Avraham Burg on Israel s Left: The Land of Silence

The political left of Israel collapsed. The fight against the occupation now wholly depends on the country's civil society.

Eine Frau und zwei Männer sitzen in einem Büro an Laptops

Staff members of Breaking the Silence at work Foto: reuters

The outburst between the German Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister of Israel is a rare opportunity to peek into the bowels of Israeli politics and the mechanics of the Israeli soul. Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem are the true gatekeepers of the triad of democratic values, western culture, and Jewish heritage. This triad has come under severe political attacks for several years. Long before Brexit and Trump, before Len Pen, AFD, and the remaining populists.

At our helm, for some time, has been Prime Minister Netanyahu, who built his longstanding leadership on constant contrarianism, incitement, and a culture of hatred. At times Palestinians, and sometimes Iranians, Europeans, President Obama or Democrats – whomever they are and wherever they may be. Recently, once all previous opponents were exhausted, he returned to his favorite field – the Israeli Left. Sigmar Gabriel made no mistake, and is guilty of nothing – he was simply hurled onto a roller coaster unintended for him, and was injured on duty by Israel's fading democracy.

The process of erosion of Israel, in transforming from a young and admirable country to a state on the brink of leprosy, will celebrate its fiftieth birthday next month. In order to preserve the Jewish monopoly on privilege, we were compelled to become cruel and hard-hearted. Palestinian suffering has been effectively silenced, trauma and the Holocaust have become a national strategy to justify all, and endless efforts have been made to muffle any murmur of an alternative, any revelation of truth. An entire generation was raised this way, hardly informed and unaware of the existence of an immense humane humanitarian crisis right across the street.

These organizations were established to expose the true reality of the Israeli occupier and oppressor, which violates its own nation’s rights and those of its neighbors, and bring it to an end. From the outset they did not intend to serve as the political opposition, they were human rights organizations that wished to inform the average Israeli of what was being concealed by leading representatives. They wanted to urge Israel, at the time, to act according to the values that it set for itself. Over the years, the left-wing Israeli political system collapsed. Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated, the Oslo accords failed, the streets grew increasingly right-wing and our politicians panicked. Political parties weakened, ideas expired, and the occupation was orphaned. Civil society organizations were sucked into this vacuum, and left to fend for themselves at the forefront of the struggle against the occupation.

No ethical occupation

What happened to the Israeli political Left? Maybe it never was… in Israel, the sole distinction between Left and Right lies in one matter alone: a political settlement with the Palestinians. This dissonance lies in inherent discrimination, which completely eroded principles of equality among all citizens, enabling imperviousness to oppression of freedoms and rights of the other nation, the Palestinian nation.

Israel is the sole democracy in the Western world that completely controls the lives of another nation, against its will. This control is terrible for the occupied and corrupted the occupier. In spite of our historical experience, we refuse to internalize that there is no ethical occupation, there can be no moral discrimination, and kosher oppression has not yet come into being. In many senses, the Israeli consciousness is that of a battered child who became a violent parent. Everything that has been done to us throughout our long history, has not served as a preventative barrier for evil, but rather a mode of justification to authorize the condemnable and unacceptable.

When my son, who served as a combat soldier in Hebron, told me that he is one of Breaking the Silence's testifiers, I hugged him tight and kissed his sad and teary eyes. Why? I asked him quietly, „Because it's not right, because Hebron is evil and the occupation is terrible.“ He answered. Through his words, he told me something much greater than the both of us together. These wonderful organizations are my Israel and my pride. They are the patriots of humane Israel, who strive for truth and do not flee in the face of it. They are committed to ending the occupation and providing great hope for both nations and all our children. For all of that and more: Thank you Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem, and thank you Sigmar Gabriel for your firm moral spine, which embodies a more just lesson from our shared tragic history.

*Avraham Burg is a former speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the World Zionist Agency.

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62, war von 1999 bis Anfang 2003 Präsident der Knesset und von 1995 bis 1999 Vorsitzender der Zionistischen Weltorganisation.

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