Analysis: Is Burg eyeing the EU's new Jerusalem?

Trying to make sense of the toxic critique of Israel by a former Jewish Agency Chairman and Knesset speaker.

Avraham Burg 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Avraham Burg 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In one of the near-Pavlovian reactions to Avraham Burg's new book, Defeating Hitler, and to Burg's interview in Friday's Haaretz repudiating Israeliness and Zionism in its current form, a member of Knesset has suggested passing a law depriving Burg of his right to be buried in the "Greats of the Nation" section on Mount Herzl. Such a law would have to be passed twice, since Burg is the only person with a double claim on a prime burial plot, as both a former chairman of the Jewish Agency and an ex-speaker of the Knesset. The list of Burg's claims to a central place in the Zionist edifice goes on and on: It includes having been chairman of Labor (albeit only for two days, until voting irregularities led to a change in the results), the party that founded the state, and of course being the son of one of the most respected veterans of Israeli politics, the late longtime NRP head Yosef Burg. So how, people ask, can Burg now be saying such awful things? Much of the shock, though, is out of place. There is nothing new about Burg's positions; he wrote similar things four years ago in an article titled "The End of Zionism" in Yediot Aharonot and then reprinted, with his permission, in Le Monde, the Guardian, the Forward, The International Herald Tribune and the Suddeutche Zeitung. In that article he described Zionism today as "a structure built on human callousness." His country, which at the time was being struck by waves of suicide bombers, was accused of "having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians" and therefore "should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. "They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill a thousand ringleaders a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below - from the wells of hatred and anger, from the 'infrastructures' of injustice and moral corruption." In his latest book and interview, Burg merely expands on this theme: Zionism has failed; Israel is eerily reminiscent of early 1930s Germany; paranoid, xenophobic and insane, it has failed to become a spiritual center for the world. He also claims that no important Jewish writing is done in Israel at all. Yes, well, not really anything new there. What is interesting, if only for those who are keen followers of the political scene and can't release themselves from a strange fascination with Burg's self-destructive career, is the timing of this diatribe. It comes three years after Burg left public life for private business, but only weeks after we learnt that Burg had, through his wife, obtained French citizenship and actually used his new passport to vote in the recent presidential elections. For this, now, is Burg with a distinct European flavor. As he told his interviewer, "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 Jewish." And explaining his vote, he expanded: "I am a citizen of the world. This is my hierarchy of identities: citizen of the world, afterward Jew and only after that Israeli. I feel a weighty responsibility for the peace of the world. And [new French president Nicolas] Sarkozy is in my eyes a threat to world peace. That is why I went to vote against him." Burg has always been adept not only at pointing out what is so wrong with Israel but also at finding out what is so right for Avrum, and (although this is total conjecture) there would seem to be a thrust of self-interest in his newfound Europhilia. Business hasn't been that great for him. A major privatization deal of the Ashot-Ashkelon company fell through, resulting in a police fraud squad investigation and harsh words from the state comptroller. He might have been exonerated, but the suspicion that he was acting on behalf of two criminal suspects can't have done his career much good. In the interview, he expressed weariness with his new life. But what to do? The course back to senior public office in Israel is blocked, and Burg is realistic enough to know that. But wait, his new EU passport opens up a whole new horizon of well-upholstered jobs in the extensive European bureaucracy. Perhaps Brussels is Burg's new Jerusalem, and his latest words are designed to sound as music to the ears of the EU commissioners - the commissioners who dole out the hefty salaries, travel allowances and corner offices with a view in the European Commission's headquarter Berlaymont Building.