Sunday, August 14, 2016

Avrum Burg : 'Israel must dock at Mideastern port '

Look who has waded into Israel's culture wars in the wake of the Biton report - maverick politician Avrum Burg!  Burg has travelled a long and winding road, from religious pillar of the establishment as speaker of the Knesset to French anti-Zionist member of the Arab Hadash party. Some of what he has to say in this Haaretz article is worthy, but the whole lacks context, failing to take into account the seminal Mizrahi experience of ethnic cleansing from the Arab world - the Jewish Nakba. My comments are interspersed in italics (With thanks: Lily).

Avrum Burg: 'Mizrahim to be a bridge'

Although the Ashkenazi culture and institutions are part of our dwindling interface with the West, they are also barriers between us and our neighbors, near and far.

Why should Ashkenazi culture and institutions be barriers between  Israel and its neighbours? A similar culture and language does not prevent Taiwan and China being at daggers drawn,  West and East Germany to have been enemies for 40 years, or Ukraine and Russia to be at war.

When the dust finally settles from the fervor and stupidity surrounding Erez Biton and Gidi Orsher, when the exploiters and the inciters fall silent, it will be clear that Israeli society is indeed undergoing a deep and profound change that is moving us from west to east.

While Burg has been wrestling with his tortured conscience, the Mizrahification of Israeli culture and society has been happening imperceptibly over the past 40 years. The Biton report serves only to formalise it in the education curriculum.

Israel in 1948 was established using frameworks that were imported from Jewish and other, general communities of Central and Eastern Europe. The institutions, the personalities, the culture, the heritage and the customs all came from there. But once the state was founded it emerged, alas, that most of the masses that were expected to populate it had been annihilated. Thus the Zionist revolution made a sharp turn toward the Jews from Islamic countries. It was not what had been planned, but a post factum constraint; human replacement parts for the new state that needed Jews to populate it.

In contrast to the founders’ sour expression while they watched the land being flooded with unfamiliar human material with strange customs and languages, those who arrived here could barely contain their joy. This initial encounter was also the seminal point of division. While Ashkenazi Zionism had been a defiant rebellion against Judaism, for nearly all the Jews of the Islamic lands Israel was a fulfillment of their prayers and of their yearning for Zion. It pitted the Zionism of revolution against the Judaism of evolution.

To mediate between the two, the fiery melting pot became the heart of Israeli identity. The system did its best to melt everyone together and reform them into a Hebrew, all-Israeli mold. Over time it became clear that this furnace didn’t work; identities were neither melted nor erased.

 Not true - perhaps Burg has not noticed from his French look-out tower, but the Israeli melting pot has been a resounding success.  Intermarriage has been running at 25 percent and Mizrahi/Ashkenazi distinctions will soon be a thing of the past.

Israel is now dealing with the resulting burns, and its interethnic struggles are an effort to find a balance between its identities.

This is the larger context in which we periodically have outbursts of "tribal" expressions and vitriol, whether from the late Ovadia Yosef and Dudu Topaz, or from Shlomo Benizri and Gidi Orsher, may they live long lives. Oblivious to the racism embedded in their comments, each is trying swing the pendulum of Israeliness in their direction. For many years Israel was substantially Ashkenazi, and its power relations were tainted by racism and ethnic-based rewards. After years of distortion, there are those who seek to push society in the opposite direction. This is not a bad thing; it may even be good.
But amid the inherent tension between the founders and the joiners who were hurt, Israel is losing its way. We have become a disconnected place; we have distanced ourselves from both ports of departure – in the Christian countries and the Islamic ones – but we’ve never reached our destination port. Our society and our state are democratic in character but are also a natural part of the geographic and cultural fabric that surrounds us. Our obsession with definitions is not just a security need, but an ongoing effort to perpetuate the separation from the Middle Eastern port at which we refuse to dock.

Why should Israel need to to dock at a destination  Middle Eastern port? Israelis do not want to return to being 'dhimmis' in the Arab region. Israeli culture is a work in progress - a synthesis of all sorts of influences, including Middle Eastern. That's what makes it so dynamic and interesting.

Part of the responsibility for this rests with our neighbors, but a substantial part of it rests heavily on our national shoulders. The founders, who spoke Yiddish and Russian, never succeeded in really connecing to the Jews from Arab lands, and certainly not to the surrounding Arab environment.

For Avrum Burg, it all about the Ashkenazi elites making amends for 'discriminating' against the Mizrahim in the 1950s. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

Although the Ashkenazi culture and institutions are part of our dwindling interface with the West, they are also barriers between us and our near and more distant neighbors. The time has come to dismantle some of them, to rebuild some of them, and to establish different frames of reference, both internal and external.

A more Mizrahi Israel has a lot to gain. I believe that yielding the hegemony of society’s Ashkenazi component and recognizing the injustices toward the immigrants from Islamic countries will facilitate a crucial airing out of outdated and tainted foundations, and eliminate a few of the privileges that never should have developed at all.

In an Israel of both eastern and western Jews, there will be new social orders that equalize and cherish both. Israel will respect all the Israeli traditions and legacies, including the eastern and Arabic ones. This revamped Israel will be unable to avoid a crucial conversation with the Muslim societies from whence many of us came.

The Ashkenazim, along with their pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit, brought with them Western democracy, the parliamentary system, academia and socioeconomic thought – but also ideological extremism, both religious and political.

 It is true that Ashkenazi religious orthodoxy is narrow and exclusionary compared to the more easy-going Sephardi tradition, but it is false to claim that Sephardim and Mizrahim may not be politically extremist. Just ask the football fans of Beitar Jerusalem!

These are the sources of our contemporary failures. Without a bridge to the rest of the region, we have no sustainable future here. Such an external bridge cannot be built without the heritage of eastern Jewry, and this heritage cannot be sustained without limiting and eliminating parts of the outdated Ashkenazi hegemony.

Ah, the well-worn assumption that Mizrahim are a 'bridge' to Arab societies.  Burg makes the common, but false, peacenik assumption that by becoming more 'Arab', Israel can make peace a reality.

The Israel of the future will be a synthesis between Western heritage and Eastern traditions – a traditional democracy. I don’t think we will ever have a majority here that will favor giving up basic Western values like democracy, rights, skepticism and literacy. Reality, however, will be a lot less secular and more traditional in defining identity and behavior.

 Agree. But it is hard to see what values, apart from piety, Israel can take from the Arab world. Forgive my cynicism but does Israel really want to import its superstitions, cultural stagnation, sectarianism, barbarism, corruption, gender segregation and intolerance of the Other?

Arabic will be a real social language, a shared linguistic space, not just the language of a despised minority and of members of the Shin Bet security service.

Here Burg's hidden agenda is showing -  to make Israel a 'state for all its citizens'. Mizrahim never spoke the Arabic of the Palestinians but various Judeo-Arabic dialects that are today on the verge of extinction. They were ethnically separate and their cultural values quite different.

Israelis’ roots in the countries of this region will be as respected as those in Poland and Russia. Religious customs, no matter how strange they seem, will not be grounds for arrogance or contempt (the grave in Uman is no less problematic from a theological perspective than the grave in Netivot). This model, of an interethnic conversation and an interreligious dialogue both here and abroad, could turn Israel from a place that is chronically ill with conflict to a global model of dialogue between the different and the rival.

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Sylvia said...

We'll see more of this and from the most unexpected sources. He is responding to Mahmoud Abbas' latest directive to his stooges to engage sectors in Israel and he particularly mentioned "the Mizrahim" and how the Ashkenazim treated them.

As if Avrum Burg and his father who was also a politician had not been part and parcel of that establishment and that policy he is now decrying.

And as if he is revealing something we didn't know before.

by Davsil said...

Avrum Burg is the epitome of Zionism. The child of a religious immigrant father from Germany and a Palestinian Jewish mother whose family had lived in Hebron since 1811, it's the German side he identifies most with while trashing his mother's Palestinian side because her very existence goes against the Zionist narrative. Therefore, according to the Zionist Burg, his family members are newcomers from Germany who stole "Palestinian" land. So typical.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Burg is a most repulsive person. And I have met him and knew some of his neighbors in Nataf. He was disliked and is dislikable. Think of his moral corruption in his effort to squeeze special benefits out of the Jewish Agency when he left or was pushed out of that body. He wanted not only money but a car and driver.

But opportunism is one of the best and most attractive sides of Burg's character. Or one of the least unattractive. So he noted which way the wind was blowing and deciding to jump on the bandwagon for the greater glory of Avrum Burg.

Of course, his historical ignorance or his willingness to distort history is striking. Consider:
"Israelis’ roots in the countries of this region will be as respected as those in Poland and Russia"
The roots of Eastern European Jews in those countries are respected only because they see Israel as strong and might talks. Just like money although they are not the same. But to say in a simplistic way that Jewish roots "in Poland and Russia" are respected in those countries is crazy --- or knowing Burg, simply gross dishonesty.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

On second thought, I am sure that Burg himself did not write this article. He always impressed me as being rather stupid and ignorant, but not too stupid to sign his paychecks. Further, publishing this article in his own name may have been meant to position him for a leadership role in the future.