There's Room for Hope

Avraham Burg responds to the outpouring of reactions to the interview with him. (Leaving the Zionist ghetto, Haaretz Magazine, June 8)

One touch unleashed a vast outcry - proof of Israel's pains, and its cry for help. But in our country these days there is no "Guide for the Perplexed." Values have become blurred, brotherhood is crumbling and unraveling, and the diplomatic path is blocked and sad: From outside, Iran, Gaza and the demographic issue are seriously threatening, and there is practically no public debate at all about the future of our troubled country. The political establishment is worn-out and not involved in serious debate about the fundamental questions of our lives and the search for new answers, including those relating to:

A Jewish state

Anyone who, like me, believes in the separation of religion and state cannot support the "Jewish-democratic" formula. A state whose algorithm is so heavily weighted with religion can never fully contain democracy as well. Between "Jewish" and "democratic," Jewish theocracy will prevail. The fact is that the "Jewish" is getting stronger and more insular while the "democratic" - encompassing liberty, equality, rights and humanism - is growing very weak and ebbing away.

The assertion that, whatever the circumstances, the state will always be "Jewish" no matter what coercion that entails, is the starting point on the road to an Israeli state based on halakha (Jewish law). The alternative? The transition from defining Israel as "a Jewish state" to defining it as "the state of the Jews." It's the citizens, not the state, who define the identity. The individual is responsible for the contents and values of the society, for preserving its cultural and spiritual character, historical heritage, and for private and collective memory. The most profound, fundamental questions are to be decided only in a completely democratic manner.Consider that the Jewish Diaspora has no governmental tools of enforcement and, in the face of the threat of assimilation, is nurturing and rejuvenating an impressive modern Jewish identity - schools, charitable institutions, communal organizations and a sincere concern for "the other." I propose that Israel expand itself in the direction of the openness of world Jewry rather than leave our identity in the hands of local nationalist and religious zealots. A state of the Jewish People in all its diversity - yes! A religious Jewish state - no.

And the passport?

I read in the paper that my family and I left the country. Sorry, but I won't give anyone that pleasure. I don't want to live "there," only here.

Here is where my duties are - taxes, laws, service and concern bordering on anxiety for the chances and survival of our only state. I could have thrust in your faces a list of the public figures, business people and media personalities, and their families, who hold foreign passports. I also could have taken cover behind the common saying that, "This is the Jewish instinct in us." But my reasons are different. One of my duties as an Israeli and a Jew is to sound the alarm: "The dangers are already at the door!" And against these dangers I wish to broaden our shrinking Israeliness.

I, who live and write in Hebrew, belong to more than one world. For me, world citizenship is a metaphor for my existence not only as an Israeli, but as a son of a "nation of the world." A few years ago, when the proposal was made to allow yordim [Israelis who leave the country] to vote in the Knesset elections, I supported it on condition that all Jews of the world could vote and exercise their influence, too.

Just as I want to see the entire Jewish People involved in my life, I want to be involved in the life of the whole world. When President Bush declares a war that might determine my fate, for better or worse, I must openly defend myself against him and against the manipulations of the Israeli lobby that encourages dual loyalties. When force is used in France to prevent a vital dialogue with the children of the immigrants - that's my business, too. There are countries that allow double voting and countries that don't. And when I have the chance to exert my influence, I try to do so. Because this is also my Judaism.

And the interview?

Over the course of several years, I wrote a book, "Defeating Hitler," which encompasses numerous topics that are both painful and hopeful. Afterward, I was interviewed over the course of many days, and now I am not prepared to provide a response to a superficial headline of just a few words. Of all the things in the interview in question, I was especially disappointed by what was omitted. The book and its thesis were described only very briefly. None of the alternatives I posed were cited, no expression was given to my hopes for a new humanism, for a renewed Judaism, for less traumatic interfaces with the world. My views were hidden, as were my proposals for ways to recover from the national trauma and to transform weakness into strength; ideas for other trips that high-school students could make, for changes to the curriculum, for another, more Jewish way to commemorate the destruction of European Jewry.

Also not mentioned was the role that I envision for Israel as the catalyst for a greater, worldwide peace process - because our very existence should be motivated by a continual responsibility for world peace. Also missing from the interview was my aspiration for the Jewish people that says "Never again," not just for us, the Jews, but for every suffering victim today in the world, for them to get the support and protection of the Jews, yesterday?s victims who defeated Hitler.

Right or left?

These questions do not fit into the classic right-left model. Until the day peace comes, and in general, the right has nothing to offer except the sword and the Messiah; on the day after peace comes, the classic left has nothing to offer as new spiritual content for a public that no longer has to turn its energies to war.In my book and statements I join the stifled Israeli voices that are trying to sketch the outline of the next Israeli landscape. To add humanity and universalism to the old equations, and new dimensions of ethical content and national existence. A life of confidence, not a reality that is nothing but endless trauma. All those who are ready to ask tough questions, even if our answers are completely different, all those who put their hand on their hearts and admit "We are afraid" - they are my partners. And we are many.

What would your father have said?

On most of the things, he would have agreed, and where we disagreed (particularly in regard to his position supporting the religious character of the state), he would have argued with me as a Jew and not as an Israeli. The Israeli raises a violent hand against me and hisses, "Why, who are you?" And as soon as I've been disqualified he exempts himself from having to deal with my questions. The Talmudic Jew will try to understand: "How do you see things? What are you saying?" He will explore my ideas in depth together with me, will understand and then decide whether to adopt my position and change his, or to return to his own stance. He will always leave the minority position intact, recorded and respected, knowing that today's minority opinion may well become tomorrow's majority opinion, whether due to changes of circumstance or the increasing severity of the illness.

Meanwhile, I would say to him, my father, the hero of the book: There is room for hope. People are asking, arguing, searching for answers. And together with them I am searching for solace and for alternatives to the contemporary Israeli frustration. Thus will Hitler be defeated.