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Israel's Bleak Future

Has Israel lost its core values over the Middle East conflict?

September 12, 2003

Has Israel lost its core values over the Middle East conflict?

Avraham Burg is a former speaker of the Israeli Knesset and former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. As such he has seen the development of Israel's politics and policies first-hand. In our Read My Lips feature, Mr. Burg draws an alarmingly bleak and sad picture for the future of Israel.

What was the original Zionist goal for the State of Israel?

“We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this, we have failed.”

Mr. Burg, how do you view the State of Israel as it is now?

“The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: A just path — and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer.”

There have been some successes for Israel, have there not?

“We have revived the Hebrew language, created a marvelous theater — and a strong national currency. Our Jewish minds are as sharp as ever. We are traded on the Nasdaq.”

But you are not satisfied with where Israeli society is today?

“The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs — or anti-missile missiles.”

What do you see for the future of Israel?

“There may yet be a Jewish state here — but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.”

And nothing can be done to change?

“There is time to change course, but not much. What is needed is a new vision of a just society — and the political will to implement it.”

What do you think of the current imbalance of power between Jews and Palestinians in Israel?

“This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger forever, it won’t work.”

But Israel must retain its Jewish identity somehow despite the Arab majority, correct?

“Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse—or separate ourselves from them absolutely, no tricks, no gimmicks.”

What is your response to the Palestinian attacks?

“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.”

Are you justifying the suicide bombings?

“Israel — having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians — should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism.”

Is more force needed to stop the killings?

“We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing will be solved. Why? Because the leaders come up from below — from the wells of hatred and anger.”

What is your biggest criticism of Israel's policies regarding the Palestinians?

“We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot — and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East.”

So, you do not consider Israel a democracy?

“There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here — Arab as well as Jew.”

But what about the original dream of reclaiming the greater Land of Israel?

“Do you want the greater Land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let’s institute an efficient system of racial separation here — with prison camps and detention villages.”

What is the solution?

“We must remove all the settlements — all of them — and draw an internationally recognized border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home.”

How do you perceive the current state of Israeli politics?

“It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements — run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies.”

And what do you think of Prime Minister Sharon's policies?

“There is no prime minister in Jerusalem. The disease eating away at the body of Zionism has already attacked the head. David Ben-Gurion sometimes erred, but he remained straight as an arrow. When Menachem Begin was wrong, nobody impugned his motives. No longer.”

Are Sharon's politics really that misguided?

“Israel’s current prime minister personally embodies both halves of the curse: Suspect personal morals and open disregard for the law — combined with the brutality of occupation and the trampling of any chance for peace.”

Would the situation be better if the opposition Labor Party were in power?

“It is not a matter of Labor versus Likud — or right versus left. Rather it is one of right versus wrong, acceptable versus unacceptable. The law-abiding versus the lawbreakers."

Our Read My Lips feature is based on excerpts from Mr. Burg's article which was originally published in Yediot Ahronot. The essay was first published in English in The Forward on August 29, 2003.