AUGUST 29, 2003
A Failed Israeli Society Collapses While Its Leaders Remain
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 down.
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
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 ›hat 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 occupied.
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
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 moral imperative.
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 and Jewish.
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 Gulag Jenin.
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
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
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
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