This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Avraham Burg, once leader of the Knesset, hasn’t retired to France yet, though he secured French citizenship after he left the political arena some years ago. At different times, Burg has encouraged other Israelis to secure foreign passports as well. Nonetheless, once in awhile Burg steps back into the political arena as a provocateur, as he did in an interview with YNet a few days ago.
Like many practicing and former politicians, Burg is easy to follow and sometimes hard to pin down. Nonetheless, some of Burg’s statements are incendiary, at least as it relates to normative Jewish discourse.
From 1948 to 1976, Israel was relatively secular, socialist, and statehood was its organizing principle. In 1977, with the rise to power of Menachem Begin, this came to an end. Since then, Israel has been in its religious-nationalistic-capitalist chapter, and territory is its organizing principle. Now the country has to choose where the third chapter will take it – to religious and nationalistic aggressiveness or normalcy. The dissatisfaction with Benjamin Netanyahu is a symbol of a far deeper dissatisfaction – not only with the man, but with the stagnation, with the economic and social degeneration.
The problem is that the left doesn’t present the transition to normalcy as the next stage. This transition requires major concessions that the left, too, isn’t ready for. The most painful issue is the Zionist issue. Forgoing the Law of Return, resolving the refugee problem. The Law of Return was a fast-track way of granting citizenship to Jews who were persecuted in various countries. This need no longer exists.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s time is up. And it doesn’t matter if it happens now or in the next election. He’s where Labor was in 1976. The only thing that could save him is a historic move, a constitution for Israel on the internal level, for example, or a peace agreement – otherwise he will disappear without trace. His decade as prime minister is a lost decade.
So far Burg is replaying his earlier views. Burg’s vision is familiar on the Left, of course, but coming from his former establishment position, they carry a subversive weight. When it comes to his predictions regarding Israel’s future over the next twenty years, he remains focused:
We are now at a critical juncture. In 20 years, the country will be in one of two places – either it will be a fundamentalist religious republic with Moshe Feiglin, or it will recover from the wars of the Jews over religion and state, and between the Jordan and the sea we will see the establishment of an Israel-Palestine confederation with open borders.
Palestine will be ruled by a party that has managed to eradicate the occupation by means of a non-violent civil uprising, and the two countries will share a constitution. Both will also be part of a regional union that will include Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus. Israel’s police, defense and foreign affairs ministers will come from the Arab community.
The Israel Defense Forces will be a professional army; and just like in the police or fire department, it will include people from all sectors. In a country that belongs to all its citizens, the army, too, belongs to all its citizens.
To the question of how this transformation will occur, Burg is certain: “What is perceived today as a minority opinion will become the strategy of the majority. For such a thing, all that is required is patience.”
Is Burg right? That is, beyond rhetoric, that the choice, politically taken, is between a “fundamentalist religious republic” and an the “establishment of an Israel-Palestine confederation with open borders” between Jordan and the sea? Will Israel-Palestine share a constitution and be part of a larger Middle East confederation?
Hope against hope, Burg makes the case for an inclusive future against an end-time scenario without ethics. Yet Burg’s counsel of patience and his dismissing of the Netanyahu years as wasted and ultimately to be forgotten seems too easy. Is time really on Burg’s side? A considered politics rather than patience seems the order of the day. Perhaps both will do the trick but the odds are long.
Almost everything is moving in the opposite direction. This includes Burg’s safety-valve French passport. The issue here isn’t about the safety of French Jews or the numbers of French Jews emigrating to Israel but the tightening international security noose that makes more likely a confederation in the Middle East that revolves around national security states than inclusive and expanding democracies.
Burg envisions a future worth embracing and, if it all doesn’t go down the Fundamentalist Religious Road – with the secular Israeli empire builders along for the ride, of course – Jews and Palestinians will be riding high. But note that Burg also has a way out if the going gets too rough. Against the “Je Suis” news cycle, in the next twenty years Burg and his family are as likely to be heading toward France.