Friday, July 23, 2010

Avrum Burg’s New Party-Concept

Political parties in Israel usually crop up prior to elections, and then the parties are launched with a press-conference in which principles are stated and members are introduced. Avrum Burg, former MK from the Labor Party, Speaker of the Knesset, and head of the Jewish Agency, decided to launch his new party (does it exist yet?) with an op-ed in Haaretz. You have to wade through two-thirds of the piece before you get the money passages:

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. It will be without Meretz's complications and Hadash's baggage. 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; everything else will be either personal or on the community level. The party will wrestle with the sanctimonious 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.

Hats off to Avrum Burg for thinking outside the box. Politically, this is very different from the Jewish parties that trace back to 1948. And he talks the language of liberal democracy unapologetically.

Most Zionists will label Burg's party as "post-Zionist" but it is Zionist, since Israel is described as "The state in which the Jewish people have chosen to renew their sovereignty and where they realize their right to self-determination." But Burg and his party need to elucidate more here, and I have some questions:

  1. Exactly how is Jewish sovereignty realized in a state of all its citizens? What is the relationship between Jewish sovereignty and Israeli sovereignty, between the Jewish nation and the Israeli nation? A people can have self-determination in an ethnic state, or as an ethnic majority in a multiethnic state, or even as an ethnic minority in a multiethnic state. But sovereignty? That sounds odd, unless Burg is referring to sovereignty over the Jewish people, not the Israeli people.


  2. Why does Burg use in his op-ed the old-fashioned term "Israeli Arabs" rather than "Palestinian Israelis," which is preferred by many of them? Sometime in the late sixties, American blacks starting calling themselves, "Afro-Americans" or "African Americans" rather than "Negroes" or "Colored." That decision was respected by the white majority. Is he using the old Zionist term to appeal to a traditional Israeli electorate?


  3. Is the new party a Jewish party with a sprinkling of Arabs, or a genuine Jewish-Arab party? If the latter, then wouldn't it have been better to have a roll-out with a Jew and an Arab? Once again, my fear is that sensitivity to the electorate's ethnic biases and paternalism will doom the partnership from the beginning.


  4. In the op-ed Burg says the party will be free of the "complications" of Meretz and the "baggage" of Hadash. To what "baggage" is he referring? To its origins as the Israel Communist Party? Surely that means nothing nowadays to its electorate. Or does he mean the "baggage" associated with an Arab-Jewish party that has been regularly demonized by the Jewish electorate and permanently in the opposition? I suspect that Burg's new party is intended to be a hybrid of both Meretz and Hadash without the associated stigmas in the eyes of the Israeli Jewish electorate. Ideologically, however, it appears closer to Hadash. And so then the question becomes, why add a new party? And the answer presumably will be pragmatic; even though many more Jews vote for Hadash than ever before, the party's attractiveness to Jews is limited. So we now need a Jewish version of Hadash to appeal to a progressive Jewish electorate (and its supporters) who cannot bring themselves, for ethnic reasons, to support Hadash. If that is the case, then the party will not hurt Hadash as much as it will hurt Meretz.

If this party is really a new and improved version of Meretz, a Meretz, "re-Gifted," as it were, then that would indeed be interesting, but not sufficient. Meretz was combined originally from the parties of Mapam, Ratz, and Shinui. I would be happier with a party combined of Hadash and Shay – a "New Gift", as it were. That would be not just interesting but exciting

But it is still much too early to form a final judgment. Welcome back, Mr. Burg, to Israeli politics.


Arnon Shvanzinger said...

I've a few answers to some of your questions. Not necessarily the answers Burg would give, but perhaps illustrative of why he wouldn't (or shouldn't).

1. Burg does NOT speak of Jewish Sovereignty. You speak of it. Burg speaks of self determination and of a place where the Jewish people have renewed their sovereignty. Nowhere is it expressed that this sovereignty (already existent) should keep having a Jewish overtone.
If anything - Burg speaks of stripping this renewed sovereignty of its Jewish overtones. They've done their part.

2. Since Burg wishes to have democracy for ALL Israeli citizens as such - it would do great harm to his message to call some of these Israeli citizens Palestinians. Doing so would perpetuate an ambiguous term that only stresses the split alliance these people hold.
Israeli Arabs is actually a neutral term under Burg's ideology.
On the same note, African-American is a horrible, misleading, non-descriptive PC term and we would do well not to introduce similar white-washed terms into our own political discussion.

4. The term Communist is very loaded to this very day. Just look at how it's being used by present day American Republicans and the Tea Party movement against a non-liberal non-progressive corporate-friendly president. The red flag is still quite a political red flag.

Y. Ben-David said...

Burg has a very checkered past, including his ugly lawsuit to get the taxpayer to give him a chauffered-driven car for life because he spent a couple of years as head of the Jewish Agency (whose mission he doesn't agree with) and which he fortunately lost and then his attempt to form a partnership with people in organized crime (he claimed he "didn't know" about their backround) to get ahold of a government company for far less than its worth in a shady privitization scheme. Again, fortunatley, the State Controller stepped in a blocked the move. I don't think many voters, even on the Left, will support. Also recall that his fellow politicians don't trust in which can be seen by the fact that he was never given a cabinet post in spite of being high up on the Labor Party Knesset List.
Avrum's future in Israel is behind him. Maybe as a citizen of France, he can do better there. He would fit in on the Left Bank.

Richard Witty said...

I think Avrum Burg is attempting to revive what was meretz, and as a Zionist party, but applying literal equal civil rights within Israel.

An Arab can (theoretically) receive equal civil rights in France, and still identify as Arab or as French.

I think he is attempting to realize the parallel slogan in fact, more than just in rhetoric. (Israel is Jewish as France is French).

The formation of a civilist party IS the primary political means to realize an actual single state, in that it is necessary for the civilists to overwhelmingly outnumber the nationalists or the religionists, for a single state to realize the status of "consent of the governed".

Any single state that does realize a civilist overwhelming super-majority primarily will be a "failed state" in perpetual civil strife and civil war.

If the two-state approach restores its traction, then a parallel Palestinian and civil democratic party should be proposed there.

If the goal is a single state (not mine), then the Israeli civilist party can merge or coalition with the Palestinian civilist party.

The other primary area that a single state can be achieved is socially, in forming relationships between Israelis and Palestinians that are thick and peer.

The path of civil disobedience and global BDS as a means to realize a single state is vain. Israel/Palestine is NOT South Africa, mostly because of the populations being in close parity, rather than obvious 90/10 in South Africa.

It is a qualitative difference. The introduction of heat to that chemical reaction, will NOT yeild the same results as in South Africa.

Unknown said...

How long before the Israeli police (backed by the Shin Bet no doubt) figure out a way to renew the charges of financial wheeler dealing which originally caused him to leave Israel. Mark my words, whether the party flies or not they will try to smear him w. a scandal.

West Bank Blogger said...

I generally agree with what you've written, but for one sentence:

'So we now need a Jewish version of Hadash to appeal to a progressive Jewish electorate (and its supporters) who cannot bring themselves, for ethnic reasons, to support Hadash.'

I think many Zionist Jews can't vote for Hadash not because they're seen as Arab but because they're anti-Zionist.

If Burg's new party can combine Meretz and Hadash into a party which is neither Zionist nor anti-Zionist (but supports two states with Israel as state where Jews have a majority) then it may have a future.

Otherwise it's just another entertaining op-ed piece from the intriguing Mr. Burg.

Y. Ben-David said...

Richard seems to have forgotten (as I did forget to mention) Burg's "victory" in the 2003 Labor Party primary was overturned because of ballot-box stuffing. The fact that his opponents did it as well is not relevant because Avrum is always holding himself up as a paragon of honesty and and a valiant opponent of corruption.
Richard should also be aware that I know people who work for the Ashot Ashkelon plant he was trying to get for peanuts using his clout as a former politician and it is NOT a "SHABAK" plan to smear him. As I said, his own colleagues in the Labor Party never trusted him and he realized he had no future there.
Richard should be aware that even "progressives" can be dishonest.

Unknown said...

Given your own right wing politics I don't think you have any credibility when it comes to smearing Avrum Burg. But I guess we can't fault you for trying.

Responsible Citizen said...

He'd have my vote.

Responsible Citizen said...

Well yes & no after retrospection. Israeli history is replete with "one hit wonder parties" that run in an election & disappear. This was actually tried once before in the 1980's-the swiftly defunct "Progressive List for Peace." If you look at the present day experience of the COPE party in South Africa youl'l see where Mr. Burg's idea will end up. In the trash can.