Settlers seek arrest of Amos Oz over ‘neo-Nazi’ comments

Lauded writer stands by statements comparing ‘price tag’ attackers to European fascist movements, says Israel’s leaders cowed by settler rabbis

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Amos Oz in Jerusalem, May 3, 2010 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Amos Oz in Jerusalem, May 3, 2010 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

A settlers’ group filed a police complaint against iconic Israeli author Amos Oz on Sunday, even as the writer doubled down on widely publicized weekend statements in which he called the perpetrators of the recent wave of so-called”price tag” hate crimes throughout the country neo-Nazis, and accused the country’s leadership of being cowed by “settler rabbis.”

Oz’s remarks were “a serious incitement to racism” and the author should receive “the Nobel price for racism,” Sagi Keisler, director of the Samaria Residents Committee, said Sunday.

According to a Walla News report, Keisler filed the complaint at the police station in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, where he said it was “taken seriously.”

Suspects can be prosecuted for incitement in Israel, and the association of Nazi imagery with public figures has brought accusations of incitement in the past.

Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said he had not heard of the complaint.

The complaint was the latest part of a backlash against Oz from the Israeli right. A number of politicians condemned his comments and a religious, right-leaning news outlet published a picture of Oz sporting a Hitler mustache.

Keisler said he expected that Oz, one of the country’s most celebrated literary figures, would be “arrested soon” based on the precedent set by the recent arrest of a Yitzhar yeshiva student, who “wrote similar unsavory things” on an internal electronic bulletin board of the settlement. This was a reference to a radical settler discussion on the legitimacy of killing Israeli soldiers.

On Sunday morning Oz told Israel Radio that he “wanted to shock,” but pointed out that he was comparing the right-wing Jewish extremists who carry out the attacks to European neo-Nazis, not actual Nazis.

“The comparison that I made was to neo-Nazis and not to Nazis. Nazis build incinerators and gas chambers; neo-Nazis desecrate places of worship, cemeteries, beat innocent people and write racist slogans. That is what they do in Europe, and that is what they do here,” Oz said.

The writer stressed that he did not say “Nazis” and said “it would never occur to me” to use the word. “I think the time has come to see that there is no difference between what our neo-Nazis do and what neo-Nazis do in Europe,” he added.

At a Friday event in honor of his 75th birthday, Oz, a celebrated writer often mentioned as a top contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, had railed against the nationalistically motivated crimes and urged Israelis to stop speaking about them in euphemisms.

“‘Price tag’ and ‘hilltop youth’ are sweet, sugary nicknames, and the time has come to call this monster by its name. We wanted to be like all other nations, we longed for there to be a Hebrew thief and a Hebrew prostitute — and there are Hebrew neo-Nazi groups,” Oz said to the crowd’s audible discomfort in a video released by Channel 2 (Hebrew).

In his Friday talk, Oz alleged that such extremists have the backing of nationalist lawmakers, a theme he continued on Sunday in an Army Radio interview when he called the Likud “a party of settlers extremists… controlled by settler rabbis” whose power in the ruling coalition is made possible by Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party, “who betrayed his voters… by enabling them to run the country.”

“The real power of the country is in the hands of settler rabbis, and for this one man is responsible. His name is Yair Lapid and he has the power to take down this regime whenever it suits him,” Oz said in comments published by Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth Sunday.

Oz’s Friday comments were criticized by the political right. Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) said Saturday that the price tag incidents were serious crimes, but Oz’s comparison was “outrageous.” There was no way to compare Nazism, which sought the destruction of another people in the name of racial superiority, to graffiti and slashed tires, he added.

Veteran MK Reuvin Rivlin (Likud), who was in the audience when Oz made his statements, said that Israelis should stay away from such comparisons, which “cheapen the Holocaust.” According to a Walla News report, he added that protests against hate crime attacks “should come from all sides, left and right,” but “there is no room for comparisons like these.”

Anti-Christian graffiti reading "Price tag, David the king, Jesus Junk for the Jews" spray painted on the Romanian Church in Jerusalem on May 9, 2014. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Anti-Christian graffiti reading “Price tag, David the king, Jesus Junk for the Jews” spray painted on the Romanian Church in Jerusalem on May 9, 2014. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Oz, who for several years has been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature, was speaking on a day when vandals sprayed anti-Christian graffiti on a Jerusalem church and “Death to Arabs” was found written on a house in Jerusalem’s Old City, despite police stepping up security around religious sites ahead of a visit by Pope Francis later this month.

Attacks on Arab and Christian property have spiked in recent weeks. Ministers held an emergency meeting on Wednesday, pledging to enforce harsh measures against perpetrators.

Although police have made scores of arrests, there have been nearly no successful prosecutions for price tag attacks, and the government has come up under mounting pressure to authorize the Shin Bet internal security agency to step in.

Israeli media on Friday reported that police and Shin Bet feared Jewish right-wing extremists would try to attract attention by attacking Christian sites ahead of the Pope’s visit to the region, scheduled to begin on May 24 in Jordan. Francis is due to spend two days in the Holy Land from May 25.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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