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Avraham Burg’s Israeli vision, and French passport

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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.

Some excerpts:

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.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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21 Responses

  1. Boomer on January 18, 2015, 1:50 pm

    How does one acquire a French passport? Life there is good, from what I’ve heard, very good indeed. Maybe we all should get one.

    • Walid on January 18, 2015, 2:03 pm

      Marry a French citizen, Boomer, and you’ll get one in 3 years without having to live there during that time. It used to be the country where Jews were happiest, until Netanyahu started putting spooky ideas in their heads that they were no longer safe there.

      • Boomer on January 18, 2015, 3:11 pm

        Thanks for the tip, Walid. I’ve always been attracted to French women! Since elementary school, when I had a teacher with a delightful French accent. I guess it is time for me to brush up on my French. But wait . . . there’s a catch. Gotta find a French woman who is willing. That could be a problem:-)

    • Mooser on January 19, 2015, 1:53 pm

      How does one acquire a French passport?”

      Don’t think twice!

  2. MHughes976 on January 18, 2015, 2:24 pm

    The Law of Return was in part what Burg says, ie a way of offering a refuge to persecuted Jewish people, but it was also something else, a way of affirming the basic principle of Zionism, that the Holy Land is the place where Jewish people have overriding rights, eclipsing the idea that the main reason for citizenship is birth in the relevant place.
    Whether the need for a refuge still exists would be disputed between Burg and (not only) Netanyahu, who would laugh loudly and refer Burg to Mr. Coulibaly. But in any event the Zionist principle is vibrantly alive. I think that Burg deceives himself – yet again they tell themselves, yet again they believe themselves – into thinking that Zionism in itself and the resistance to are not and have not always formed the reason why there has been an intractable problem in the HL for so long.

    • jd65 on January 18, 2015, 11:54 pm

      I think that Burg deceives himself… Agreed, Mhughes976. Ever since I read Burg’s piece “Israel’s Fading Democracy” in the NY Times a few years back, I’ve seen him as a typically deceptive self-styled so-called “Liberal Zionist.” Self-deceiving and otherwise. All of his observations are filtered through the high powered, Zionist-designed rose-colored glasses you see him wearing in the picture above. I believe they were designed by the, then, newly formed Israeli Records Department of the Ministry of Truth in 1948 to perpetually alter the wearer’s perceptions of the sins of Israel’s past into not-so-bad, or even wholly moral and ethical, events and acts. They’re a technical marvel and were way ahead of their time: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Jewish State. When this thoroughly imagined and cleansed past history is what passes in one’s (Burg’s) mind for reality, what kind of respect can one have for that person? For me, the answer is none.

  3. Whizdom on January 18, 2015, 2:29 pm

    Burgs view is that Zionism (should have) ended when an independent Jewish state was established. When the objectives of Zionism were achieved. The next logical phase would have been nation building, not an imperialist adventure that endangers the gains of Zionism.

    • Mooser on January 18, 2015, 5:23 pm

      “When the objectives of Zionism were achieved.”

      Gee, maybe the objectives of Zionism weren’t exactly what they told people?

  4. Keith on January 18, 2015, 3:49 pm

    MARC ELLIS- “…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.”

    Spot on! Even now, Israel and the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council have organizational affiliations with NATO. The global 1% are solidifying control.

  5. ivri on January 18, 2015, 4:33 pm

    The confederation idea is, not surprisingly, a mainstream one – nothing revolutionary – as it ensures the continuity of a Jewish state while solving the current thorny issue of stateless West-Bankers. The only question is how exactly it will be formulated and the devil here is certainly in the details. What could alleviate a great deal of present aggravation is cooperation in economic developments – money and economic success can do wonders in tranquilizing political urges. That is much helped by the turmoil around Israel as the actual consequences for Palestinians of rocking the boat are all too clear to everybody there (the Gaza affair has served to accentuate that). So, one can in fact be pretty optimistic in regard to some federation framework as the likely exit from the quagmire and Burg in effect enjoys both worlds – so still remained a politician – namely, the real content of what he suggests is far closer to the Israeli center than the quasi-dramatic dressing of it.

    • Whizdom on January 18, 2015, 4:52 pm

      The confederation idea was built into the UNGA 181 Partition plan, after 5 years, the Jewish and Arab states would have a referendum to confederate or not, and to decide the status of the Corpus Seperatum that included Jerusalem.

      At the time, it was judged that there was too much animosity between the parties for any hope of federation as part of a near term settlement, so separating them and allowing for a cooling off period seemed wise.

    • eljay on January 18, 2015, 5:00 pm

      >> ivreee: The confederation idea is, not surprisingly, a mainstream one – nothing revolutionary – as it ensures the continuity of a Jewish state while solving the current thorny issue of stateless West-Bankers.

      An Israel-Palestine confederation should mean a confederation between:
      – an Israeli state – a state of and for all of its citizens, immigrants, ex-pats and refugees, equally; and
      – a Palestinian state (whatever its name and bureaucratic nationality happens to be) – a state of and for all of its citizens, immigrants, ex-pats and refugees, equally.

      Israel should not continue to exist as a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” – a state primarily of and for Jewish Israelis and non-Israeli Jews. No state should exist as a supremacist state.

  6. JLewisDickerson on January 18, 2015, 7:53 pm

    RE: “Burg makes the case for an inclusive future against an end-time scenario without ethics. . . Almost everything is moving in the opposite direction. This includes Burg’s safety-valve French passport.” ~ Marc Ellis

    MY COMMENT: Unfortunately, it appears to me that progressive Israelis are leaving Israel only to be replaced by right-wing immigrants (making Aliyah) from the U.S., Canada, Australia, South Africa, France, etc. This right-wing shift seems to be an inevitable consequence of the of the Law of Return (i.e., the fast-track granting of Israeli citizenship to diaspora Jews).

  7. clenchner on January 18, 2015, 8:51 pm

    Avram Burg has officialy thrown in his considerable personal reputation behind Hadash, the only ‘Jewish-Arab’ party that is defined as such from the beginning and in it’s official founding documents.,7340,L-4615046,00.html

    Looking forward to the trolls denouncing Burg for this move, because moving from the Zionist left to the non-Zionist left isn’t nearly enough for some folks.

  8. Pixel on January 19, 2015, 2:30 am

    “His decade as prime minister is a lost decade.”

    I disagree.

    Netanyahu’s tenure will be recognized as pivotal –

    the decade during which the world woke up.

  9. JaapBo on January 19, 2015, 8:32 am

    One precondition for the emergence of an “Israel-Palestine confederation with open borders” is reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, and I can’t see reconciliation without an Israeli acknowledgement of the ethnic cleansings of 1948. The problem with Burg is that he doesn’t acknowledge that himself. He thinks Israel is behaving irrational because of the Holocaust. That’s his way of evading responsibility.

    If someone like Burg can’t get out of Israel’s selfserving delusions, how on earth can one expect Israel to get out?

    • Mooser on January 19, 2015, 1:45 pm

      “If someone like Burg can’t get out of Israel’s selfserving delusions,”

      Sure he can, unless he’s very unlucky. He’s got a French passport.

  10. mariapalestina on January 19, 2015, 2:48 pm

    Could be easier than you think, Boomer. Not sure the woman needs to be French. I believe just about any European passport will let you move to France to live and work there. As a U.S. citizen with a U.K. passport I believe I could move to any EU country without a problem. I certainly travel around the European Community easily, and I am covered by health insurance everywhere. So you might have a lot more possibilities than limiting your potential wife to a citizen of France.

  11. Boomer on January 19, 2015, 3:33 pm

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