Middle East Monitor / January 19, 2021
The current State of Israel “has very little to do with historic Judaism and the essence of Judaism,” the former Speaker of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, has told Haaretz. During a podcast interview, Avraham Burg spoke at length about his reasons for wanting to delete his registration as “Jewish” in the population register compiled by the Interior Ministry.
Earlier this month, Burg took this unprecedented step in response to Israel’s 2018 Jewish Nation State Law. Critics insist that the law has formalised apartheid in the occupation state. Burg’s move is incredible given that he also served as the country’s interim president and was head of the Jewish Agency, one of the most important institutions in Israel’s history.
The interviewer introduced Burg as “Zionist aristocracy”. The ex-Speaker talked about the aforementioned law, denouncing it for having “built in discrimination”. He said that Israel is promoting a “new Judaism” which went against values of “historical Judaism” to which he belonged.
Burg pointed out his knowledge of Hebrew and the Torah, and mentioned the important role that Judaism plays in his life and that of his family in order to highlight his opposition to the state of Israel, which he argued has abandoned the ancient tradition. “Judaism is a civilisation, it’s a culture it’s a way of life that nobody can grant me and nobody can deprive me of,” he explained. He is clearly committed to his faith, but is no longer so to the occupation state.
“Jewish state is an oxymoron,” said Burg as he explained that a state is a tool in the hands of the people and it cannot have a Jewish essence or the essence of any religion. “Community and culture can be Jewish,” but as soon as you give a state a Jewish essence, a religious essence, it’s no longer a democracy that belongs to its people. It becomes a source of authority. “Jewish and democratic is an illusion,” he added. No state, social organisation or company can have two opposing sources of authority: a democratic human source and a theocratic divine one. He suggested that Israel displays the characteristics of the latter.
Burg offered equally compelling explanations for his opposition to the Jewish Nation State Law. “This law is the tyranny of the majority rather than respecting traditional Judaism or the traditional political philosophy of the Jews all over the place.” Citing the principal of “different but equal, equal but different” he insisted that the ancient tradition of Judaism maintained a balance between a unique Jewish identity and the desire to preserve human equality. Israel, he claimed, has failed to maintain this balance.
Asked whether it was inevitable that political Zionism would descend into racist nationalism and if it had taken a wrong turn, Burg said that his role was not to re-write the past but create a better future. He places his trust in the Jewish diaspora and the Arab citizens of Israel to rescue the state from its existing course.