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Former Knesset Speaker Says ‘Law of Return’ Mirrors Hitler

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One of my touchstones for trying to understand Israel is something Tony Kushner said to me a year ago: that most American Jews’ idea of Israel is a "fantasy built on a delusion." They have little idea what it’s really like; it represents Jewish dreams of power and persecution. When I went to Israel last summer, I was struck by two large sad impressions: the militarism, and the fact that Jews had as little to do with Arabs as possible. The bottom line for me came when a friend said, "They don’t want us here; so we must accept that we will have one war after another…" Despair.

The tragedy of the Israel lobby is that Americans are prevented from considering this reality, of a cycle of violence that has brutalized both sides, because the only message we get is: The Palestinians are terrorists, Israel is a democracy. When in fact, Israelis have a far more open debate about these matters than we do.

This is a long preamble to a shocking interview in Ha’aretz with Avrum Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset, who lately published a book in Hebrew called Defeating Hitler that
says that Israel has taken on many of the characteristics of the
fascist regime that sought to wipe out the Jews. This interview is evidently the talk of Israel. In fact, I learned about it from Daniel Gordis‘s blog. I disagree with Gordis right down the line, but to his credit, the interview has plunged him into soul-searching. Indeed, the Burg interview is so stunningly prophetic–"the Law of Return," he says, "is the mirror image of Hitler. I don’t want Hitler to define my identity"–that it should be in the New York Times and on synagogue pulpits. It isn’t. Thanks to the Israel lobby.

What follow are excerpts that underline arguments I’ve made in this blog: 1. The post-Holocaust west is a
utopia for Jews. Jews must recognize this and celebrate this, and deal
with the consequences. Herzl’s vision of political Zionism was based
on a belief in the undying antisemitism of the west. It just ain’t
true. 2, Political Zionism has run its course. A state based on the idea that I
can move there tomorrow and a Palestinian born there has no right to
move home is dedicated to an outmoded ideology. 3, Zionism is exacting
a terrible price on Jewish identity.

But I’ll shut up now.

Ari Shalit: So you confirm that you are no longer a Zionist?

Burg: Already
at the First Zionist Congress, Herzl’s Zionism was victorious over the
[cultural] Zionism of Ahad Ha’am. I think that the 21st century should be the
century of Ahad Ha’am. We have to leave Herzl behind and move to Ahad

Does this mean that you no longer find the notion of a Jewish state acceptable?

can’t work anymore. To define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is
the key to its end. A Jewish state is explosive. It’s dynamite.

And a Jewish-democratic state?

find this very comfortable. It’s lovely. It’s schmaltzy. It’s
nostalgic. It’s retro. It gives a sense of fullness. But
‘Jewish-democratic’ is nitroglycerine….The Law of Return is an apologetic law. It is the mirror image of Hitler. I don’t want Hitler to define my identity… Of the three identities that form me – human, Jewish and Israeli – I feel that the Israeli element deprives the other two… I say that as of this moment, Israel is a state of trauma in nearly every one of its dimensions.

Are you concerned about a fascist debacle in Israel?

I think it is already here….Look at the fence. The separation fence is a fence
against paranoia…What is the thinking here? That I will
erect a big wall and the problem will be solved because I will not see
them….The fence physically demarcates the end of Europe.
It says that this is where Europe ends. It says that you are the
forward post of Europe and the fence separates you from the barbarians.
Like the Roman Wall. Like the Wall of China. But that is so pathetic.
And it is a bill of divorce from the vision of integration. There is
something so xenophobic about it. So insane. And it comes just at a
time when Europe itself, and the world with it, has made such an
impressive advance in internalizing the lessons of the Holocaust and
has fomented a great advance in the normative behavior of nations.

The truth is that you are a salient Europist. You live in Nataf but you are all Brussels. The prophet of Brussels.

Completely. I see the European Union as a biblical utopia. I don’t know
how long it will hold together, but it is amazing. It is completely

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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