Israelis are no longer agitated by the writings and speeches of former Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organisation chairman Avraham Burg, acting president of Israel for three weeks in the year 2000, denounced last year by an Israeli journalist as having made a “huge contribution” to the “demonisation, the dehumanisation and delegitimisation of Israel.”
If you are not a member of Peace Now and this is your introduction to him, be aware that this son of Dr Yosef Burg, a founding father of the State of Israel and leader of the religious Zionist organisation for many decades, has no time for organised Jewish religion (or much of its ideology) and even less for what today goes by the name of Zionism.
In this autobiographical and strikingly candid account of his life so far (he is 63), Burg, the loving son of a close-knit Orthodox family, records his early rebellions that presaged much of what was to follow — a preference for volleyball over religious school studies and, later, dalliance with his girlfriend rather than poring over books at the yeshiva.
Military service offered Burg the longed-for opportunity to break away from the religious life (although he continued to sport a kippah) and his experience in the IDF and Israel’s invasion of Lebanon drove him to join “Soldiers Against Silence”, a group of fighting men opposed to the Israeli occupation and Israel’s treatment of Arabs within and just outside her national borders.
That marked his entrance into politics and a subsequent career in Labour, a point from which he moved ever more leftwards.
Today, he is one of Israel’s leading advocates of equal rights for Arabs and for a two-state solution in which an Arab state contiguous with Israel would enjoy exactly the same rights as the Jewish state (including conduct of its own defence and foreign policy), the two states associated in a confederation and living in close association with Europe.
He is also an activist on women’s rights, arguing particularly for a revision of Jewish marriage rituals, which he regards as akin to trafficking in women, in which the man purchases the ownership of the woman.
Burg forcefully challenges the Jew on the Golders Green omnibus to think hard about his Jewish belief system and the nature of his attachment to Israel. If you are immovably rooted in rabbinic Judaism or believe in “Israel right or wrong,” read a different book.
In Days to Come by Avraham Burg, Nation Books, £22.99
Geoffrey Paul is a former editor of the JC