Avraham Burg, former chairman of the Jewish Agency and Kneeset Speaker, has caused quite a ruckus round these parts. Ahead of the launch of his book, Defeating Hitler, Burg gave an interview to Haaretz, in which he said things that surprised even those who thought they new the renegade Laborite. It’s always dangerous to take short quotes out a long interview but Burg is too clever a man to have said what he said without meaning it. In response to one question about the notion of a Jewish state, Burg answered “to define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end. A Jewish state is explosive. It's dynamite." Burg, now a successful businessman based in France where he bears a French passport added that he considers himself a “citizen of the world, afterward Jew and only after that Israeli”.
The response was explosive. Burg is now considered a traitor by many, while others are trying to explain it as some kind of psychological, ideological breakdown. Kadima MK Otniel Schneller called for Burg not to be buried in the section of Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl Cemetery reserved for national leaders, even if this requires passing special legislation.
Burg’s interview is in Zionist terms what a Jewish child marrying out is in religious terms. He has turned his back on the State of Israel, on the Zionist vision and the Jewish people. Not to mention his father’s legacy. From the far left to the far right there have been Israeli personalities whose opinions I have found to be deeply mistaken and self-damaging, but they remain true to Zionism. Burg has left the fold and is determined not to do so quietly.
When a Jewish child marries out, the natural reaction is often to disown him. As Chava desperately begs her father to accept her decision to marry out, Tevye asks “How can I accept them? Can I deny everything I believe in?” Burg has married out of the Zionist family and we should make our disapproval known. That said, we should do so in a sensitive way – try to understand where this change has come from – and do everything we can to make sure the door stays open to him. The Zionist project is relatively young and has a long way to go. We can look at the state of government or the dire relations between Israelis and Palestinians and easily give up hope. But being a true Zionist in 2007 is about realizing that we have a long way to go and that we’ll only get there with faith and commitment.