In his newly released book entitled ‘Defeating Hitler’, former Knesset speaker and chairman of the Jewish Agency, Avraham Burg, stated that Zionism did not liberate the Jewish people but rather was a disaster that led to the creation of a “violent and closed ghetto” that is similar to the camps that Nazis set up for Jews .
Burg caused major uproar with an article that was published in September 2003 entitled ‘The end of Zionism’, in which he argued that the “Zionist enterprise” was over and that it did not produce a nationally consistent and stable society but rather produced a perverse and corrupt mix that was based on oppression and injustice.
According to Burg, the Zionist revolution that, at the beginning, was based on two pillars, namely, “a just path” and an “ethical leadership”, has failed in its project and is no longer able to inspire and mobilize new generations of Jewish communities. However in his new book, he overwrites this audacious judgment and unequivocally reaffirms the intellectual and ideological relationship between Zionism and Nazism. He calls for reviewing the identity of the Israeli state as he considers it contradictory to Jewish spiritual symbolism and modern democratic systems altogether.
Zionism is no longer a spiritual condition that reassures the religious individual nor has it become a democratic entity that guarantees equal rights for its citizens. In fact, it has become some sort of “Russian Spartan that breeds on violence and is established upon swords and wars.”
Burg stands strongly against the ‘Law of Return’ upon which principle of “Israeli citizenship” was founded. He contends that it is a racist law that excludes current inhabitants of territories and replaces them with strangers based on the pretext of alleged religious and national affiliations.
Obviously, if such comments were made by a religious non-Jew who had occupied the highest posts in the Israeli state, he would have been considered anti-Semitic and would have been subjected to judicial prosecution even in major Western democracies that enjoy freedom of speech.
Undoubtedly, his opinions reflect a growing and tangible trend among western Jewish elites that promote criticism against the Jewish experience. The trend is no longer confined to the two traditional paths: the religious path (some elements of the Orthodox Rabbinical institution that reject the principle of the state) and leftist politics, (some Jewish intellectuals that call for the integration of Jews in their communities and nations).
In France, 20 of the most prominent and political Jewish intellects had signed a petition in which they slashed Israel’s policy of oppression and its violation of Palestinian human rights, during the second Intifada that erupted in 2000. Among these figures was prominent political thinker Pascal Boniface who had published a courageous book four years ago entitled ‘Est-il Permis de Critiquer Israel?’ [Can Israeli Policy be Criticized?]. In his book, he clearly explained that the Israeli “exception” cannot be explained. In other words, Israel is granted special immunity that is not given to any other nation in the world. He added that Israel is one of the few states that practices occupation and racial discrimination whilst at the same time claims to be victimized and gains sympathy and solidarity.
Boniface called for establishing clear distinction between three trends that should not be confused with each other; hostility towards Zionism, hostility towards Israel, and anti-Semitism. Hostility towards Zionism is nothing but a rejection to one of the ideologies that many religious and political Jewish symbols themselves stood against. Furthermore, criticizing the Israeli experience does not mean targeting Judaism as a religion or a nation, but rather it is a criticism that is hurled against a historical and political experience that enjoys no sanctity.
In Britain, a new movement emerged recently within the ranks of the Jewish community under the name of ‘Independent Jewish Voices’ (IJV). Some of its most prominent figures include the famous historian Eric Hobsbawm and well-known novelist Harold Pinter. The declared reason behind the emergence of this movement was to create a climate in which Jews from various backgrounds would be able to criticize Israel without being accused of betrayal. The movement also called for establishing a distinction between the right to criticize Israel and anti-Semitism which must not be a pretext to limit the freedom of thought and expression as well as an oppressive tool against advocates of human rights who denounce the violations of the Jewish state.
One of the most prominent figures in this field is distinguished British historian Tony Judt who, during his youth, fought with the Zionist movement and volunteered in the Israeli army during the 1967 war before becoming a member of a movement against the Zionist ideologies and Israeli policy. Judt publishes his articles regularly in some of the most important American intellectual journals and magazines, namely the New York Review of Books, The Nation and the New York Times. His articles focus on demanding the elimination of restrictions imposed upon critics of Israel and those who reject the Zionist ideology.
In this context, he wrote a provoking article in 2003 in a supplement of the New York Times in which he deemed Israel a historically transcended political situation. He called for a shift from the “State of Jews” (Herzl Project) to a natural secular and democratic state that accommodates its Arab population including displaced Palestinian refugees. In his book entitled ‘Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945’, Judt looks at the fact that the post-Cold War era had eliminated all taboos and opened all doors that were previously closed to free critical thinking, especially to criticism of Zionism.
This literature is still unknown within the Arab political discourse, which favors an inciting and struggling discourse that is still incapable of communicating with Jewish elites that are anti-Zionist and that are against Israel’s aggressive policies.