Avrum Burg, former MK from the Labor Party, Speaker of the Knesset, and head of the Jewish Agency, has a new political vision:
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 emotional 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.
Is this a step in the right direction? Sort of. But it’s a bit like a guy who shouts: “I have a big announcement: I’m going to get married!” Then, when asked who the bride-to-be is, he sheepishly responds: “Oh, we haven’t met yet — but we will.”
If this is going to be a state in which the Jewish people have chosen to renew their sovereignty and where they realize their right to self-determination, will it also be a state in which the Palestinian people have chosen to renew their sovereignty and where they realize their right to self-determination?
Burg says his new party “will wrestle with the sanctimonious internal contradiction of ‘a Jewish and democratic state’,” but if Israel has been wrestling with this contradiction throughout its existence, isn’t there a need to resolve the contradiction and not merely carry on wrestling with it?
Burg says: “The greatest internal threat to Israel’s existence is the erosion of Israeli democracy, which has already lost its internal substance — the values of freedom and total commitment to all its citizens.”
He got that right. And instead of presenting the promise of change through the creation of a party that so far lacks a visible foundation, maybe Burg’s energies would be better employed delivering his message that Israeli democracy is collapsing to Americans who imagine otherwise.