It’s been less than a year since Avraham Burg – former Knesset speaker, Jewish Agency chief, and scion of one of Israel’s most illustrious founding families – shocked his countrymen with some harsh appraisals of the Zionist enterprise (see an abridged English version of the Ha’aretz story that started the trouble here, and a more apologetic take on Burg in the Forward here). Israel’s leftist critics cheered – “Even impeccably credentialed Zionists cannot deny the truth of Israel’s evil!” – while Israelis either jeered or shook their heads in shocked confusion.
On Tuesday, Burg made his first stateside appearance since the controversy. The first thing to be said about the event is that it was long, nearly two hours long, run-down-the-batteries-on-my-MP3-recorder long. And people began drifting out well before it was over.
So nuanced and sophisticated are Burg’s critiques of the Jewish state that he cannot possibly express them in the pithy sound-bites we journalists crave. Instead, each question presented to him occasioned a background statement, a philosophical argument, a cheesy joke or two, and of course a story.
Since Burg won’t do it himself, here – briefly – are the salient points:
- Aliyah has effectively ended, thinking of Israel as a refuge for the Jewish oppressed is no longer meaningful, and Israeli society has therefore lost any sense of grand ideological purpose.
- Israel cannot find a new purpose because the quality of political intellectualizing is so low – a pathology Burg no doubt believes he stands in stark exception to – which is itself a consequence of Israel’s obsession with the Holocaust.
- The Holocaust has become a religion in Israel, traumatizing the society and making it fearful and untrusting. But fear not, for there is something more powerful than trauma – love. (For the record, I checked and that is not a lyric from a Barry Manilow song.)
- Israel should separate church and state, America-style, and move away from the Judaism of parochial concerns towards a universal, humanist Judaism. (Rabbi Sherwin Wine would have been most proud.)
If you still haven’t had enough, here’s some audio of the event.