Self-Hating Israeli: Avraham Burg
by Jerold Auerbach
Self-hating Jews have long been conspicuous in the Jewish world, fearfully and self-righteously distancing themselves from their people and even aligning with its enemies. For centuries Court Jews collaborated with Christian rulers to preserve their own wealth and stature. Jews who opposed Zionism lest a Jewish state challenge their loyalty as German, American, or British citizens were legion. Jews for whom Israel has become an embarrassment roam the halls of academe and infest the journalistic precincts where liberal anti-Semitism flourishes. Eager to embrace the indictments of their enemies, they are the self-chosen members of the Jewish hall of shame.
Jewish self-hatred, alas, is an infectious disease. Even Israelis, with every reason to be proud citizens of the only state in history to have restored national life in its own homeland after two thousand years of exile, are its self-inflicted victims. There is no better – or worse – example than Avraham Burg, son of a distinguished political and religious leader during the early years of statehood and a mother who survived the horrific Arab massacre of Hebron Jews in 1929.
Avraham Burg turned his back on religious Zionism to become active in an array of left-wing causes beginning with the Peace Now protest movement during the first Lebanon war. A rising political star, he became Speaker of the Knesset between 1999-2003. But the Second Intifada, which claimed the lives of more than one thousand Israelis in waves of horrific terrorist attacks, seemed to unhinge him. In the Guardian, an eager British receptacle for anti-Israeli tirades, Burg called for “The End of Zionism.” In Yedioth Ahronoth, he virtually exonerated terrorists because Israel had “ceased to care” about Palestinian children. By 2008 he regarded a Jewish state as “explosive” and advocated amending the Law of Return, which grants citizenship rights to immigrating Jews.
Given Burg’s vehement anti-Zionism, it is hardly surprising that he should find a welcoming home in The New York Times (August 5). Entitled “Israel’s Fading Democracy,” Burg’s diatribe reiterated endless Times editorials and Thomas Friedman columns.
Proudly identifying himself with a generation of Israeli “dreamers and builders who sought to create a new world, one without prejudice, racism or discrimination,” Burg lacerated Benjamin Netanyahu, “our warmongering prime minister,” who exerts “emotional extortion” from American Jews. Netanyahu forces them “to pressure the Obama administration” when Jews with a conscience should be “helping the American government to intervene and save Israel from itself.”
Israel, in Burg’s diatribe, has betrayed its secular democratic ideals to become “a religious, capitalist state.” Alas, “something went wrong” with Jewish democracy, producing “the evil effects of brutally controlling another people against their will.”
The meaning of “Jewish” has changed: from “national and secular,” it has become “ethnic and religious.” As Israel has become “more fundamentalist and less modern,” ultra-Orthodox Jews and ultranationalist settlers have gained power that Burg clearly wishes to be reserved for Peace Now and J-Street (which he also supports).
Not a word from Burg, to be sure, about unrelenting Arab and Muslim attempts and continuing threats to annihilate Israel, including Iranian President Ahmadinijad’s call last week for “annihilation of the Zionist regime.” Nothing said about the incessant international campaign to delegitimize Israel by libeling it as a “racist” and “apartheid” state. Nor about the right of Jews, internationally guaranteed since 1920, to settle everywhere west of the Jordan River. Instead, Burg feels “the winds of isolation and narrowness” that blow through Israel, portending the disappearance of “all vestiges of democracy” when Israel becomes “just another Middle Eastern theocracy.”
Israel, Burg warns, cannot be defined as a democracy once “a Jewish minority rules over a Palestinian majority” between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. This endlessly reiterated doomsday scenario is, however, a demographic mirage. Between the River and the Sea, Jews now comprise two-thirds of the population. With rising Jewish and falling Arab birthrates, that disparity is far likelier to increase than decrease in the foreseeable future. There is virtually no likelihood of a “Jewish minority” ruling over the “Palestinian majority” that Burg preposterously labels “the original inhabitants of the land.” Even before King David, no doubt.
Burg’s recommended solution – “two neighboring states for two peoples” – is familiar. But beginning in 1937 with the Peel Commission partition plan, the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to reject it. Nor do they seem to want the already existing Palestinian state in Jordan, carved from Palestine by Winston Churchill in 1921, with a majority Palestinian population. Another Palestinian state is superfluous.
Burg anticipates “cynics who are smiling sarcastically” as they read his prescription for “good old Israel” to finally replicate “righteous America.” But Burg’s vision of a Jewish state without discernible Jewish content, within boundaries that Abba Eban aptly described as “Auschwitz borders,” deserves swift dismissal as delusional. The American government is hardly needed “to save Israel from itself.” For nearly sixty-five years Israel has saved itself from far worse enemies, including the self-hating Jews in its midst.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of Against the Grain: A Historian’s Journey (published by Quid Pro Books).