JERUSALEM // Amos Kenan, a member of Israel's founding generation whose writing and art helped define modern Israeli culture, has died in Tel Aviv. He was 82. Born in 1927 in Tel Aviv, which had been founded less than two decades earlier by Jewish pioneers, Kenan was a product of the city's rich cultural life. He was known for his newspaper columns, plays and books, many of which satirised the Israeli government and organised religion, and as a prolific painter, sculptor and movie director.
In the 1940s, Kenan was one of a number of artists and intellectuals who sought to create an Israeli identity without Judaism by rejecting Jewish history and harking back to the Biblical Canaanites, whose name the artists adopted for their group. "Amos Kenan was one of the creators of Hebrew culture - Hebrew, not Jewish," said the Israeli political activist and journalist Uri Avnery, a friend and colleague of Kenan's since the two met as soldiers during Israel's 1948 War of Independence.
Kenan saw Israelis as an entirely new creation separate from the Jewish Diaspora, Avnery said, and believed they had more in common with Palestinian Arabs. Kenan was party to several efforts to create an alliance with the Palestinians. Along with Avnery, he helped pen a 1957 manifesto calling for the creation of a Palestinian state in federation with Israel at a time when few Israelis acknowledged the Palestinians' existence as a national group.
An infamously argumentative and hard-drinking personality, Kenan was also one of the key figures in the creation of a new, more vernacular Hebrew that replaced the stodgier, biblically tinged language that had been used in Hebrew literature before Israel's creation. He is survived by his partner, the Israeli film and literature scholar Nurit Gertz, and by their two daughters. One, Rona Kenan, is a popular Israeli singer. His funeral is scheduled for Thursday at a kibbutz cemetery in central Israel, Avery said.