Memoir by Amos Oz’s Daughter Divides Family and Shocks Israel

JERUSALEM — Amos Oz was one of Israel’s most celebrated authors, a humanist who used his words to pursue peace in a region wracked by conflict.

So when his second daughter, Galia Oz, a children’s author and documentary filmmaker, released her own memoir this week, the opening lines could hardly have been more startling.

“In my childhood, my father beat, cursed and humiliated me,” she wrote in Hebrew. “The violence was creative. He dragged me from inside the house and threw me out over the threshold. He told me I was filth. This was no passing loss of control or an occasional slap across the face, but a routine of sadistic abuse. My crime was me myself, so the punishment had no end. He needed to be sure I would break.”

Mr. Oz, whose books included “My Michael,” “A Tale of Love and Darkness” and “Dear Zealots,” died of cancer in December 2018. Other family members, including his widow, Nili, his older daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger, and his son, Daniel Oz, have come forward to defend him.

“We have known all our lives a very different Amos, a warm and affectionate man who loved his family deeply and gently,” they wrote in a joint statement that Ms. Oz-Salzberger, a professor emeritus at the University of Haifa specializing in legal history and political thought, posted on Twitter. “He devoted his heart and soul to us. The vast majority of Galia’s accusations against Amos squarely contradict our three lifetimes of loving memories of him.”

The family drama is now playing out in the Israeli news media and social networks, with some literary references to Leo Tolstoy’s searing opening line of “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Through her publisher, Kinneret, Zmora, Dvir, Galia Oz declined an interview request. Her sister, Ms. Oz-Salzberger, also declined to be interviewed.

Ms. Oz cut off contact with her parents and siblings seven years ago and, notably, did not attend her father’s funeral. Until his death, the relatives said, her father had tried to understand her trauma and reconnect with her. “Galia’s pain is palpable and heartbreaking,” they wrote in the family statement, “but we remember differently. Astoundingly differently.”

The title of the new book, “Something Disguised as Love,” echoes that of her father’s memoir, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” which was published in Hebrew in 2002 and delved into a childhood scarred by tragedy, including his mother’s suicide when he was 12.

Ms. Oz, in interviews with the Hebrew media around her book’s publication, has also described her childhood as dark. Speaking to Kann, Israel’s public radio, on Tuesday, she said, “I was born into a world in which the standards and culture were very violent and oppressive. We got used to erasing immediately any expression of violence, scare tactics, or terror directed toward us, almost in real time. If there were black-and-blue marks, I would hide them with a longer shirt.”

In a promotional clip of a television interview to be aired on Israel’s Channel 12 over the weekend, she said, “There are no two sides here,” adding of the exposure, “It was harder to be silent.”

In her book, Ms. Oz writes that the abuse began when the family lived in Kibbutz Hulda, a communal farm in central Israel where Mr. Oz had moved as a teenager, and where he met his wife and first raised their children. Under the kibbutz rules at the time, offspring slept away from their parents, in the communal children’s houses and visited their parents for a few hours a day.

“But even that was too much,” Ms. Oz wrote. “‘This is not your home,’ they told me. ‘Go back to the children’s house.’ I was neglected in a way that surpassed the already problematic norm that was customary then under the auspices of the communal sleeping arrangements.”

A representative for Kinneret, Zmora, Dvir said the decision to publish the book now was Ms. Oz’s, since she had come to them with the manuscript. There are no current plans to translate it to English or other languages.

In a Facebook post, her brother Daniel Oz called for both Galia Oz’s and his family’s voices to be heard. “My father was not an angel, just a human being. But he was the best person I had the privilege to have known,” he wrote.

Unlike his older sister Fania and himself, he added, “Our middle sister, Galia, remembers that she experienced tough and abusive parenting at the hands of our father. I am sure — that is, I know — that there is a kernel of truth in her words. Don’t erase her. But don’t erase us either. We, too, have a voice and our voice comes from the depths of our souls.”

Amos Oz has long been considered a giant of modern Hebrew literature. He began storytelling in his early 20s and published more than a dozen novels, as well as collections of short fiction, works of nonfiction and many essays.

An idealist, he changed his original surname, Klausner, to Oz, Hebrew for courage, when he swapped his suffocating parental home in Jerusalem for kibbutz life. The pioneering characters of the Socialist kibbutz movement would inhabit some of his novels. His work was translated into more than 35 languages.

Galia Oz’s book has disrupted Israel’s literary world and cast a shadow over her father’s legacy at a time when a new social consciousness has laid low flawed cultural figures in the United States, France and other places around the world. Ms. Oz herself referenced the #MeToo movement, writing, “Houses such as the one I grew up in somehow float in space, far beyond the reach of social workers, out of range of the influence of revolutions such as MeToo, without leaving a mark in the social networks.”

The initial fallout has been intense. Ms. Oz-Salzberger wrote that critics had branded her on social media as evil, manipulative, a liar and a Nazi enabler. Right-wing Israelis have gloated over what they regard as the unmasking of a liberal, left-wing hero. The family has also received expressions of support.

In another impassioned Facebook post, Ms. Oz-Salzberger’s son, Dean Maccabbi Salzberger, wrote: “In conclusion, I have one smart thing to say about all of this. If you have an estrangement in the family, muddy relationships, residues of years, for whatever reason, do everything to try and fix it. I don’t know how to fix things at your end, only you know. (Every family is different. Yes, yes, even happy families).”

Follow New York Times Books on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, sign up for our newsletter or our literary calendar. And listen to us on the Book Review podcast.

Source: Read Full Article