Judas Iscariot, Amos Oz and the new definition of a traitor

Sunday, October 26, 2014 |  Tsvi Sadan

Amos Oz, the perpetual candidate for Nobel Prize in literature, is a kind of oracle among the Israeli Left-wing constituency while some Right-wing people see him as a sort of collaborator aiding the Palestinians in their war against the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Being accused of being a traitor as a young boy, for associating with a British soldier, and being accused of the same since he started propagating the idea that the occupation is corrupting the Israeli society somewhere in the 1970s, his recently published novel, Judas (the Hebrew title is The Gospel According to Judas) is an attempt to explore what a traitor is. Oz reaches the conclusion that sometimes, just sometimes, a traitor is the most loving, loyal and the most devout person to the ideals of his people.

There should be no doubt that Oz is a loyal and devout Zionist who loves Israel with all of his heart and soul. In his mind therefore, being labeled a traitor is actually an expression of the betrayal of the very ideals his critics are supposed to uphold. To make his point that a traitor can sometimes be the true hero he chooses two "traitors" for his novel, Judas Iscariot, the ultimate traitor who sold his hero for 30 pieces of silver and a member of the Zionist Executive Committee who was the only one to oppose Ben Gurion's decision to establish the state of Israel.

The way Oz turns Judas from traitor to hero is by fabricating an alternative motivation for Judas' betrayal. Judas who first infiltrated Jesus' inner circle as a Sadducee spy became one of his most loyal and devout disciples. He explains, "Judas Iscariot became Judah the Nazarene - he was the first person in the world who wholeheartedly believed in the divinity of Jesus." It was Judas who orchestrated the crucifixion and persuaded Jesus to accept his fate believing that he will be able to get off the cross unharmed. Jesus' death as a mere mortal was so devastating for this believer that he went and hanged himself and "so died the first Christian. The last Christian. The only Christian." Judas, the ultimate traitor who became the archetype of all Jews, emerges in the novel as the only true disciple of Jesus among the twelve.

I have no intention whatsoever to justify the Christian tradition regarding Judas, but the process in which Oz fabricates a story to redefine who is a traitor seems to me just as problematic as the Christian tradition he loathes so much. Oz' attempt to vindicate himself in the eyes of much of the Israeli public by changing the definition of who a "traitor" is seems to be a desperate move of a desperate man who longs for the utopia where his grandchildren will live "in a world, including the Middle East, where there are no states, no armies, no borders."

This, essentially Marxist, utopia contradicts Oz' own viewpoint that the bloody Jewish Palestinian conflict will be resolved by Israel's withdrawal to its 1967 lines and the creation a new Palestinian state in the West Bank. It also fails to understand that the changing of a definition is a form of self-delusion adhered to by those who can no longer deal with rejection. Oz is not alone in building his own make-believe castle. Many exasperated Israelis are adopting the same standpoint by insisting to define the struggle over Holy Land in materialistic terms where prosperity replaces spiritual aspirations. They stick to their own definitions even when their sworn enemies keep telling them that their fight is not about pursuit for a good life in a democratic Palestinian state but rather against a sovereign Jewish presence in a Muslim land.

With this being said however, I am saddened by the fact that Oz has found the need to be so apologetic as to redefine the meaning of traitor. Maybe more than it says about him it speaks volumes about those among Israelis who are resorting to call one of our finest a traitor.

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