June 21, 2007
Call for ‘new’ spiritual Zionism stirs debate
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Elected to the Knesset in 1988, he resigned in 1995 to run for chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency for Israel, a post traditionally reserved for washed-up ex-politicians. In 1999, he returned to politics. Riding that year's Labor Party election victory, he became speaker of the Knesset.
In the fall of 2003, a few months after leaving the speaker's post, Burg gained international notoriety for an article that was published in Yediot Aharonot, translated by the Forward and then reprinted worldwide, in which he claimed that Israel's ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was undermining the moral foundations of Zionism. That was taken, by Israel's friends and enemies alike, to mean that Zionism had lost all moral justification -- something he never said. Soon afterward, he left politics entirely and entered business.
His latest outing in Ha'aretz seems like a rerun of his 2003 misadventure -- especially the part where his provocative thesis is circulated in a slightly garbled version and makes him a b?te noire. He claims to be annoyed, but he seems at least a bit amused at the same time.
During the interview with Shavit, he recalled with a chuckle, "I got him angry when I said, 'You have abandoned Judaism. You have an Israeli identity without Jewish content. You identify Judaism with narrow particularism and settlements. I suggest you go to see places where Judaism is a universalistic ideal. Go and learn the meaning of Reform and Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism.'"
"What I want to do is to expand the borders of Israel beyond land and location to include universalism and spiritual search," Burg told me. "We were raised on the Zionism of Ben-Gurion, that there is only one place for Jews, and that's Israel. I say no, there have always been multiple centers of Jewish life."
And what about Shavit's claim -- repeated in a headline -- that Burg favors abolishing Israel's Law of Return?
"I never said 'abolish,'" Burg replied. "I said 'rethink.' Look, in the parliamentary mythology of Israel, the Law of Return is an answer to the Nuremberg Laws. That's not its actual origin, but that's how it has come to be seen. Whomever Hitler would have killed, we will accept as a Jew. And I say Hitler will not define me and who I am." Hence the book's title, "Defeating Hitler."
"If a state is Jewish," Burg said, "it is founded on a certain measure of holiness. Moses himself defined holiness as an ongoing process of actions, of behavior toward others and toward God. I am very afraid of automatic holiness. It can lead to chauvinism, to exclusivism, to all kinds of negative ramifications in relations between individuals and between nations. The Jewish people after 60 years of statehood cannot allow itself to take its holiness for granted. It has to question itself every day."
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