To Avraham Burg, former Knesset speaker, former chairman of the World Zionist Organization and son of one of Israel’s founding fathers, it is all of those things and more. In a new book, “Defeating Hitler,” and in a much-discussed interview in Ha’aretz last week, Burg argues that the time for Herzl’s Zionism is past. Now it is time for Ahad Ha’am’s Zionism, for Israel as a spiritual beacon.
Israel has lived long enough in the shadow of trauma and fear, he argues. Now is the time for trust — trust in Israel’s place in the world, in the possibility of coexistence, in the moral legacy of Judaism.
That, at least, is how Burg describes his message. You’d hardly know it, though, from the Ha’aretz interview and the response it’s gotten in Israel and the broader Jewish world. The interviewer, Ari Shavit, read the book and admits he detested it. ...
I phoned Burg because the interview looked fishy to me. I hadn’t read his new book, but I know Burg.
Is it true, I asked, that he believes Israel can no longer be a Jewish state?
“I think Israel should be defined not as a Jewish state, but as a state of the Jewish people,” Burg said. “What I mean is that the significance of the state’s content, its culture and ethos and so on, should be placed on the shoulders of every one of us. We shouldn’t be on automatic pilot.” “I see Israel as a state that was created by the Jewish people, as the expression of thousands of years of yearning,” he said. “Its governing structures should be democratic. Its content should be created by its people. When you create something called a Jewish state and then leave it on automatic pilot, the individual bears no responsibility for its content and character.”
Burg has harsh words for Israel’s current character. He believes that years of confrontation and fear have spawned a militaristic spirit and a widespread contempt for universal norms like human rights....
“What I want to do is to expand the borders of Israel beyond land and location to include universalism and spiritual search,” Burg told me. “We were raised on the Zionism of Ben-Gurion, that there is only one place for Jews and that’s Israel. I say no, there have always been multiple centers of Jewish life.” ...
“If a state is Jewish,” Burg said, “it is founded on a certain measure of holiness. Moses himself defined holiness as an ongoing process of actions, of behavior toward others and toward God. I am very afraid of automatic holiness. It can lead to chauvinism, to exclusivism, to all kinds of negative ramifications in relations between individuals and between nations. The Jewish people after 60 years of statehood cannot allow itself to take its holiness for granted. It has to question itself every day.”
This makes a whole lot more sense to me than did the portrayal of Burg in the Haaretz interview that I excerpted in a posting last week. The book is not yet available in English.
Sunday, June 17, 2007