OpinionJewish Diaspora

A new challenge for American Zionists

Why is an ostensibly Zionist organization pushing an Israeli anti-Zionist party?

Israeli author Avraham Burg during an interview held on Dec. 17, 2013. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash9.0
Israeli author Avraham Burg during an interview held on Dec. 17, 2013. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash9.0
Moshe Phillips
Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press.  

A new political movement in Israel is calling for the creation of a binational Arab-Jewish entity instead of a Jewish state. The movement’s plan includes eliminating the anthem “Hatikvah,” the Israeli flag and the Law of Return. So, why is an American Zionist organization providing a platform to such extremists?

These are frustrating times for the far-left in Israel. Its main voice, the Meretz Party, did not win enough votes in the last election to enter the Knesset. It is unclear whether the party will survive.

One party is hoping to take Meretz’s place on the far-left. Former Knesset Member Avraham Burg and Haifa University professor Faisal Azaiza have created a new party called “All Its Citizens.” In an early June webinar, Burg and Azaiza explained their platform and their goal of attracting those who voted for Meretz and other far-left parties in the last election.

The Burg-Azaiza platform is noticeably more extreme than that of Meretz. In fact, they want to completely strip Israel of its Jewish identity. Burg said that the music to “Hatikvah” would be retained, but the lyrics would be removed. The national flag would not display a Star of David. Instead, it would just be “a color.” The Law of Return—which grants automatic citizenship to any Jew who needs or wants it—would be repealed. Instead, Burg said, “An individual Jew who is persecuted might be given a fast track to citizenship.” He quickly added, “Palestinians seeking shelter would have the same right.”

Burg explicitly denounced the idea of any connection between Israel and world Jewry. “Israel does not belong to the whole Jewish people—it belongs only to the citizens of Israel,” he asserted.

Obviously, Burg and Azaiza have the right to promote their anti-Zionist vision. What is noteworthy, however, is that they did so via a webinar hosted and promoted by an ostensibly Zionist organization—Partners for Progressive Israel (PPI).

PPI is the U.S. equivalent of Meretz. The Burg-Azaiza party, however, is much more extreme than Meretz ever was. Meretz does not reject such basic tenets of Zionism as the idea that Israel belongs to the entire Jewish people. The very first paragraph of its platform calls Israel “the country of the Jewish people” and “the national home for the Jewish people,” as well as a country of its citizens. This is the opposite of what Burg now advocates.

The Meretz platform does not call for eliminating “Hatikvah,” the Israeli flag or the Law of Return. In fact, it contains language that indicates the party expects the Law of Return will never be abolished.

Moreover, the Meretz platform speaks of an Israel-Diaspora relationship that is very different from what Burg demands. On page 29 of its platform, the party states, “There is a historic and national connection between Jews in the State of Israel and Jews in the Diaspora.”

The platform then explicitly embraces the statement from Israel’s Declaration of Independence, “The State of Israel will be open to Jewish immigration and to the ingathering of the exiles.” Meretz emphasizes that it “openly welcomes Jews who are interested in settling here.”

As a former member of the board of the American Zionist Movement, I know that its member organizations take its principles seriously. AZM’s mission statement, as featured on its website, declares that it “is comprised of 42 national Jewish Zionist organizations and works across a broad ideological, political and religious spectrum linking the American Jewish community together in support of Israel, Zionism and the Jewish people.”

AZM has accepted PPI as a member, which means it believed that PPI accepts AZM’s basic principles. But promoting the Burg-Azaiza anti-Zionist party is not “promoting and defending Zionism.” It is doing the exact opposite. Their party clearly opposes the most fundamental principles and symbols of Zionism.

Perhaps PPI will claim that it was merely presenting the Burg-Azaiza webinar for informational purposes, not as an endorsement. Perhaps it will say that PPI’s former executive director, who hosted the webinar, was just being polite when he offered to send links to Burg’s podcasts and other activities to members of the listening audience. Perhaps.

Yet the webinar did not offer any opposing points of view. It didn’t contain critical or challenging questions. It was essentially a free infomercial for the “All Its Citizens” party, including helpful offers of assistance from PPI’s host.

Partners for Progressive Israel owes it to the American Zionist community to clearly reject and denounce the anti-Zionist principles that were presented in its webinar by Burg and Azaiza. If it does not do so, AZM’s other member organizations may justifiably conclude that PPI, while claiming to be Zionist, is in fact promoting anti-Zionism itself.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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