Burg to form joint Arab-Jewish party

Former Knesset speaker announces that new party 'Shai' will push for equality in Israeli society.

Avraham Burg 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Avraham Burg 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg announced this week that he plans to form a new joint Jewish-Arab party ahead of the next election, that would push for equality in Israeli society.
The new leftist party will be called Shai, which means “gift” in Hebrew and is an acronym for “equality in Israel” (shivyon yisrael). Burg said he would only announce the party’s candidates and platform ahead of the election, which is set for October 22, 2013, but could be held much earlier.
“The most important issue in Israel now is the distortion in the values of our democracy,” Burg told The Jerusalem Post. “The divides among rich and poor, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Jew and Arab, occupier and occupied all have in common inequality. Israel is becoming a nationalist, fundamentalist, theocratic state, which is the unholy triangle.”
Asked whether it was a problem for a former Jewish Agency head to form a party that could be half Arab, Burg responded: “That question shows the problem here. It shows how far we have fallen. All the ideas about loyalty oaths are intended to sow conflict, when we should be asking for fair treatment for our minorities here as we do for Jews around the world.”
Burg said it was unlikely that he would head the party and that he was not eager to leave the business world to begin a second political career. He said he would likely be the party’s 120th candidate or one place after the last realistic slot on the list.
After a dramatic failure to win the Labor leadership race when he was high up in the polls, Burg quit politics in June 2004, 12 years after he was first elected to the Knesset. He is the only man entitled to two graves for himself on Mount Herzl, because he was both Knesset speaker and Jewish Agency chairman.
Since his departure from politics, Burg has caused controversy by comparing Israel to 1930s Germany, calling for the repeal of the Law of Return, and pushing for Israel no longer to be called a Jewish state. He became a citizen of France, and voted by absentee ballot against French president Nicolas Sarkozy in the last election there.
At a rally in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood last week, Burg told reporters that a new party was needed because Meretz had too much baggage and supported Israel’s recent wars. He said there were emotional reasons that many Jews could not support the joint Arab-Jewish Hadash list.
In an article he wrote introducing the party on the Huffington Post Web site, Burg called Shai “a party of good tidings” at a time when there was no real change blowing in the wind. He called Kadima shallow and Shas a corpse, and mocked his former colleagues in Labor’s young guard as still waiting to “plan their grand attack.”
“[Shai] will sail far beyond the paradigms of classic Zionism, which to this day ignores the place of Israel’s Arabs,” Burg wrote. “It will demand full equality for all Israel’s citizens, the kind of equality we demand for the Jews in the Diaspora wherever they live.”
Burg said his party would cooperate with anyone willing to return to peaceful borders and to help end the occupation and all the injustices that spring from it. It would also push to change the political system.
“The political system in its present form deserves a thorough shake-up,” Burg wrote. “Its dead branches must be trimmed, its weeds and other unnecessary parts must be uprooted. These people [in politics today] are justified, but they are boring; they are the same types as before. Their efforts are an attempt to replace the dead fish with other fish that will also die. That is because no one is prepared to admit that the water is polluted and the sea must be changed.”