewish culture? Is this a Jewish state?”
Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was slightly more polite: “Although I feel a lot of pain over his personal decision, and his legal battle, which eventually opened a breach for the registration of Jewish citizens as having no religion, we at the Chief Rabbinate will make sure that someone will say Kaddish for him throughout the first year, because he is a Jew after all.”
The Last Jew
How to summarize the life of this humanist writer? Kurt Vonnegut++—a vastly more talented humanist writer—said: “They are dying for their own self-respect. It’s a terrible thing to deprive someone of their self-respect. It’s your culture is nothing, your Race is nothing, you’re nothing … It is sweet and noble—sweet and honourable I guess it is—to die for what you believe in.”
In a few unpolished words about honor, he summarized all that Kaniuk was not.
* I used the Hebrew text for the transliteration of the names. They may have been rendered differently in the English version.
** On the Hebrew (and Arabic) term umma. The English Fatherland and other Indo-European languages parallels must include a land of reference, while umma refers to the people; the existence of an accompanying land is of low relevance; this is comprehensible since we are talking about cultures that evolved from nomadic tribes. In the opposite direction the situation is different. Fatherland is parallel to eretz avot, the land of the forefathers. In Hebrew, umma is feminine; a related masculine form is leom (pronounced leh-ohm with a glottal stop between the syllables). In contrast to umma, it doesn’t refer to a group of people sharing a culture but more to the idea of a nation, though yet is not related to a territory; these are cultures that evolved from nomadic tribes. The Israeli Ministry of Interior classifies people according to their leom. It can be Jewish, Arabic, Christian, Circassian, Druze, Bedouin or any other similar definition; the person has no saying in his leom, it is determined by the ministry according to its lists. This is racist and discriminating, since one’s rights and debts towards the state are derived from this definition. One law for Jews, other laws for the others. Kaniuk offspring got the unusual distinction of having no “leom.”
*** Unlike English and all other Indo-European languages, Hebrew is a modular language based on an evolved verb system that can be expanded and conjugated also into nouns. If Prophet Isaiah was brought to our times and presented with the word used for “computer,” he would conclude after a little pondering that it is a machine that calculates.
+ Persons defined Jews by the State of Israel must be buried in a Jewish rite by Atra Kadisha.
++ In These Times quoted him in “Cold Turkey” (May 10, 2004) as saying “The only difference between Hitler and Bush is that Hitler was elected.” He had been an American soldier in Nazi captivity, thus his words on this issue should be listened. Oddly enough, he died in a home-accident in 2007.
Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards.
In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.