A Zionist politician loses faith in the future.
he self-regard of Israelis is built, in no small part, around a sense of sang-froid, and yet few would deny that the past year was deeply unnerving. Last July, Israel launched an aerial attack on Lebanon designed to destroy the arsenal of the radical Islamist group Hezbollah, the Party of God, and force its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to return two kidnapped soldiers and end its cross-border rocket attacks. “If the soldiers are not returned,” Dan Halutz, the Israeli Army’s chief of staff, said at the time, “we will turn Lebanon’s clock back twenty years.” Israel bombed the runways of the Beirut airport, the Beirut-Damascus highway, and numerous towns, mainly in the south; Hezbollah, from a network of guerrilla installations and tunnel networks worthy of the Vietcong, launched some four thousand rockets, mainly Katyushas, at cities in northern Israel. Israel degraded Hezbollah’s military capabilities, at least temporarily, but there was no victory. Hezbollah survived and, in the eyes of the Islamic world, in doing so won; Nasrallah emerged as an iconic hero; and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, one of his sponsors, called yet again for the elimination of Israel from the map of the Middle East. Halutz, who had dumped all his stocks on the eve of the war, resigned, and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, saw his approval rating fall to as low as two per cent.
More recently, Hezbollah’s ideological ally in Palestine, Hamas—the Islamic Resistance Movement—led a violent uprising in the Gaza Strip, overwhelming its secular rival, Fatah. Suddenly, Israel, backed by the United States, found itself propping up the Fatah leadership, in order not to lose the West Bank to Hamas as well. Not even the ceremonial office of the Israeli Presidency was immune from the year’s disasters: a few weeks ago, President Moshe Katsav agreed to plead guilty to multiple sexual offences and resign, lest he face trial for rape. Despite a resilient, even booming economy, peace and stability have rarely seemed so distant.
In this atmosphere of post-traumatic gloom, Avraham Burg, a former Speaker of the Knesset, managed to inflame the Israeli public (left, right, and center) with little more than an interview in the liberal daily Ha’aretz, promoting his recent book, “Defeating Hitler.” Short of being Prime Minister, Burg could not be higher in the Zionist establishment. His father was a Cabinet minister for nearly four decades, serving under Prime Ministers from David Ben-Gurion to Shimon Peres. In addition to a decade-long career in the Knesset, including four years as Speaker, Burg had also been leader of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel. And yet he did not obey the commands of pedigree. “Defeating Hitler” and an earlier book, “God Is Back,” are, in combination, a despairing look at the Israeli condition. Burg warns that an increasingly large and ardent sector of Israeli society disdains political democracy. He describes the country in its current state as Holocaust-obsessed, militaristic, xenophobic, and, like Germany in the nineteen-thirties, vulnerable to an extremist minority.
Burg’s interlocutor for the Ha’aretz article was Ari Shavit, a writer well known in Israel for his confrontational interviews and his cerebral opinion articles. (His Profile of Ariel Sharon, “The General,” appeared in these pages in January, 2006.) Shavit’s interviewing style is aggressive and moralistic—not so distant, at times, from Oriana Fallaci’s in her prime. Politically, he is left of center, but, in the view of some to his left, he has seemed apocalyptic of late, warning darkly of the “existential” threats against Israel. In the preface to the interview, Shavit declared himself “outraged” by Burg’s book: “I saw it as one-dimensional and an unempathetic attack on the Israeli experience.”
The Israeli political world is unfailingly intimate. Shavit, who is forty-nine, and Burg, who is fifty-two, met twenty-five years ago, when they were both protesting against Israel’s first war in Lebanon. After the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel’s allies among the Christian Phalangists in 1982, Burg gave a powerful speech before four hundred thousand people at an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv—the biggest rally in the history of Israel. This was his entrance into public life. “Because Avrum was a lefty and a religious Jew who wore a kippa, he really stood out among the left-wing speakers,” Shavit told me. “That gave him a very specific role in our society, and he played it extremely well.” Whatever remained of the relationship between Burg and Shavit frayed badly when they met for their interview. After Burg described Israel as a perpetually “frightened society,” the discussion quickly grew tense:
SHAVIT: You are patronizing and supercilious, Avrum. You have no empathy for Israelis. You treat the Israeli Jew as a paranoid. But, as the cliché goes, some paranoids really are persecuted. On the day we are speaking, Ahmadinejad is saying that our days are numbered. He promises to eradicate us. No, he is not Hitler. But he is also not a mirage. He is a true threat. He is the real world—a world you ignore.
BURG: I say that as of this moment Israel is a state of trauma in nearly every one of its dimensions. And it’s not just a theoretical question. Would our ability to cope with Iran not be much better if we renewed in Israel the ability to trust the world? Would it not be more right if we didn’t deal with the problem on our own but, rather, as part of a world alignment beginning with the Christian churches, going on to the governments and finally the armies? Instead, we say we do not trust the world, they will abandon us, and here’s Chamberlain returning from Munich with the black umbrella and we will bomb them alone.
Burg has a fairly standard left-leaning view of the Palestinian question: even now, with Hamas in control of Gaza, the longer Israel delays in coming to terms with a sovereign Palestinian state, the more Palestinian society will radicalize and embrace maximalist, jihadi ideologies, and the more Israeli society will lose its moral sense. But some of the views that Burg expressed in the interview were far from standard. He told Shavit that civil disobedience would have been preferable to the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto and that Israel should give up its nuclear weaponry in exchange for an unspecified “deal” with its Arab neighbors. Israel’s “law of return,” which allows any Jew around the world to immigrate and become a citizen, was “dynamite” in the Arab world, he said, and needed to be reëvaluated. One subject that especially infuriated Shavit, and provoked countless letters to the editor, e-mail screeds, and editorial-page rebuttals, was Burg’s depiction of the European Union as an almost irresistibly attractive “biblical utopia” and his flouting of the fact that he holds a French passport, because his wife is French-born, and voted in the recent French elections. When Shavit asked Burg if he recommended that all Israelis acquire a second passport, Burg replied, “Whoever can”—a moment of determined cosmopolitanism. Shavit sarcastically called Burg “the prophet of Brussels.” He went on:
SHAVIT: There really is a deep anti-Zionist pattern in you. Emotionally, you are with German Jewry and American Jewry. They excite you, thrill you, and by comparison you find the Zionist option crude and spiritually meagre. It broadens neither the heart nor the soul.
BURG: Yes, yes. The Israeli reality is not exciting. People are not willing to admit it, but Israel has reached the wall. Ask your friends if they are certain their children will live here. How many will say yes? At most fifty per cent. In other words, the Israeli élite has already parted with this place. And without an élite there is no nation.
SHAVIT: You are saying that we are suffocating here for lack of spirit.
BURG: Totally. We are already dead. We haven’t received the news yet, but we are dead. It doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t work. . . . There is no one to talk to here. The religious community of which I was a part—I feel no sense of belonging to it. The secular community—I am not part of it, either. I have no one to talk to. I am sitting with you and you don’t understand me, either.
This was not the first time that Burg had outraged some of his countrymen. In 2003, when Hamas was carrying out a suicide-bombing campaign, he published an article in the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth (which was republished worldwide), saying, “Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism.” That statement caused a sensation not only because of the offices Burg held but also because of his ambitions. “Once I wanted very much to be prime minister,” he admitted to Shavit. “It burned like fire in my bones.” He allowed that he had been living “a lie” while he was in government. “I was not myself.” Now he was very much himself, a man with multiple identities, “beyond Israeli,” a universal humanist.
In Ha’aretz, Burg was prepared to explore his spiritual options and defend his quest for material well-being. Even as he lamented lost values, he made no apologies for going to court to retain the perks of his old job (particularly a chauffeur-driven jeep) or for his desire to leave behind public service for business. “Life is not just to be a pioneer with a hoe and a bold fighter at Lions Gate,” he said. “Life is also to be a merchant in Warsaw. Unequivocally, that is a richer totality in life.”
Soon after the interview was published, Otniel Schneller, a Knesset member from Ehud Olmert’s centrist Kadima Party, said that when Burg dies he should be denied burial in the special section of Mt. Herzl National Cemetery, in Jerusalem, reserved for national leaders. “He had better search for a grave in another country,” Schneller said. One letter to the Jerusalem Post compared Burg to young people who, after military service, go off to India to find their spiritual selves in an ashram. “Yesteryear, Burg would have been disowned as at least a lunatic,” the columnist Sarah Honig wrote in the same paper. “The grave danger is that today he gives voice and lends insidious quasi-respectability to what was heretofore unutterable. By tomorrow, the uncontrollable infestation he spreads might confer outright legitimacy on Israel’s delegitimatization.” If and when Israel’s borders changed, Honig continued, “Burg probably won’t stick around to risk the ensuing slaughter. The new Wandering Jew will pack his sinister seeds and propagate his wicked wandering weeds from afar.”
My own unscientific survey suggested that criticism of Burg was, with few exceptions, general and crossed ideological lines. Conservatives like the former Likud adviser Dore Gold said that Burg’s analysis was “dead wrong: what we used to call crum pshat—twisted interpretation—in the Yeshiva world.” A range of prominent political and cultural figures on the left—Yossi Beilin, the chairman of the Meretz-Yachad Party; Shulamit Aloni, a feminist and a former education minister; A. B. Yehoshua and Meir Shalev, both well-known novelists; and the peace activist Janet Aviad and the philosopher Avishai Margalit, a founder of Peace Now—expressed a familial disgust, or worse, for their wayward brother. They sensed in him a kind of undergraduate universalism, a table talk at once snobbish and half-baked. Burg’s remarks about Edenic Europe and his French passport were hypocritical, a particularly Israeli form of bad taste at a time when it could least be tolerated. “For the so-called head of the Zionist movement to say all this—to say, ‘Get another passport for your kids,’ ” Avishai Margalit said to me. “It’s like the Pope giving sex tips.”
“Avrum is a friend, but I felt what most people felt—that, beyond the ideological debate, there is something profoundly wrong in his character,” Yossi Klein Halevi, a writer, said. “You don’t take all the perks of the Zionist movement and refuse to relinquish them and then repudiate the most cherished notions of Zionism at the same time. There’s something smarmy about it. He is so totally out of touch with Israeli reality that I’m appalled that he ever had any positions of Israeli authority. That interview really destroyed him, or he destroyed himself.”
Avrum Burg lives with his wife in the tiny village of Nataf, in the hills west of Jerusalem. They have six children, all grown. Burg’s bungalow is surrounded by shrubbery, desert blooms, bougainvillea, and a tiny lawn. The Israeli Arab village of Abu Ghosh is a few minutes down the road, and the border with the West Bank is little more than a thousand yards away. The house in Nataf is quiet except for the mewling of cats, whinnying horses, and the attention-beseeching barks of Burg’s dog, Buling, who is missing his left hind leg. The dog, Burg explained, lost the leg when, on patrol with one of Burg’s sons in the West Bank city of Nablus, he leaped at a Palestinian gunman just as he was firing his gun. “Buling saved my son’s life,” Burg said, “so we had to adopt him.”
Burg is a vegetarian, and fit; he has taken up marathon running. He is nearly bald, and wears a small knit yarmulke. Normally, this is the yarmulke of the modern Orthodox, though Burg seemed eager to emphasize his disaffection from all things Orthodox; he told me of his affinity for B’nai Jeshurun, a synagogue on New York’s Upper West Side where some of the rabbis are women and the sermons are as likely to quote Martin Luther King as Maimonides. “My alliance with the people at B’nai Jeshurun,” he said, “is much more immediate and intensive and important for me than my alliance with my nephew or my cousin, who lives two kilometres away in the West Bank, a fundamentalist settler.”
Burg comes from a conservative Zionist family; his father helped found Mafdal, the National Religious Party. But when he started out in politics he joined the Labor Party; he was deeply influenced by Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a scientist and philosophy professor at Hebrew University who had contempt for the Greater Israel movement’s conflation of religion and politics and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Leibowitz referred to abusive Israeli soldiers as “Judeo-Nazis” and was so upset by the sight of the festivities around the Western Wall after the Six-Day War that he referred to it as a “disco wall.” In the pursuit of increasingly higher offices, Burg avoided such language. He held back, he self-censored. “You’re into the system,” he said. “You’re in the tunnel. I was a devoted politician and so I talked the talk.”
But then, he said, “after some fifteen, twenty years in political life I had a feeling all of a sudden that, to use the Biblical term, Israel was the kingdom without prophesy. I realized that the three founding narratives of the national idea of Israeliness were over: the mass immigration to the land, aliyah; the security of the land; and the settling of the land. All three had served their purpose and were no longer the core of the nation’s narratives. I asked myself what was the alternative. This was a long process of thought. I didn’t feel that the political system in Israel was trying to renew its thinking.”
In 2001, Burg attempted to succeed Ehud Barak as leader of the Labor Party and lost. Thwarted, if not entirely humbled, he quit the Knesset in 2004. At one point in the last months of his political life, he said, “I went on a very long walk on the Appalachian Trail. I went for five weeks and crossed half the state of Connecticut, the whole state of New York, and half the state of New Jersey. I saw maybe twelve people, none of them Jewish—for the first time in my life. I did a lot of thinking, and I realized that I had to change the pace of my life.”
In “Defeating Hitler,” Burg writes that one of the most dispiriting aspects of Israeli political conversation is the constant reference point of the slaughter of six million Jews in the nineteen-forties. “The most optimistic years in the state of Israel were 1945 to 1948,” he said to me. “The farther we got from the camps and the gas chambers, the more pessimistic we became and the more untrusting we became toward the world. It was a shock to me. Didn’t we, the politicians, feed the public? Didn’t we cheapen the sanctity of the Holocaust by using it about everything? Some people say, ‘Occupation? You call this occupation? This is nothing compared to the absolute evil of the Holocaust!’ And if it is nothing compared to the Holocaust then you can continue. And since nothing, thank God, is comparable to the ultimate trauma it legitimatizes many things.” Burg said that contemporary Israelis “are not at the stage to be sensitive enough to what happens to others and in many ways are too indifferent to the suffering of others. We confiscated, we monopolized, world suffering. We did not allow anybody else to call whatever suffering they have ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide,’ be it Armenians, be it Kosovo, be it Darfur.
“In the last years, Israeliness has confined itself for itself only and lost interest almost for what happens in the world,” he went on. “For me, Israel is shrinking into its own shell rather than struggling for a better world. Who is responsible for identity? The ultraOrthodox. They sit in the yeshivot”—the religious schools. “Who is responsible for our fundamental relation to the soil? The settlers. The two tribes responsible for the spiritual dimension and the territorial dimension are anti-modern Israel.”
Burg is ambivalent about the kind of support that the Israeli government has traditionally received from the United States government and the American Jewish community. His views, in fact, are not far from those expressed in a controversial article published last year in the London Review of Books, by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, denouncing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for subordinating American policy to Israeli interests and, by doing so, radicalizing public opinion in the Arab world.
“Can you imagine the European Union with a lobby or a PAC for the Knesset?” Burg said. “Maybe this was O.K. in the early fifties, but today I don’t need it.” He would prefer that Israel take no financial aid from the United States: “I don’t like it. A state like mine should live on its own means.” What Israel does need from its superpower ally is the impetus to move forward on negotiations with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, no matter how paralyzed, fractured, and desperate the situation now appears. A purposeful American President, he said, can always push forward even the most conservative Israeli Prime Minister. “Even Yitzhak Shamir shlepped to Madrid” for a peace conference in 1991, he said. “Israel needs dramatic decisions, like de Gaulle giving up Algeria.”
The longer Israel waits to resolve the Palestinian question, Burg said, the more intractable the problem becomes and the more deeply it scars the psyches of both sides. In towns near Gaza, like Sderot, the political outcry is not for peace talks but for military action. Among some right-wing Israeli politicians, there is open talk of schemes to “transfer” Palestinians to Jordan or other neighboring Arab countries, and this alarms Burg: “You hear the conversation in the Knesset, you hear it in the public, you see the graffiti ‘Arabs out’—like Juden raus. I don’t care all that much about the right-wing hoodlum who writes the graffiti so much as I do the municipalities that don’t erase it. The seeds of national chauvinism are here and flourishing. Of course, I can understand all the fears—can you imagine an American kid hit by a foreign rocket in Chevy Chase? Can you imagine the hysteria? I’ve watched Jack Bauer very closely. ‘24’ iconizes the fears of America. So if this seems right in Los Angeles it must be right in Sderot.”
Although Burg is now trying to make a living as a businessman, there are those who think that “Defeating Hitler” is an attempt to reënter the political discussion and, eventually, the electoral arena. And, in fact, Burg’s views on some issues, if not his language, are in keeping with the Israeli mainstream. Even now, with Palestinian politics in chaos, around two-thirds of Israelis, and almost as many Palestinians, are ready to accept a two-state solution—an independent Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank with part of Jerusalem as its capital. What Ari Shavit and so many others are less willing to accept is Burg’s harsh diagnosis of “Israeliness.”
“The comparison with pre-Nazi Germany is absurd,” Shavit said over lunch one afternoon in Jerusalem. “Also, Israel was much more militaristic in the old days. I don’t like the role of generals in political life, and I regret the lack of a Truman to restrain the influence of generals—a tough, decent civilian who understands the need to use power but who is decisive in controlling the Army. But there is nothing here of that Junker tradition or even anything like America’s military élites and academies. Israelis live in an open, free society with a very free spirit, even verging on anarchy. To describe us as a Bismarckian state with expansionist chauvinism—if there was a grain of truth to that, it was thirty years ago! Soldiers here take off their uniforms as soon as they come home. They’re not proud of their uniforms or their ranks. Wearing a uniform doesn’t get you girls.” There are anti-Arab racists in Israel, he added, but nothing like those in Burg’s favorite part of the world. “There are actual racist parties in Continental Europe that are far more powerful than any of the sickening elements here,” Shavit said. “There is no chance that an Israeli Day parade will draw as many as the number of people who came out for the Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv. So to describe this as a Prussian Sparta is ridiculous.”
One morning, Shavit and I drove south to Sderot, which is surely the most anxious—and Burg-resistant—town in Israel. Sderot is a “development town,” one of many towns that began as absorption sites in the nineteen-fifties for “Oriental” Jews, mainly religious and poor, from Morocco, Algeria, and other Muslim countries. More recently, many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who are generally low-income and politically conservative, have moved to such towns. Sderot, with a population of twenty-four thousand, is the closest Israeli town to the Gaza Strip—about half a mile from Beit Hanoun, just over the border. Since 2001, Sderot has been hit by nearly five thousand homemade Qassam missiles launched from Beit Hanoun by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other groups. Qassams are extremely inaccurate, but they have exacted a toll, especially psychologically. The rockets have killed eleven Israelis in Sderot—far fewer than the Gazans who have been killed by Israeli F-16s, helicopter gunships, and troops—and have succeeded in terrorizing the town. In the second half of May, when hundreds of rockets fell on Sderot, eighty per cent of the population evacuated, according to city officials.
The mayor, Eli Moyal, a rangy, chain-smoking Moroccan who has been called the Rudy Giuliani of Israel by his admirers, has demanded that the Olmert government take more severe military actions against Gaza and has denounced the leadership for failing to spend enough on shelters. The shelter problem has been addressed by Arcadi Gaydamak, one of the most mysterious figures in Israel. He is a Russian-born, multi-passport-holding billionaire oligarch who is wanted in France for tax evasion and for making illegal arms deals with Angola. (He has denied any wrongdoing.) Gaydamak has provided temporary housing for residents from Sderot during heavy periods of attack, and last summer, during the war with Hezbollah, he underwrote a tent village on the beach in Nitzanim for people fleeing the shelling in towns in northern Israel. Gaydamak recently bought Beitar Jerusalem, the popular soccer team supported by the city’s political conservatives, and used his money to improve its roster. Last year, he offered the people of Sderot free vacations to the beach resort of Eilat; and he has even talked—in Russian and English; he speaks almost no Hebrew—about running for mayor of Jerusalem.
When I asked Moyal about Gaydamak, he took a long drag on his cigarette, with such force that he burned it to the filter.
“Aaacchh,” he said, exhaling at last. “Don’t make me talk too much about . . . him.” The Gaydamak phenomenon was evidence of a failed government. Nor was Moyal pleased, he said, to have received a gift of more than two million dollars from an American evangelical group for the purpose of reinforcing buildings against rocket attacks. Moyal came to office hoping to build schools, and he has ended up on the borderline of what is widely known in Israel as “Hamastan.” Even as the Israeli government, along with the United States, tries to bolster the Fatah president, Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank, with funds and diplomatic blandishments, Hamas has an absolute hold over Gaza.
“Look,” Moyal said. “Hamas wants to empty Sderot. If we experience a hundred rockets a day—and Hamas says it has ten thousand rockets in its arsenal—no one will stay, and Hamas will be able to show the world that it can beat Israel with its primitive arms. It’s so simple: make Hamas pay a price for this. But the Israeli reaction is nothing. And if Sderot collapses this will be the end of Israel. Then Hamas will reach Ashdod,” ten miles farther north. “And then what? Evacuate Ashdod, a city of two hundred thousand people? Imagine if they start launching rockets from Judea and Samaria”—the West Bank—“and they hit Tel Aviv.”
Moyal said that if the United States could send troops thousands of miles to Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Olmert could surely order a more decisive force into Gaza. Sharon’s unilateral disengagement, in August, 2005, he said, had been a disaster: Hamas controlled Gaza and the Qassams had not stopped. “The big mistake is that this was all for nothing. At the time, the defense minister under Sharon, Shaul Mofaz, said that if after disengagement there was just one Qassam Gaza City would be shut down. We’ve had a few thousand rockets since then.”
Moyal expressed disgust for the generation of Israeli politicians now in their forties and fifties—not least Avraham Burg—and said that it was because of their failure that “we are living in a retro age,” in which the emerging contenders for Prime Minister are two former Prime Ministers: Barak, of Labor, and, Moyal’s preference, Benjamin Netanyahu, of Likud.
Later, Moyal took me to the police station where the municipality stores debris from the missiles that have fallen on Sderot. About a hundred of the rockets—twisted metal tubes, thicker ones by Hamas, thinner by Islamic Jihad—lay on a set of shelves. “Here is the latest harvest!” he said, as if the distorted metal were a rack of prize melons. The police paint the date on the rockets the day they fall. Moyal pointed to one from the previous morning, which exploded in a scrubby field on the edge of town. “This is yesterday’s, fresh from the oven.”
Nearby, in a tiny office, a few young Army technicians monitored a series of computer screens. They were getting satellite information from surveillance cameras, including cameras mounted on a blimp that hovers above Gaza. More than ninety per cent of the time, when rockets are launched toward Sderot from Gaza, the system, called Red Dawn, picks up their flight and an alarm sounds throughout the town.
“You have about fifteen seconds to take cover,” Moyal said.
Most Israelis believe that the occupation of Arab lands is untenable, and they also wonder how, when both Palestinian and Israeli politics have degenerated, the economy has soared. The Tel Aviv stock-exchange index has gone up two hundred and ten per cent in the past four years.
In the coming months, it may turn out that the most important constituency applying pressure to the Israeli government to engage the Palestinians in diplomatic negotiations will be not the activists or the left wing of the Labor Party but, rather, the entrepreneurs and managers who run such successful companies as Teva, Check Point, and Iscar. According to Bernard Avishai, a consulting editor with Harvard Business Review and the author of “The Tragedy of Zionism,” the business élites know that political unrest and, of course, potential war on any front threatens their interests. Those same businessmen are also wary of the most right-wing sector of society: the thirty-eight per cent of the Jewish population that wants the state to be run by religious law, and the thirty per cent that wants Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, to be pardoned.
“The continued success of the economy depends on global companies being willing to let Israeli companies into their networks,” Avishai told me over lunch in Jerusalem. “If Israel collapses into chaos—if the Lebanon war had been six months instead of one—that could all end.”
Olmert and the two leading contenders to succeed him, Netanyahu and Barak, differ politically, but they are all closely connected to the business élites, and they can easily see that, decades after the country left behind its old semi-socialist pioneer economy for a modern one, it cannot afford to let its most educated and entrepreneurial young people leave for Europe and the United States. Avishai said that about a third of forty-five business and law students he taught a few years ago at the Interdisciplinary Center, in Herzliya, now live abroad, and many of them may never return. According to a study by the Institute for Economic and Social Policy at the Shalem Center, in Jerusalem, Israel is the world’s largest exporter of intellectual capital to the United States.
“Will the young people take the job offer in London from Goldman Sachs or will they stay here and wait for the missiles to fall?” Avishai said. “The question is, is this a good enough place to come back to when they are married and have children? Finally, the Israeli government has to confront its own crazies and create a national consensus on democratic ideals, enact a secular constitution, and really confront the settlers. So far, the government is only willing to say that it is making ‘painful’ moves. We are told that we have to grieve with the settlers, think about making deals, but quietly let on that we actually think these are the real Israeli pioneers. Bullshit. Avrum Burg might not express the need to change in the most effective way, but at least he has the courage to insist on it.