A Zionist politician loses faith in the future
(The New Yorker) July 30 – In this atmosphere of post-traumatic gloom, Avraham Burg, a former Speaker of the Knesset, managed to inflame the Israeli public (left, right, and center) with little more than an interview in the liberal daily Ha’aretz, promoting his recent book, “Defeating Hitler.” Short of being Prime Minister, Burg could not be higher in the Zionist establishment. His father was a Cabinet minister for nearly four decades, serving under Prime Ministers from David Ben-Gurion to Shimon Peres. In addition to a decade-long career in the Knesset, including four years as Speaker, Burg had also been leader of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel. And yet he did not obey the commands of pedigree. “Defeating Hitler” and an earlier book, “God Is Back,” are, in combination, a despairing look at the Israeli condition. Burg warns that an increasingly large and ardent sector of Israeli society disdains political democracy. He describes the country in its current state as Holocaust-obsessed, militaristic, xenophobic, and, like Germany in the nineteen-thirties, vulnerable to an extremist minority.
Burg’s interlocutor for the Ha’aretz article was Ari Shavit, a writer well known in Israel for his confrontational interviews and his cerebral opinion articles. (His Profile of Ariel Sharon, “The General,” appeared in these pages in January, 2006.) Shavit’s interviewing style is aggressive and moralistic–not so distant, at times, from Oriana Fallaci’s in her prime. Politically, he is left of center, but, in the view of some to his left, he has seemed apocalyptic of late, warning darkly of the “existential” threats against Israel. In the preface to the interview, Shavit declared himself “outraged” by Burg’s book: “I saw it as one-dimensional and an unempathetic attack on the Israeli experience.”
The Israeli political world is unfailingly intimate. Shavit, who is forty-nine, and Burg, who is fifty-two, met twenty-five years ago, when they were both protesting against Israel’s first war in Lebanon. After the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel’s allies among the Christian Phalangists in 1982, Burg gave a powerful speech before four hundred thousand people at an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv–the biggest rally in the history of Israel. This was his entrance into public life. “Because Avrum was a lefty and a religious Jew who wore a kippa, he really stood out among the left-wing speakers,” Shavit told me. “That gave him a very specific role in our society, and he played it extremely well.” Whatever remained of the relationship between Burg and Shavit frayed badly when they met for their interview. After Burg described Israel as a perpetually “frightened society,” the discussion quickly grew tense:
- SHAVIT: You are patronizing and supercilious, Avrum. You have no empathy for Israelis. You treat the Israeli Jew as a paranoid. But, as the cliché goes, some paranoids really are persecuted. On the day we are speaking, Ahmadinejad is saying that our days are numbered. He promises to eradicate us. No, he is not Hitler. But he is also not a mirage. He is a true threat. He is the real world–a world you ignore.
BURG : I say that as of this moment Israel is a state of trauma in nearly every one of its dimensions. And it’s not just a theoretical question. Would our ability to cope with Iran not be much better if we renewed in Israel the ability to trust the world? Would it not be more right if we didn’t deal with the problem on our own but, rather, as part of a world alignment beginning with the Christian churches, going on to the governments and finally the armies? Instead, we say we do not trust the world, they will abandon us, and here’s Chamberlain returning from Munich with the black umbrella and we will bomb them alone.
Israel must shed its illusions and choose between racist oppression and democracy
By Ari Shavit
The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals, most of them Jewish, who are pushing President Bush to change the course of history. Two of them, journalists William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, say it’s possible. But another journalist, Thomas Friedman (not part of the group), is skeptical
1. The doctrine
WASHINGTON – At the conclusion of its second week, the war to liberate Iraq wasn’t looking good. Not even in Washington. The assumption of a swift collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime had itself collapsed. The presupposition that the Iraqi dictatorship would crumble as soon as mighty America entered the country proved unfounded. The Shi’ites didn’t rise up, the Sunnis fought fiercely. Iraqi guerrilla warfare found the American generals unprepared and endangered their overextended supply lines. Nevertheless, 70 percent of the American people continued to support the war; 60 percent thought victory was certain; 74 percent expressed confidence in President George W. Bush.
Washington is a small city. It’s a place of human dimensions. A kind of small town that happens to run an empire. A small town of government officials and members of Congress and personnel of research institutes and journalists who pretty well all know one another. Everyone is busy intriguing against everyone else; and everyone gossips about everyone else.
In the course of the past year, a new belief has emerged in the town: the belief in war against Iraq. That ardent faith was disseminated by a small group of 25 or 30 neoconservatives, almost all of them Jewish, almost all of them intellectuals (a partial list: Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Eliot Abrams, Charles Krauthammer), people who are mutual friends and cultivate one another and are convinced that political ideas are a major driving force of history. They believe that the right political idea entails a fusion of morality and force, human rights and grit. The philosophical underpinnings of the Washington neoconservatives are the writings of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Edmund Burke. They also admire Winston Churchill and the policy pursued by Ronald Reagan.
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