Haaretz’s Burston: Pain of the Liberal Zionist
I empathize with Brad Burston. I feel his pain. The current rightist government is driving him to despair as a liberal Zionist. It is destroying his dream of an Israel that is good and moral and at peace with itself and its neighbors. I think I have long since lost some of the hopes and dreams Burston had (though my pain at times is no less than Burston’s). I still consider myself a Zionist, but I would guess that our conceptions of it would be different.
Which is the reason why Burston’s dilemma compels me. He’s still in territory I left some time ago. But the very fact that he occupies ground that many Israelis do occupy means he is a bellweather of sorts for the liberal-left Zionist. If Burston is facing a crisis of conscience, that is an important indication of a chink in the armor of the latter-day Zionism and its liberal supporters.
Avrum Burg went through such a crisis several years ago, abandoned liberal Zionism and Zionism in general, and emigrated from Israel to France and as a result opted out, to an extent, of this political debate. It will be interesting to see whether, like Burg, Burston will have the courage of his conviction, and whether he will move to a more radical position or remain in his liberal Zionist mode.
Since he’s such a powerful writer when his passion is engaged, I enjoy quoting him at length. Before I do though, I’m troubled by his juxtaposition of the supposed far-left anti-Zionist position with his own. There are anti-Zionist who truly hate Israel, but there are anti-Zionists who do not and they’re not treated fairly by Burston’s formulation. With that caveat, read on:
At times like these, I envy the people who passionately, frankly, with all their hearts, despise Israel.
Hate Israel enough, and the Jewish state’s failings and blunders, its self-satisfied blindness and its resultant self-destructive policies, cause not pain, but delight.
Hate Israel enough, and you’re spared all inclination to try to fix what’s wrong, to work to set it right. On the contrary, hate Israel enough, and you may come to believe not only that the country deserves to be punished to the point of replacement by a different state – Israel may well do the job all by itself.
This is one of those times.
I have made my peace with the fact that this is not the same country I moved to, so long ago. I learned when I first came, that Israel was not the country I’d thought I was moving to.
But this is different. This time is a test for every Israeli, and so far, we are failing.
There was once a time when Israel longed to be a member in good standing of the community of nations. There was a time when one of its fondest goals was to end its status as a nation in quarantine, boycotted, unrecognized, unwanted, kept firmly at arm’s length.
No longer. Without asking its people, without a second thought, Israel, at its highest level, has taken an executive decision. Unable to beat the forces who want to see Israel as one of the world’s primary pariah states, it has resolved to join them.
Determined to take our fate into its own hands. Israel, at its highest level, has decided that the job of delegitimizing the Jewish state must not be left to foreigners and amateurs. Showing itself desperate to be a pariah state, Israel will now get it done on its own.
What the far-left from Britain to Berkeley has been unable to bring off – a sense among Israel’s allies that Israel has become a heartless, morally heedless aggressor state worthy of sanction and shunning – the far-right in Israel’s own government, and in particular, its Foreign Ministry, seems determined to inculcate to the full.
We should have known that something like the Dubai assassination debacle was going to happen. The process of de-legitimizing Israel from within was going too slowly.
It was not enough choose a pathetic side issue, a Turkish television show with anti-Israel scenes, as grounds to humiliate with infantile malice the highly respected ambassador of Turkey – a nation whose relationship with Israel, though troubled, remains crucial from every strategic and diplomatic standpoint…
Referring to the bellicose, confessed and convicted disgrace who is his foreign minister and superior, Ayalon told Channel Two, “His policy is proving to be effective. We will not allow a situation where every country will kick us. If there will be an attack [even if verbal or cultural] on Israel, we will leave all options open, including the expulsion of ambassadors.”
It wasn’t enough to threaten our relations with the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Austria and the whole of the European Union, as well as the emirates and other moderate Muslim states, by apparently violating the basic conventions of all civilized states in the Dubai murder.
It was necessary to stage a quick follow-up, for the sake of balance, perhaps, in going after our relations with Israel’s indispensable ally. In a gratuitous move breathtaking in its haughtiness, its ignorance of and disrespect for the United States and the American Jewish community, the Foreign Ministry – spearhead of Israel’s campaign against boycotts abroad – elected this week to boycott a meeting with five U.S. Congressmen visiting Israel.
Why? The representatives were visiting under the auspices of J Street. J Street, in the ministry’s eyes, is guilty of the crime of explicitly calling itself pro-Israel, while not agreeing wholeheartedly with everything the government of Israel says and does.
I have come to envy the people who hate Israel. They’ve got every reason to smile.
…No one can defend this anymore. There’s too much that looks bad, and much too much of it is true.
Like so many of Israel’s recent actions, the motives for the Dubai assassination are debatable. The negative impact is inarguable.
…My wife, who cares about this country as deeply as anyone, was singing this morning, but with a smile I have come to recognize as a sign of pain. ” … And they call the state Pariah.”
All those years of isolation, of quarantine, are coming home to haunt us. Now it turns out that the contempt for the rest of the world that it bred in Israeli Jews, extended to contempt for immigrant Jews as well.
The response of many Israelis to what appears to be officially sanctioned theft, exploitation, and ruin of the identities of immigrants to Israel, was terrifying in its good humor, with morning talk-show hosts making fun of their Hebrew, even as they made light of their plight.
…This is what I have learned about the government of this place, and many of the voters who put it there. Intelligent people who are too smart to be able to see themselves clearly, render themselves stupid.
And countries which cannot bear to look, even if they have good reasons, render themselves dangerous – first of all, to themselves.
This is not the country I first came to. But I still care about it, even if I know it may care much less than I would like, about me.
I have come to envy the people who hate Israel, because they cannot feel the tragedy in the phenomenal possibility, the depth and breadth of humanity that is going to waste here…
There is so much right about this analysis and it is so heartfelt and powerful that it is hard to find fault with it. If I would criticize Burston’s position at all, he places the blame for his disillusion almost wholly on the current Likudist government. He’ll find no disagreement from me on that. However, by implication he seems to be saying that a different Israeli government with a different set of parties in power might do better or differently. I find this highly doubtful. With the current set of parties and leaders, none have the capacity to lead Israel out of the wasteland in which it finds itself.
This nation is hopelessly lost in the wilderness like the Israelites led by Moses who wandered for forty years till they entered the land of Israel. Latter-day Israel too has wandered for more than 40 years in the wilderness of Occupation. They have no leader of the quality of Moses to lead them out of oblivion. There is no Israeli de Klerk (or Palestinian Mandela for that matter). That is why I have come to despair of the ability of Israel unaided to correct its errors and put itself on the right track. If this conflict is ever to be resolved it will only come from the forceful intervention of outside forces like the U.S., EU, UN and/or NATO.
I wish Brad Burston well and hope he will follow the logic of his own despair to some other place than the Sinai of liberal Zionism. It will be a hard, painful journey.
20 thoughts on “Haaretz’s Burston: Pain of the Liberal Zionist – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
Comments are published at the sole discretion of the owner.
Burston’s story is indeed a touching one. It reminds me somehow of Naeim Giladi’s story about the Jews of Iraq (which I sent you yesterday). It, too, is a story of disappointment; a summary of his book “Ben Gurion’s Scandals.” It is good to know that there are a few brave people from the inside willing to challenge the system.
Those of us on the outside, Jews or not, who criticize Israel, still still have to suffer the insults of being referred to as self-hating, or anti-semitic.
I disagree that if this conflict is ever to be resolved it will have to come from outside forces. Only Israeli society itself will be able to make such a reevaluation of its own consciousness. It came close with Rabin, a would-be Mandella. Alas. Today, Israel’s alignment with the U.S. will prevent it from accomplishing any compromise for peace. U.S. foreign policy dictates Israel’s, unfortunately.
And finally, you should know that “liberal Zionism” is an oxymoron; a contradiction in terms.
Gene, I think you overestimate Rabin.
Maybe. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. But my estimate is based on the fact that he was the only one among the elite who had the guts to try something different. Perhaps not a would-be Mandella, but how about a LeClerk?
Yes, but what was his real goal? Did he really intend for the end result to be a viable, independent Palestinian state?
I’m not a mind reader, nor am I in touch with the dead. But he was opening doors that looked promising. But that’s in the past. Gotta look to the future now, which doesn’t look promising. I see no “states person” on the horizon who could buck the Western oligarchy even if they wanted to.
I never saw anything particularly appealing about Rabin, although many people believe that had he lived, there would have been an independent Palestinian state today.
Israel’s mistake has not been in its choices of leaders but in its blind adherence to the zionist ideology that is destroying it as well as the Palestinians. Occupation, subjugation and inhumanity are not good for the occupier or the occupied, and this festering cancer has gone on for much too long.
No Israeli leader is worthy of unalloyed adulation. But Yitzhak Rabin is the one, if any, who could’ve negotiated a compromise settlement of the conflict. It might not have been perfect, & Rabin certainly wasn’t. But he was head & shoulders above the rest & had the ability to step back fr. the political game to understand strategically where Israel needed to end up in order to protect its future. Every other Israeli PM has been only able to think in tactical terms, except possibly Sharon, who had even more limitations than Rabin.
Thanks, Richard, for confirming my opinion of Rabin. Of course he was not perfect – remember his “break their bones” attitude during the first intifada. But he was the only one on the scene who had a sense of humanity and was willing to change his mind and attitude. On the other hand, I can’t agree with you about Sharon. His limitations were that he was an unreconstructed “Nazi”, like Begin.
I don’t agree, as you noted, about Sharon. I always hated Sharon and never trusted him. But at the end he was turning on those who made him what he was. It was a fascinating political transformation. I didn’t know what it would lead to. It might’ve led to something not much better than he was when he was an unreconstructed pro settler fanatic. Or it might have led to somewhere near Rabin was heading. As I said, I never trusted him, but I thought something important & interesting might happen if he’d continued the withdrawal fr the W Bank. Alas, he died & we got Olmert & we all know where that led.
I like your subtlety, substituting your “pro settler fanatic” for my “Nazi.” Guess I’m not as PC as you are.
“….continued withdrawal fr the W bank”? When was that? Yes, hypocritical withdrawal from Gaza, but the W Bank? I didn’t know he died. Thought he was still in a coma. RIP
Sharon is not dead unless being in a permanent coma counts as death. It works for me. I have nothing good to say about him or about any Israeli leader.
I misstated. I meant to say that I’d hope he would’ve continued the Gaza withdrawal with a West Bank withdrawal which he’d intimated was next in his plans.
As for “dead,” you’re right, he’s not.
Bradley’s liberalism is itself a statement of hope, a faith in the power of individuals to learn (rather than only repeat), a faith in the power of reason.
Its also a statement of distrust of opportunism and maliciousness when that pretends to be dissent.
There is no pulling back from the cliffside, so long as defensiveness and partison ideological goals are valued more highly than integrity and compassion.
I disagree with Richard about the desirability of Bradley Burston becoming so alienated that he can no longer live there, no longer call Israel home.
I think that the only possibility of reform, of transformation, is if those that are committed to change remain, and do what they can in affecting public attitude, intra-community and inter-community relations, and nation’s policies.
I believe that it requires remaining a Zionist. If Israel continues down its “loyalty litmus test” track, in a punitive McCarthyist approach, then that will become objectively impossible.
Common cause with militant anti-Zionism beyond temporary and single issues for an actual Zionist, is really impossible. There is just no intersection of principles, only temporary intersections of positions.
I can’t decide Witty whether you’re a willful distorter or whether there’s some sort of pathology at work with you. That’s not at all what I said. Not even close. I don’t want Burston to leave Israel. I want him to remain there & become an even more courageous opponent of this horrible regime. But the truth is that as Israel becomes worse & worse citizens will leave by their tens of thousands including many like Burston, the former best & brightest. They’ll take their skills & intelligence w. them & offer it to other western nations thus impoverishing Israel & leaving it to the settlers, the haredi & the poorest & least well educated, turning Israel eventually into a 2nd rate place.
That is beyond ludicrous & I’m living proof of it as I have good relations w. people who are Zionist & anti-Zionist. I would say it is you, Witty who can’t have any relationship w. an anti-Zionist & you’re confusing yrself w. everyone as egotists tend to do.
If you want to know where Israel is heading, you may want to start with the fact the chief scientist in the Education Ministry does not believe in global warming or evolution
Wherever the country was 15 years ago, there’s just no constituency today for any kind of an agreement. Short of international pressure I see no sign whatsoever that the Israeli public would ever change course.
RE: “…Since he’s [Burston] such a powerful writer when his passion is engaged, I enjoy quoting him at length…” – R.S.
FOR EXAMPLE: Fear of peace will be the death of Israel, By Bradley Burston, 02/03/10
(EXCERPT) …The thrust of the piece, which Commentary Editor John Podhoretz understandably calls “groundbreaking,” is that Israel’s international standing has plummeted to an unprecedented low – and the number of Palestinians killed by Israel has concurrently soared – specifically because of Israel’s having done much too much for peace.
“The answer is unpleasant to contemplate, but the mounting evidence makes it inescapable,” she writes. “It was Israel’s very willingness to make concessions for the sake of peace that has produced its current near-pariah status.”
The essay has the seamless, compellingly elegant, hyper-lucid, parallel universe logic of a hallucination* – or a settlement rooted in the craw of the West Bank. Until I read it, it was difficult for me to comprehend the current runaway-freight recklessness of Israeli authorities and a certain segment of the hard right, bolstered by shady funding from abroad….
* my emphasis, as this is one of the best lines I have seen in a long, long time!
SOURCE – http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1147257.html
Loving the column “a place in hell” by Bradley Burston – http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=54391629611
You say there is no Israeli de Klerk or Palestinian Mandela. But perhaps there are two potential leaders on both sides that could each save their people.
One is Avrum Burg, if only he would get as many votes as he sells books.
The other is sitting in an Israeli prison. Marwan Barghouti could unite Palestinians and would definitely sit at a table with Avrum Burg to draw boundaries and hash out a peace plan.
Of course, I’m a romantic and an idealist. In the real world I agree with you 100%: “If this conflict is ever to be resolved it will only come from the forceful intervention of outside forces like the U.S., EU, UN and/or NATO.” BUT….that too might be unlikely, although the EU is working on an initiative to recognize a Palestinian state by next year, but the U.S. will probably oppose it as Israel is already doing.
I happen to believe that God helps those who helps themselves. Grassroots movements pushing for boycotts, divestment and sanctions are gaining momentum and should be encouraged and supported because they may be the last hope.
I’ve been following your blog for some time now, although, I never commented till today, but I thoroughly enjoy your opinions which are so incisive and written with so much conviction, and I was appalled when you were called a “moser”, but then you’re now in such good company with Goldstone and Burg!
Kalea: Thanks so much for transitioning from “lurking” to joining the comment threads. I so enjoy when readers summon the courage to participate in that way.
Burg, unfortunately has dropped out of Israeli politics though he remains an important & compelling figure. IMO he is one of the few leaders who might have the power & force to lead Israeli in a healthy direction. But the amt of compromise any decent leader needs to make in order to win an election & govern would transform even Burg into a parody of himself. It’s even worse than in U.S. presidential politics.
Marwan Barghouti could unite Palestinians…
Which is precisely why he is sitting in prison!
Yes, precisely. Palestinian unity is the one thing that would end the occupation, that cannot be imposed from the outside.