Avraham Burg in Vienna – The difficulty of express criticism of Israel
Hitler für alle Zeiten besiegen (Buchbesprechung von R. Pohoryles)
A former Knesset speaker and erstwhile chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Avraham Burg, today enjoys merely being an Israeli author, ‘not even a historian’, as he said when he was invited to hold a talk at the Bruno Kreisky Forum on 5 November 2009. The event was not open to the public because Burg is a very controversial figure to many people. His last book, The Holocaust Is Over – We Must Rise From its Ashes, which has just been translated into German, gave the occasion for his invitation to the conference. In Hebrew, the title was Defeating Hitler, following the idea that if the Jewish people were to stay traumatized by the extermination of European Jews during World War II (for which the misnomers ‘Holocaust’ or ‘Shoah’ are widespread), then Hitler would have won the war. In his book, he used words like ‘Shoahization’ or ‘Shoah industry’ (p. 5) to challenge the pivotal role played by this concept in Israeli and, to some extent, Jewish identity. Well aware of such provocative views, the director of the Bruno Kreisky Forum decided to restrict the audience to a short-list of about 30 people.
In the introduction to the conference, Burg expressed his core argument, which relies on a comparison between the current situation in Israel and the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and 1930s. The parallel is drawn with respect to aversion towards foreigners, obsession with a trauma (the Treaty of Versailles in one case and the ‘Shoah’ in the other) and growing militarism.
Of course, Burg does not imply that Israel is about to become the Germany that developed from the Weimar Republic. He is not anti-Zionist, but he is opposed to nationalisms, and warns against what he sees as growing Israeli nationalism. He wants to emphasize that two options exist. Remaining traumatized or regeneration. The cities of Jerusalem, on the one hand, culturally suffocated by orthodox Jews, and Tel Aviv, on the other, nicknamed The Bubble (see the eponymous film by Eytan Fox), an island of creativity, represent these two poles. For Burg, there is no civilization shock, but a growing disparity between theocracies and democracies. Israel, where citizens cannot marry in a civilian ceremony, lies between these antitheses. Burg is, for instance, committed to the introduction of a civilian wedding ceremony and has just arranged his daughter’s wedding this way.
The speaker thinks that Jewish people should address the topic of the role played by the ‘Shoah’ in Israeli and Jewish identities. The ‘never again for the Jews’ should become ‘never again’ for everyone. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is turning into a competition between traumata, the ‘Naqba’ vs. the ‘Shoah’. The 13 Israelis who were killed during the Gaza conflict last winter were unconsciously added to the 6 millions victims of the Shoah, as opposed to mere 1,400 Palestinians who were killed in Gaza.
The interesting aspect of Burg’s stance is that he wants the profound discourse to take place. As he said, for a long time the majority position was that Jewish people should not wash their clothes in public because there were sure to be some goyim who would take advantage of the situation. Nowadays, the time has come for mass laundry.
In the Austrian Newspaper, der Standard, see this interview ‘Nein, es ist nicht 1938‘.
Thanks: Ian, for the edition of my text.
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