Avrum Burg and the demise of Socialist Zionism

Those who would forget the past typically also ignore reality.

Avraham Burg (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Avraham Burg
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The conversion to anti-Zionism of the former chairman of The World Zionist Organization Avrum Burg, who joined the Communist- inclined Hadash party and now calls for relinquishing the Jewish nature of Israel, angered many Israelis, who deplored his betrayal of Labor Zionism and of the Oslo and Geneva spirit. But the brief storm subsided without raising the question of what his conversion tells us not only about Avrum but about the Labor Zionist ideology.
A scion of an Orthodox family – Avrum’s father Yosef Burg was a central figure in the National Religious Party – Avrum exploited his religious observance to make his conversion a melodrama. He repeatedly denounced Zionism, and made a point of traveling on Shabbat to the mostly Arab Hadash party conclave in Nazareth, asserting that converting Israel into “a state of all its citizens,” and erasing its distinct Jewish nature, was our only hope for survival, and therefore justified desecrating Shabbat.
Burg could not be blunter about his total rejection of Zionism, or his contempt for Judaism, than by cynically breaching Jewish law with this provocative gesture.
Israel has now its own Pied Piper from the Nataf. Burg plays a fetching tune. A very skilled debater, he comes across as a sincere and very sophisticated (or sophistical?) person who courageously offers Israel a bold new vision that in one fell swoop, through a change in its identity, can annul the existential threats facing it. In reality, however, Burg has merely made explicit what was hidden in Labor Zionism’s and its Peace Camp’s ethos for years: a aversion for Judaism and especially for religion, which they consider retrograde and seductive competition to the secular faith of Socialism.
Burg enticingly calls on us to forget the past, to overcome our “obsession” with the Shoah, to shed the fear of enemies out to destroy us and to abjure the Jewish nature of Israel, its founding ethos, in order to look to the future, a bright future of an Israel that will be “a state of all its citizens,” acceptable to the Arabs. It will be a state where everyone, Jew and Arab, will live in equality and amity and benefit from the equal opportunities that a socialist system offers (as in the days of Mapai, perhaps?).
Equality, he predicts, will abolish envy and hatred. Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the radical Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, and the right-wing Moshe Feiglin will live peacefully in public housing, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will share hummus in Hebron.
It is possible, of course, to try and forget the past, even the present, by indulging in fantasy. Socialists do that all the time. But the past, and its unpleasant consequences, will not disappear, even if Burg forgets thee, oh Jerusalem. Burg apparently considers himself exempt from tackling reality because, like his mentor, Shimon Peres, he is a man of vision, and vision transcends reality. A man of vision does not have to explain the slogans which he spews with great abandon.
So let us examine some, starting with “equality.” People believe of course in equality before the law, but as with the biblical injunction to pursue justice, a clear objective, it is easier said than done. You pursue things that are hard to get. Justice is often discriminatory.
Only a few offenders get caught, and few can afford the services of top attorneys.
To try, as Burg demands, to institute overall equality among all is preposterous since people are innately different, namely unequal, both in their makeup and in their circumstances. Inequality, as James Madison observed, is also often beneficial. It encourages creativity and the urge to excel.
Moreover, when Burg extols equality he has in mind a much loftier goal. Like the French revolutionaries who foisted on us “Egalite, Fratrenite” (while chopping off heads) he would have Jews and Arabs fraternize, immaterial of what they espouse or how they behave, since multiculturalism teaches us that even cannibals must not be ostracized if they do not embrace a Western-style or a vegan diet, since we are all God’s children.
Knotty reality often complicates such lofty aspirations. Good intentions, we know, often lead to hell – because it is very dangerous to treat all people equally while ignoring how they behave and what set of beliefs they espouse. There are cultures, like Islam, with many adherents who ardently believe that they must impose its laws on everyone, upon pain of death. Such a belligerent culture, whose victims are not only “disbelievers” but also its own people, women, children and the weak, must not be lovingly embraced. It must be fought.
BUT WHAT can you expect from “peace lovers” such as Burg who believe that to promote human rights for the poor, oppressed Palestinians we must subject them, as we cynically did in Oslo, to a bunch of killers and robbers led by an arch-terrorist, so that he will ostensibly fight Hamas (which Israeli governments helped establish to fight Fatah!) on our behalf? What can you expect from those who think that it is a humanitarian duty to “liberate” poor Palestinians by upgrading their criminal “authority” to a state, so that it can continue oppressing and robbing them with greater authority.
Those who would forget the past typically also ignore reality. Socialism, Burg believes, will guarantee equality and must be resurrected in Israel. But not long ago, its universally most promising and benevolent experiment, the Israeli collectivist sector, collapsed after 100 years of hegemony (generously funded by American Jews) while almost bankrupting Zionism. By creating an incomparable concentration of political and economic power, Socialist Zionism corrupted Israel’s politics and its economy and caused widespread poverty and bitter divisions.
It demonstrated once again that even in what attempted to be a democracy, socialism, which in practice means the domination of politicians over society and the economy (how else can you nationalize everything and “redistribute wealth”) is a prescription for calamity. It brings out the worse in people: envy and a perpetual struggle for government favors. A strong concentration of political and economic power creates widespread nepotism, destructive inefficiencies, waste and corruption in all their permutations.
This remains true whether it happens in North Korea or Israel. Is this what Burg wishes for? There are those who dismiss Burg’s shenanigans as the final blasts from an old windbag.
But they may be too easily dismissing the charm such empty blasts often hold for the young, who are attracted to enticingly simplistic formulations like “The people demand social justice,” however defined. They should remember Peres who, after abandoning the realpolitik views that had led him to secure Israel’s safety in Dimona, started believing in his own wiseacre puns and that an agreement with the criminal Palestinian Authority would secure peace in our time.
Talk is cheap. It is easy to blabber about equality and Socialism – but it is dangerous.
The young, who undergo massive neo-Marxist brainwashing in our universities, can be easily seduced by the empty slogans that Burg weaves out of thin air.
After acting for years as a false prophet Burg now upgraded himself to a false Messiah. We ought to watch out.
The author is the founder and director of ICSEP (www.icsep.org. il) an independent public policy think tank.