Leaving the Zionist ghetto By Ari Shavit We met 25 years ago. Exactly 25 years ago. Avraham - Avrum - Burg and I were then part of a small group of reserve soldiers and officers who came out against the First Lebanon War. "Soldiers Against Silence," we were called. Very quickly Avrum was taken from us. In the great demonstration of the 400,000 [the peace rally in Tel Aviv following the September 1982 massacre in the Sabra and Chatilla camps in Beirut], he became a star and immediately turned to politics. At first he was one of Shimon Peres' smart young men. Then he was the great hope of the Labor Party's Young Guard. After that the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Speaker of the Knesset, a candidate for the Labor leadership. And then, suddenly, three years ago, Burg got up and left. Went to feather his nest. Got entangled in a problematic and failed privatization deal. Was slandered in the papers, scrutinized by the state comptroller, investigated by the police. And all this time he was writing a book. All this time he was formulating the bold insights of "Defeating Hitler." Burg will not admit it, but from his point of view the book he is launching now, to coincide with Hebrew Book Week, is a book of prophecy. A book that is intended to vest the kingdom with prophecy. For others, the book will not be easily definable. It contains deep thoughts about Israel and Zionism, a prolonged comparison between Israel and Germany, trenchant criticism of Eichmann's hanging, reflections on Judaism in the age of globalization and memories from his father's house. Yosef Burg, the refugee from Dresden, accords the book a certain softness that is not to be found in the angry words of his son. True, toward the end the optimist Avrum tries to transform his eulogy into a paean, but the attempt is not entirely convincing. The Israel of "Defeating Hitler" is a very harsh place. Brutal and imperialist, confrontational and insular. A shallow place, thuggish, lacking spiritual inspiration. I was outraged by the book. I saw it as a turning away of an Israeli colleague from our shared Israeliness. I saw it as a one-dimensional and unempathetic attack on the Israeli experience. Still, the dialogue with Avrum was riveting. We got angry at each other and raised our voices at each other and circled each other warily like two wounded gladiators in the arena. You can't take away from Avrum what he has. You can't take away the education or the articulateness or the ability to touch truly painful places. Maybe that's why he is so infuriating. Friend and predator; brother and deserter. Avrum Burg, I read your new book, "Defeating Hitler," as a parting from Zionism. Am I wrong? Are you still a Zionist? "I am a human being, I am a Jew and I am an Israeli. Zionism was an instrument to move me from the Jewish state of being to the Israeli state of being. I think it was Ben-Gurion who said that the Zionist movement was the scaffolding to build the home, and that after the state's establishment it should be dismantled." So you confirm that you are no longer a Zionist? "Already at the First Zionist Congress, Herzl's Zionism was victorious over the Zionism of Ahad Ha'am. I think that the 21st century should be the century of Ahad Ha'am. We have to leave Herzl behind and move to Ahad Ha'am." Does this mean that you no longer find the notion of a Jewish state acceptable? "It can't work anymore. To define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end. A Jewish state is explosive. It's dynamite." And a Jewish-democratic state? "People find this very comfortable. It's lovely. It's schmaltzy. It's nostalgic. It's retro. It gives a sense of fullness. But 'Jewish-democratic' is nitroglycerine." We have to change the national anthem? "The anthem is a symbol. I would be ready to buy into a reality in which everything is fine and only the anthem is screwed-up." Do we have to amend the Law of Return? "We have to open the discussion. The Law of Return is an apologetic law. It is the mirror image of Hitler. I don't want Hitler to define my identity." Should the Jewish Agency be dismantled? "Back when I was chairman of the Jewish Agency, I suggested changing its name from the Jewish Agency for the Land of Israel to the Jewish Agency for Israeli Society. There is room for philanthropic tools. But at the center of its experience it have to deal with all of Israel's citizens, including the Arabs." You write in your book that if Zionism is catastrophic Zionism, then you are not only post-Zionist but anti-Zionist. And I say that since the 1940s, the catastrophic element has been integral to Zionism. It follows that you are anti-Zionist. "Ahad Ha'am made the charge against Herzl that his whole Zionism had its source in anti-Semitism. He thought of something else, of Israel as a spiritual center - the Ahad Ha'am line has not died, and now its time has come. Our confrontational Zionism vis-a-vis the world is disastrous." But it's not just the Zionist issue. Your book is anti-Israeli, in the deepest sense. It is a book from which loathing of Israeliness emanates. "When I was a boy I was a Jew. In the language prevalent here: a Jew-boy. I attended a heder [religious school]. I was taught by former yeshiva students. After that, for most of my life I was an Israeli. Language, signs, smells, tastes, places. Everything. Today that is not enough for me. In my situation today, I am beyond Israeli. Of the three identities that form me - human, Jewish and Israeli - I feel that the Israeli element deprives the other two." On the face of it, your position is conciliatory and humanistic. But out of that approach you develop a very harsh attitude toward Israeliness and Israelis. You say terrible things about us. "I think that I have written a book of love. Love hurts. If I were writing about Nicaragua, I wouldn't care. But I am coming from a place of tremendous pain. I see my love withering before my eyes. I see my society and the place I was raised in and my home being destroyed." Love? You write that Israelis understand only force. If someone were to write that Arabs understand only force or that the Turkmen understand only force, he would immediately be condemned as a racist. And rightly. "You can't take one sentence and say that this is the whole book." It's not just one sentence. It is repeated. You say that we have force, a great deal of force and only force. You say that Israel is a Zionist ghetto, an imperialistic, brutish place that believes only in itself. "Look at the Lebanon War. The people returned from the field of battle. There were certain achievements, there were certain failures, things were revealed. You would expect people in the mainstream and even on the right to understand that when the IDF is allowed to win, it doesn't win. That force is not a solution. But then comes Gaza, and what is the Gaza discourse? We will smash them, we will erase them. Nothing has sunk in. Nothing. And it's not just between nation and nation. Look at the relations between people. Listen to the personal conversation. The graph of violence on the roads, the discourse of the battered women. Look at the mirror of Israel's face." What you are saying is that the problem is not just the occupation. In your eyes, Israel as a whole is some sort of horrible mutation. "The occupation is a very small part of it. Israel is a frightened society. To look for the source of the obsession with force and to uproot it, you have to deal with the fears. And the meta-fear, the primal fear is the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust." ]That is the book's thesis. You are not the first to propose it, but you formulate it very acutely. We are psychic cripples, you claim. We are gripped by dread and fear and make use of force because Hitler caused us deep psychic damage. "Yes." Well, I will counter by saying that your description is distorted. It's not as though we are living in Iceland and imagining that we are surrounded by Nazis who actually disappeared 60 years ago. We are surrounded by genuine threats. We are one of the most threatened countries in the world. "The true Israeli rift today is between those who believe and those who are afraid. The great victory of the Israeli right in the struggle for the Israeli political soul lies in the way it has imbued it almost totally with absolute paranoia. I accept that there are difficulties. But are they absolute? Is every enemy Auschwitz? Is Hamas a scourge?" You are patronizing and supercilious, Avrum. You have no empathy for Israelis. You treat the Israeli Jew as a paranoid. But as the cliche 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. "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."