Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum

Avraham Burg and The Question of Zion

Posted by Admin on June 11, 2007

A furore has broken out in Israel following the publication of an interview in Ha’aretz Weekend Magazine with Avraham Burg, in which he repudiated the idea of Israel as a Jewish state.

Burg, who was the former speaker of the Knesset and Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, was interviewed on the eve of the publication of his book “Defeating Hitler”.

His interlocutor, Ari Shavit, observed in a preface to the interview:

I was outraged by the book. I saw it as a turning away of an Israeli colleague from our shared Israeliness. I saw it as a one-dimensional and unempathetic attack on the Israeli experience. Still, the dialogue with Avrum was riveting. We got angry at each other and raised our voices at each other and circled each other warily like two wounded gladiators in the arena. You can’t take away from Avrum what he has. You can’t take away the education or the articulateness or the ability to touch truly painful places. Maybe that’s why he is so infuriating. Friend and predator; brother and deserter.

The following excerpts from the interview underline the extent to which Burg’s views represent a radical departure from the prevailing Israeli consensus:

Avrum Burg, I read your new book, “Defeating Hitler,” as a parting from Zionism. Am I wrong? Are you still a Zionist?

“I am a human being, I am a Jew and I am an Israeli. Zionism was an instrument to move me from the Jewish state of being to the Israeli state of being. I think it was Ben-Gurion who said that the Zionist movement was the scaffolding to build the home, and that after the state’s establishment it should be dismantled.”

So you confirm that you are no longer a Zionist?

“Already at the First Zionist Congress, Herzl’s Zionism was victorious over the Zionism of Ahad Ha’am. I think that the 21st century should be the century of Ahad Ha’am. We have to leave Herzl behind and move to Ahad Ha’am.”

Does this mean that you no longer find the notion of a Jewish state acceptable?

“It can’t work anymore. To define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end. A Jewish state is explosive. It’s dynamite.”

And a Jewish-democratic state?

“People find this very comfortable. It’s lovely. It’s schmaltzy. It’s nostalgic. It’s retro. It gives a sense of fullness. But ‘Jewish-democratic’ is nitroglycerine.”

We have to change the national anthem?

“The anthem is a symbol. I would be ready to buy into a reality in which everything is fine and only the anthem is screwed-up.”

Do we have to amend the Law of Return?

“We have to open the discussion. The Law of Return is an apologetic law. It is the mirror image of Hitler. I don’t want Hitler to define my identity.”

While many would consider his views to be heretical, Burg’s critique forces us to re-examine our assumptions about what the philosopher, Dr Brian Klug, refers to as the “Gordian knot of seamless identity”, namely the axiom that Israel and the Jewish people are central to each other’s identity.

We welcome your thoughts on these issues.

3 Responses to “Avraham Burg and The Question of Zion”

  1. Gerry Atrick said

    The vast majority of identifying Jews are not ready for Burg’s post-Zionist ideology. But that doesn’t mean he has nothing important to say on the subject of Israel, and he has excellent credentials.

    Burg mentions the Ahad Ha’am, Asher Zvi Ginsberg, who was Chaim Weizmann’s quietly observing scout and reporter on the spot in Palestine for several years at the turn of the last century. In 1911 he wrote to Weizmann “The land is fully cultivated, the Arabs are cunning and they will not yield it easily”. Source: “Geoffrey Wheatcroft, A Controversy of Zion”.

    There are few left in Israel from either the right or the left who would still subscribe to the views of the Scottish Friends of Israel speaker at a presentation during an event at Newton Mearns Shul a few short years ago, who publicly uttered the arrant nonsense that the Arabs of Palestine mainly arrived in response to job opportunities provided by incoming 20th century Jewish settlers!

    So Burg maybe ahead of his time in taking his provocative position, and his time may well never come, but he goes to the painful places of the debate including some hitherto no-go areas. And that is to the good.

    It’ll be interesting to see if this thread of the blog catches on.

  2. Moshe said

    It will be very interesting to see what reaction within the Anglo-Jewish Community there is to Burg’s interview.
    Remember this is a guy with top notch credentials who visited the UK, including Glasgow, on behalf of UJIA, only a few years ago to launch their campaign.
    Now, he is questioning the entire ethos of this organisation in relation to Israel.
    He is suggesting that the experience of Jews today, living in Europe and America is preferable to that of Jews living in Israel.
    This should cause uproar. I wonder how the Jewish press in the Uk will deal with this?

  3. Onlooker said

    Avraham Burg has raised some very important points.

    The following article is worth looking at. It puts the Haaretz article in proper context.

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