Today’s Haaretz brings the interesting news that Israeli iconoclast, Avrum Burg is founding a new political party to be called Shivyon Israel (Equality Israel). It will represent one of the few attempts by a mainstream political leader to form a post-Zionist party. Here is Burg on its platform:
The time has come for an Israeli party, a Jewish-Arab party, that will carry the banner of total commitment to equality, without a trace of discrimination and racism…A party that will sail far beyond the paradigms of classic Zionism, which to this day ignores the place of Israel’s Arabs. A party that will demand full equality for all Israel’s citizens, the kind of equality we demand for the Jews in the Diaspora wherever they live.
The party, Israel Equality (Shivyon Yisrael ) – with the acronym Shai in Hebrew, gift – will fight for a state that will be a total democracy…The party will wrestle with the…internal contradiction of “a Jewish and democratic state,” which means a great deal of democracy for the Jews and too much Jewish nationalism for the Arabs. It will be the party of those who are committed to the supreme universal and Israeli cultural values of human dignity, the search for peace and a desire for freedom, justice and equality.
Those who vote for it and its candidates will accept the definition of Israel as “a state whose regime is democratic and egalitarian, and which belongs to all its citizens and communities. The state in which the Jewish people have chosen to renew their sovereignty and where they realize their right to self-determination.” The practical expression of this commitment will be a supreme effort to change the social balance of power, which is unjust, to give equal opportunities to the entire population in Israel, regardless of national background, ethnic origin, race, sex or sexual preference.
Frankly, I’m ambivalent. It’s all well and good for this new party to embrace the idea that Israel is a state in which Jews renew their sovereignty and their right to self-determination. But frankly there is an Arab nation too within Israel and its dreams are no less vivid than those of its Jewish citizens. Besides, the history of Israeli politics is littered with new political parties and catchy acronyms which don’t live up to expectations.
Further, I wonder how Burg, who soured on Israeli politics several years ago and decamped to France where he’s pursued a business career, will explain his absence. It will be all too easy for the Israeli political barons to categorize Burg as the jilted Israeli pol who took his marbles home when he couldn’t realize his political ambitions there. How does he avoid being tarred as a Johnny Come Lately, smelling of French Bordeaux and other decadent foreign tendencies?
I also wonder how this party will differ from Hadash. He complains in this article that the latter party has “emotional baggage.” By which he means that it is hated by many Israeli Jews. But why is it hated? Because it has a mainly Arab constituency and because it has forged an alliance between Jews and Arabs. So why does Burg not think that his party won’t be tarred with the same brush since it appears to have an overlapping agenda? Why the need for two parties representing a similar program? Isn’t this just the left cannibalizing itself?
One welcome outcome of this should be the long-awaited demise of Meretz, the liberal Zionist party which claimed the mantle of the Jewish left but never really embraced it with vigor, forthrightness or courage. It may also mark the further weakening of Labor, a party of which Burg was once a crown prince, and which also deserves to be put out of its misery.
In closing, let me say that I’m all in favor of the general outlines of this initiative (with the few caveats above) and wish it well. Israeli politics is so f*#%ed up that anything would be better than what we have now.