Even Zionists Know It's Over
- A Failed Israeli Society Collapses While Its Leaders Remain Silent
By AVRAHAM BURG
The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path
and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer.
The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on
foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the
Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep. There is a real chance
that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a
Jewish state here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.
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. Nor
is this merely an internal Israeli affair. Diaspora Jews for whom
Israel is a central pillar of their identity must pay heed and speak
out. If the pillar collapses, the upper floors will come crashing
The opposition does not exist, and the coalition, with Arik Sharon at
its head, claims the right to remain silent. In a nation of
chatterboxes, everyone has suddenly fallen dumb, because there's
nothing left to say. We live in a thunderously failed reality. Yes,
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 is this why we created a state? The
Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer
new weaponry, computer security programs or anti-missile missiles. We
were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed.
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.
A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are
coming to understand this as they ask their children where they
expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their
parents' shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of
Israeli society has begun.
It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such
as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. From the
window you can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not
see the occupation. Traveling on the fast highway that takes you from
Ramot on Jerusalem's northern edge to Gilo on the southern edge, a 12-
minute trip that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian
roadblocks, it's hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the
despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded
roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the
This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow
their shame and anger forever, it won't work. A structure built on
human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this
moment well: Zionism's superstructure is already collapsing like a
cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top
floor while the pillars below are collapsing.
We have grown accustomed to ignoring the suffering of the women at
the roadblocks. No wonder we don't hear the cries of the abused woman
living next door or the single mother struggling to support her
children in dignity. We don't even bother to count the women murdered
by their husbands.
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. They consign
themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own
lives are torture. 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.
We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing
will be solved, because the leaders come up from below from the
wells of hatred and anger, from the "infrastructures" of injustice
and moral corruption.
If all this were inevitable, divinely ordained and immutable, I would
be silent. But things could be different, and so crying out is a
Here is what the prime minister should say to the people:
The time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived.
We love the entire land of our forefathers and in some other time we
would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The
Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.
Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear
Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep
the whole thing without paying a price. We cannot keep a Palestinian
majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves
the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy
without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We
cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the
world's only Jewish state not by means that are humane and moral
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. Qalqilya Ghetto and
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, without tricks and gimmicks.
There is no middle path. 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. The Jewish
Law of Return will apply only within our national home, and their
right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian
Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the greater Land of
Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship
and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of
course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state
alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.
That's what the prime minister should say to the people. He should
present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racialism or democracy.
Settlements or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire,
roadblocks and suicide bombers, or a recognized international border
between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.
But 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.
Polls published last weekend showed that a majority of Israelis do
not believe in the personal integrity of the prime minister yet
they trust his political leadership. In other words, 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.
This is our nation, these its leaders. The inescapable conclusion is
that the Zionist revolution is dead.
Why, then, is the opposition so quiet? Perhaps because it's summer,
or because they are tired, or because some would like to join the
government at any price, even the price of participating in the
sickness. But while they dither, the forces of good lose hope.
This is the time for clear alternatives. Anyone who declines to
present a clear-cut position black or white is in effect
collaborating in the decline. It is not a matter of Labor versus
Likud or right versus left, but of right versus wrong, acceptable
versus unacceptable. The law-abiding versus the lawbreakers. What's
needed is not a political replacement for the Sharon government but a
vision of hope, an alternative to the destruction of Zionism and its
values by the deaf, dumb and callous.
Israel's friends abroad Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and
prime ministers, rabbis and lay people should choose as well. They
must reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map toward our
national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace,
justice and equality.
Translated by J.J. Goldberg.
Avraham Burg was speaker of Israel's Knesset from 1999 to 2003 and is
a former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He is currently a
Labor Party Knesset member. This essay is adapted by the author from
an article that appeared in Yediot Aharonot.
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