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Zionist ‘Prince’, Now Ex-Zionist

By Ralph Seliger

As the son of Yosef Burg, a founder of Israel and leader of the then-moderate religious-Zionist party who served as a cabinet minister in virtually all Israeli governments from 1951 until 1986, Avraham Burg* may be considered a veritable “prince” of Zionism. The younger Burg was also once at the pinnacle of power in Israel, serving variously as: the simultaneous head of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency, the speaker of Israel’s parliament, acting president of the State of Israel (for 20 days in 2000), and coming within a hairsbreadth of being elected chair of the Labor party and its candidate for prime minister in 2003.

In 2004, Burg resigned from the Knesset and public service.  He then wrote a number of controversial articles and books sharply critical of Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians and even of Israel’s ongoing Zionist ethos.  These include, The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise From its Ashes (MacMillan, 2008).

In 2015, Burg joined the non-Zionist Hadash party, the binational but mostly Arab party that is the largest component of the Joint Arab List.  My sense is that, having given up on ever leading Israel as prime minister, he’s now rejecting the Zionist movement that he once formally led; but he opposed the Hadash alignment with hardline Palestinian nationalists and Islamists to form the Joint List, preferring a bi-nationalist movement of Arabs and Jews.  Most recently he called for a joint Jewish-Arab list in the coming Jerusalem municipal elections (where non-citizen residents of East Jerusalem are permitted to vote), suggesting Arab Member of Knesset Ahmed Tibi as its head; it’s not clear that Tibi is interested, however.

Burg’s talk in New York, on Feb. 26, was part of the book tour for his new memoir, In Days to Come: A New Hope for Israel.  Passages read by interviewer Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, the New York/Tri-State regional director of the New Israel Fund, were gripping.  They included the tale of his mother’s family in Hebron during the massacre of 1929, when one part was massacred at his uncle’s home and another, cowering at his grandparents’ house, was saved by their Arab landlord, remembering his debt to Burg’s grandfather, a rabbi, for having “saved” a desperately ill son with his prayers. (I hate to add this, but I cannot say if this Arab notable would have acted so nobly if he had not felt indebted to Burg’s maternal grandfather.)

It was a charming and entertaining conversation until almost the end of the Q & A.  When an older woman expressed concern that his laudable advocacy of equality under the law for Jews and non-Jews not jeopardize the Law of Return for Jews in need of refuge, Burg seemed hostile.  He responded vehemently that Israel’s not there as a “shelter” for Diaspora Jews, thus rejecting the fundamental motivation for Israel’s creation.

Postscript: I’ve been reminded of my two previous blog posts on Burg at what was then the Meretz USA Blog and is now that of Partners for Progressive Israel: “The Avraham Burg Controversy was written almost exactly ten years ago, and “Avraham Burg: Israel’s gadfly” one year later.  In the former, I make the following observation:

. . .  Burg’s right that Israelis and Jews by in large are still traumatized by the Holocaust and that this impacts upon policies and views in unhealthy ways, but you don’t treat trauma by yelling at people to “get over it,” which is essentially what he’s doing.

*Use of photo of Avraham Burg permitted by attribution to David Shankbone.


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