The apple that fell far from the tree

Former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg has become a citizen of the world. Good riddance.

Avraham Burg 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Avraham Burg 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg's father, Josef Burg, was an elder statesman of Israeli politics and religious Zionism. The senior Burg was respected by both secular and Orthodox segments of Israeli society. He was a dignified leader and esteemed scholar who did much to bridge the gap between the Orthodox and secular worlds. He served as a minister in all Israeli governments from the first years of the state until the 1980s. When asked whether he considered the "national" or the "religious" component more important in the national-religious equation, he quipped, "For me, what is most important is the hyphen," referring to the bridge joining the two worlds. Josef Burg was known for his moderation and pragmatism, looking for compromise and practical solutions based on the ideals of modern Orthodoxy and national unity. His son Avraham, however, became a left-wing activist. Though a kippa-wearing Orthodox Jew, "Avrum" preferred the Labor Party to the National Religious Party his father served so well, and in 1988 was elected to the Knesset. In 1995, Avrum Burg left the Knesset to become executive chairman of the Jewish Agency. Josef Burg died in 1999, having lived to see his son elected Speaker of the Knesset. Later, Avrum vied for, but failed to win the leadership of the Labor Party. He subsequently lost his position as Knesset Speaker in 2003. IRONICALLY, AFTER leaving politics, the former Peace Now activist headed a consortium which won a privatization tender to purchase Ashot Ashkelon Industries Ltd. Forty percent of its business was the manufacture of armaments. In March 2007 the sale was cancelled after a review by the State Comptroller's Office and the police. One may speculate whether these various business and political disappointments led to Avrum Burg's vicious antagonism toward Zionism. BURG, NOW a businessman, has taken French citizenship and voted against Nicholas Sarkozy in the recent French presidential elections. He regards Sarkozy as a threat to world peace. In a much-discussed interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz's magazine this weekend, Burg said: "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." Evidently, the younger Burg has inherited none of his father's moderation, dignity nor willingness to compromise. And certainly not his father's attitude of seeking practical solutions. Quite the contrary: Avrum has adopted an uncompromising anti-Zionist attitude. None of this comes as a complete surprise. In August 2003 Burg published several op-eds in French, American and German newspapers mercilessly castigating Israel. Why did he not mount a strong campaign against all he viewed as being wrong in Israel - corruption for instance - while he had the power and the opportunity to do so from the podium of the Knesset? That's the puzzle. IN HIS new book Defeating Hitler Burg compares Israel with Nazi-era Germany and is not shy to assume the role of Prophet of Israel. He raises the possibility, with no justification in reality, that a future Knesset might prohibit sexual relations with Arabs, or prevent Arabs from employing Jewish cleaning ladies and workers. Burg now favors abrogating the Law of Return and recommends that Israelis who can obtain a foreign passport do so. Is this the Avraham Burg who as chairman of the Jewish Agency encouraged immigration to Israel? At the Centennial Zionist Congress in 1997, Burg spoke glowingly of the achievements and morality of Zionism. As if speaking to Herzl, he said: "The dream. The prophecy. The fulfillment happened. The miracle you wanted is a reality; when you look at this real dream, you know this reality is much better than anything you could have expected, prayed and hoped for. It was an amazing century, Dr. Herzl, an unbelievable one, from the cornerstone you placed a century ago, we turned from being a very old and ancient people to a very new, modern and progressive one. "We came back to the family of nations and acquired for ourselves an honorable place, and honorable status unprecedented in the life of the Jewish people during its entire history. "You were right, Dr. Herzl, Europe betrayed us. And six million brothers and sisters. We thank you, all of the immigrants of the last century coming to Israel, because by coming on aliya they elevated the people." BURG ENJOYS two pensions from the Knesset, plus a comfortable pension of NIS 200,000 from the Jewish Agency, in addition to a car and chauffeur for life. Shavit tackled Burg on this subject. He pointed out that former Jewish Agency chairman Salai Meridor, who succeeded Burg, decided there was no justification for him and Burg to enjoy this privilege and questioned Burg's going to court to fight for it with all his might. Burg's reply: "But every person is allowed to fight when something is taken from him - only Avrum is not allowed. Why? Because. This whole thing is such a pittance in money terms that it doesn't even exist. But the level of principle sent me up the wall." Shavit responded. "We're talking about NIS 200,000. And about your behavior, which the judge found disgraceful. And about the fact that even though you talk high and mighty about morals, you don't see the moral flaw in the fact that 10 years after leaving the Jewish Agency you are driving on your business trips throughout the country with a Jewish Agency chauffeur driving you everywhere. On top of which, today you are so alienated from everything the Jewish Agency stands for." Perhaps the greatest irony of all in this bizarre transformation is that after encouraging Israelis to leave Israel, Burg admitted to Shavit that he nevertheless retains an ambition to become Israel's prime minister. "Once I wanted very much to be prime minister. It burned like fire in my bones. I didn't know what I wanted to do there, but I wanted terribly to be there. Today I say that I have lot of marathons to run before that can happen." Run the other way, Mr. Burg and good riddance. The writer, based in Herzliya, is an industrial engineer and business consultant.