Somewhere Between Europe and Israel – A Conversation with Avraham Burg

European Diary, 25.2.2021: Yesterday Avraham Burg was our guest – online – in a joint event with the Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue (Vienna).

Conflicts about the future of Europe have always been linked to disputes about the role of European Jews. Their emancipation was seen as a test case of the liberal hopes of the 19th century, and their cross-border cosmopolitanism as a precursor of European unification – or as a scapegoat for nationalist ideologies. Today, the state of Israel seems to symbolically take its place – admittedly under the opposite sign, as the favorite child of right-wing populist and nationalist politicians. Avraham Burg has already crossed many borders in his life. After his political career, Avraham Burg is engaged in publishing and in various political initiatives for an ethnically and religiously neutral state of its citizens, a state that would follow the ideals of the European Union. While these ideals are admittedly coming under increasing pressure in contemporary Europe. In a recent interview with the newspaper Haaretz, he explained why he no longer wants to carry the entry “Jewish” as a “nationality” in the Israeli civil registry.

Avraham Burg was born in Jerusalem in 1955. His Dresden-born father, Josef Burg, was a rabbi, leader of the National Religious Party, and minister in twenty-one Israeli governments. Avraham Burg, on the other hand, linked his political involvement with the Peace Now movement and the Labor Party. Between 1995 and 1999, he was chairman of the World Zionist Organization, then president of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, for four years. In 2004, he left politics after publicly calling for Israel to choose between democracy and discrimination against the Arab minority.

„The patriarch Abraham discovered God outside the boundaries of the Land of Israel, the tribes became a people outside the Land of Israel, the Torah was given outside the Land of Israel, and the Babylonian Talmud, which is more important than the Jerusalem Talmud, was written outside the Land of Israel, the past 2,000 years, which shaped the Judaism of this generation, happened outside Israel. The present Jewish people was not born in Israel.”