Blogs > HNN > Bennett Muraskin: Review of Avraham Burg's The Holocaust is Over: We Must Rise From its Ashes (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

Dec 28, 2008 10:39 pm

Bennett Muraskin: Review of Avraham Burg's The Holocaust is Over: We Must Rise From its Ashes (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

[Bennett Muraskin is on the faculty of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, wrote Let Justice Well Up Like Water: Progressive Jews from Hillel to Helen Suzman, and is a columnist at Jewish Currents.]

Avraham Burg has a fascinating biography. His father Joseph Burg, was a German Jew who arrived in Palestine in 1939 as a refugee from Nazism. For many years, he led Israel’s National Religious Party and served as a government minister. His mother’s family lived in Hebron for generations before she was driven out in the 1929 anti-Jewish riots that killed over 100 Jews including half her family.

Born in 1955 in Jerusalem, Avraham Burg is an observant Jew, yet has always been identified with the Israeli left. He joined Peace Now and participated in the movement against the Israel’s first Lebanon War in 1983. He was injured in the same grenade attack by an Israeli right-winger on a Peace Now demonstration that killed another protester. Entering the political mainstream, he was elected to the Knesset as a Labor Party candidate in 1988, became Speaker of the Knesset in the 1990s and mounted a serious challenge for leadership of the Labor Party in 2001. Along the way, he served as president of the two pillars of the Zionist establishment---the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization.

First published in Hebrew in 2007, as Defeating Hitler: The Holocaust is Over it caused a storm of controversy. For too long, Burg argues, Israel has been obsessed with the Holocaust. The slaughter of the 6 million Jews in Europe has become internalized to the extent that Israelis view themselves as a nation of victims. Although armed with a powerful military, including nuclear weapons and allied with the sole super power, Israel acts as if it is threatened with annihilation. Its political discourse is laden analogies to the plight of Jews in pre-war Europe and with the Holocaust itself. “We have pulled the Shoah out of its historical context”, writes Burg, “and turned it into a plea and generator for every deed. All is compared to the Shoah, dwarfed by the Shoah and therefore all is allowed—be it fences, sieges… curfews, food and water deprivation or unexplained killings. All is permitted because we have been through the Shoah and you will not tell us how to behave.”

Burg uses the language of psychology to describe the mentality of the majority of Israeli Jews. Abused as a “child,” it has become an abusive “parent.” The suffering of Jews in Nazi Europe becomes the rationale to show no mercy to the Palestinians and other Arabs. First Nasser, then Arafat and Saddam Hussein and now Hamas and Iranian president Ahmanidejad are equated with Hitler. Displacing their anger from Nazis to Arabs, right wing settlers and ultra -orthodox fundamentalists have fostered a “Jewish racist doctrine” shared to various degrees by mainstream Israelis that consider Arabs as inferior beings who do not deserve equal rights.

Ironically, Burg reminds us, the initial reaction to the Holocaust in Israel was one of shame. Jews supposedly went like sheep to the slaughter because they were mired in the slavish habits of the “galut” or exile. Holocaust survivors in Israel were discouraged from telling their stories. The turning point was the Eichmann trial in 1961, where testimony from Jewish victims broadcast live on the radio struck a powerful chord with the Israeli populace. This should have been a catharsis. Instead, according to Burg, it became “a theological pillar of modern Jewish identity” exploited by Zionist leaders to convince Jews that “the whole world is against us.” Or as he calls it, “a boundless paranoia that is no longer able to distinguish between friend a predator, a primitive suspicion of every one, all the time about every issue.” Zionism promised to purge Jews of their “ghetto mentality.” Instead Israel has reproduced it on a larger scale, continuing to believe “the entire world is against us.”

Questioning Zionism is a cardinal sin throughout the Jewish world, although it has a long history among Jews including Vladimir Medem, Elmer Burger, Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, Judah Magnes, Isaac Deutscher, Noam Chomsky and many others. Burg would like to see Israel become “a state of all its Jews and all its citizens with the majority determining its character.” This would entail repealing the Law of Return that grants preferential immigration rights to Jews and all laws that discriminate between Jews and non-Jews. An ethno-religious state would give way to one based on humanistic Jewish values.

The best traditions in Judaism, Burg avers, are now honored more in the Diaspora than in the Jewish state. In order to return to them, mixed groups of Jewish and Arab youth should be taken on a grand tour of Europe from Spain to Germany and Poland to explore both the Jewish and Muslim experience in Europe, past and present. Auschwitz should not be on the itinerary. Another trip should bring Israeli Jewish students to the US to learn “how life with national meaning can be lived without an external enemy, and with full trust between Jews and the non-Jewish environment.”

Burg’s arguments are not entirely new. Israel journalist Tom Segev explored the tortured relationship between Israelis and the Holocaust in his book The Seventh Million, published in Hebrew in 1991 and in a 1993 English-language edition, and which came to the same conclusions. Neither proposes that Israelis forget the Holocaust. Rather they need to draw different lessons. As Burg has said, “There are two kinds of people coming out of Auschwitz. Those who said never again for the Jews and those like me who say never again for any human beings.”

If Burg set out to provoke, he succeeded. The danger is that this book is too provocative, debunking too many Zionist sacred cows at once to earn a fair hearing. The Jewish establishment in Israel and elsewhere consider Burg persona non grata. A minority on the left, mainly youth, consider him a prophet. Let’s hope that unlike so many others, he is appreciated in his own time.

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Elliott Aron Green - 1/8/2009

Davis, I suggest that you read up on Burg in the English-language Israeli papers, JPost and Haaretz. Look for his zigs and zags and the timing of when he made his anti-Israel outbursts. Otherwise, I am not going to justify my comments about him.

However, I did say above that Burg, Muraskin et al. need to study the Holocaust/genocide incitement of A-jad, of Hamas [see their charter], of Hizbullah [see their statements on Jews as such over the years], Bashir Assad, etc. Also research what the Arab press, TV, radio, schools, mosque preachers [imams, mullahs] have to say about Jews. There is much published literature on this subject. If you live in the US you might ask the offices of the American Jewish Committee or the American Jewish Congress what they can supply to you to read about the genocide incitement against Jews in the Arab world. You could also look up web sites like PMW [palestinian media watch] and MEMRI [Middle East Media Research Institute]. There is so much material on this subject that you can study. Hence, I think the burden is on you to do some studying. But it is notorious what A-jad has to say. His statements vitiate the very title of Burg's book. If you are not aware of them then you are not well informed on current affairs. I have told where to go to research the grounds for my assertions. Since there is so much, much of it very public and notorious, the burden is on you.

Kenneth Laurence Davis - 1/7/2009

Davis does not question how you know what you do about Burg. Davis questions the ethics of casting aspersions on a man without providing any evidence or references.

You display in your posts nothing but bitterness toward Mr. Burg, and readily attribute motives to his actions that you cannot prove.

Davis does not question whether or not you are correct in your assessment of Mr. Burg. Again, He questions your ethics in making this ad hominem attack without providing anything other than hearsay, speculation or opinion to back it up. Davis does not know his neighbors. For all Davis knows, it is to Mr. Burg's credit that his neighbors had nothing good to say about him.

Why should any reader make a leap of faith and accept at face value what you allege, Mr. Green?

Elliott Aron Green - 1/7/2009

I would like to add one more item to what I have said about Burg. Muraskin accurately mentioned several facts about Burg's background and career. His father was a prominent politician. His mother's family lived in Israel for generations. He himself rose to high post in the Labor party [stepping on and over others in his climb] and in the Knesset and Jewish Agency because of his pedigree and his position in the Labor Party. Considering his general mediocrity, it's hard to escape the feeling that his Labor Party success and his Knesset and JA posts were due in large part to his family background and to the presumed benefit to the Labor Party of having someone in a prominent place whose father was the leader of another party.

All this seems to have given Burg a sense of entitlement. Honors and money are coming to me. I deserve them, he seems to think. And when he did not get what he wanted, he attacked his former political associates and the people of Israel. I view his anti-Israel outbursts as a kind of tantrum by a spoiled child who thinks that everything is coming to him and that he deserves honor, etc. Bear in mind again, that he sued the JA for added pension benefits plus car and chauffeur paid for by the JA.

Now, Davis may question how I know what I do about Burg. I listed some things earlier comments. I add to those ways that I know about him the fact that I knew people in Nataf, the suburb of Jerusalem where he used to live. I visited these neighbors of Burg's a couple of times. They did not have a good word to say about him. He kept aloof from the other residents there. Apparently he thought that he was superior. I can't remember now the other details that I was told.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/6/2009

Davis, at a recent anti-Israel demo in Fort Lauderdale [see video on Judith Klinghoffer's blog on the HNN site] the mainly Muslim demonstrators were calling to "Nuke Israel" and "Jews to the ovens" [or similar outcry]. Indeed, the Arab nationalist movement was pro-Nazi during WW2 and the top Palestinian Arab leader, Haj Amin el-Husseini, spent most of the war years in Germany where he broadcast to the Arab world in favor of murdering Jews and urged the Germans to murder more Jews. He also urged Axis satellite states [Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary] to send Jews to Poland where they would be under "active supervision" rather than lettng them leave the Nazi-fascist domain. Hence, Arabs took part in the Holocaust. Also Arabs began incorporating anti-Jewish themes of European origin into their traditional Judeophobic agitprop long ago. The Arab media have long been saturated with Judeophobic themes, claims of Jewish ritual murder, claims from the forgery & plagiarism The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, revived claims that Jews murdered Muhammad [uttered by Bashar Assad], etc. The Hamas charter reproduces the medieval Muslim fable about Muslims killing Jews on Judgement Day [article 7].

As to "occupation," this is a false claim. See my article on the web on international law applying to the Land of Israel. Also see writings on this issue by Howard Grief, Talia Einhorn, etc. Judea-Samaria are the heart of the ancient Land of Israel, the Roman province of Judea, and were parts of the Jewish National Home set up by the San Remo Conference [1920] and endorsed by the League of Nations [1922]. Anyhow, because Germany was the aggressor in WW2, vast areas were taken from Germany in 1945 and given to Poland & USSR. Likewise, vast areas were taken from Japan and given to the USSR and are now part of Russia. Should Arabs not be punished for their aggression?? Are you aware of historical Arab-Muslim oppression of Jews? If not, see my article here on the HNN site published about a month ago.

I told you in my previous comment that you need to examine the genocidal statements of Ahmadinejad, Hamas, Hizbullah, Bashar Assad, and the Arab press and media generally. Burg is a faker and does not care, it seems, if his claims in the book [possibly ghostwritten] make any sense.

If you want to know Burg's personal record, search the Jewish and Israeli press in English on the web. I do not have time for that tedium. I think that the very claim made by the book's title is an insult to truth and vitiates all the rest. Muraskin too should take my advice to you.

Further, Arab Judeophobia was not caused by falsely alleged "occupation" of Arab land. It goes back to the origins of Islam, or, if you like, I could point to Arab collaboration with the Roman Empire in suppressing the Jewish revolts [inter alia, see Tacitus, Histories, book V:1].

Kenneth Laurence Davis - 1/2/2009

Mr. Green, point out where Mr. Burg is held up as a moral paragon in this article. You despise Mr. Burg so much you are reading Muraskin's objectivity as homage. You despise him to the extent that you are willing to vilify him in this public forum without offering anything but your word as proof. This won't do.

What does it mean when ideas are said to be stale? That they have been disproven? You have not shown me how these ideas have been disproved or directed me to where I might find a rebuttal of these ideas.

You are a fearful man, Mr. Green. I suggest you speak up for an end to The Occupation in Israel, as it is the only course of action which will lead to your long-term security.

It is time to stop the public observance of the Holocaust. It has become an ideological tool used by governments to justify invasions and to maintain structures of power, particularly in Israel, Germany and the US. "We're not Hitler, so you can trust us!" is how it goes. "The alternative to us is another Holocaust!"... I'm sick of it.

You shouldn't worry too much, Mr. Green. After all, there are calls across Europe to reopen Auschwitz and send all the Muslims to the gas chambers.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/2/2009

Mr Davis, Muraskin is holding up Burg as a sort of moral paragon. He is not. And I think it important to point that out. I live in Jerusalem and have met Burg personally [He probably does not remember me]. I have also spoken about him with other people who know him, have met him, and have suffered from his tricks.

Burg's specific arguments are so asinine and so stale [yes, stale. Some of them I recall hearing back in the sixties] that they were refuted long ago by many other writers, although Mr Davis may not be aware of this. I am not going to get into the tedium of answering each one of his asinine claims. However, one central claim of the book is that the Holocaust is over and that Jews need not fear Judeophobia. Obviously, neither Burg nor Muraskin nor you, Mr Davis, are paying enough attention to the genocidal incitement coming out of Iran, Syria, the Hamas, the Hizbullah, and the Arab press/TV/schools/mosque preaching/ generally, commonly overlooked in the Western press. Nor do Muraskin et al. pay enough attention to the obsessive Judeophobia of much or most of the Western Left in recent years. This Judeophobia feeds on false versions of how Israel treats Arabs, on a false notion of historical relations between Jews living under Islam and Arab-Muslims. Indeed, Judeophobia on the Left was notorious in the 19th century and Muslim Judeophobia goes back to Muhammad's time, according to Muslim sources.

Since Burg's arguments are on the whole so old and stale --besides being false, even ridiculous-- I have to wonder whether he really wrote the book himself. Think of Jimmy Carter's ghostwriter. Burg's cynical, grasping, and opportunistic character is notorious here in Israel.

Kenneth Laurence Davis - 12/31/2008

Mr. Green, you do not deal with the issues raised by Mr. Burg, but rather attack him personally. Name the sources of the accusations and innuendo you repeat. Otherwise, it is your own moral turpitude on display.

Elliott Aron Green - 12/29/2008

Mr Muraskin is apparently unaware that in Israel Burg is considered an opportunist at best. His review of Burg's moralizing tract --also praised by John Mearsheimer-- overlooked the large and ugly stains on Burg's character and career. For example, Does Muraskin know about Burg's membership in the Kfar haYaroq gang along with the execrable Hayim Ramon? Labor party insiders of my personal acquaintance complained to me of Burg's dirty tricks in the Labor Party primaties when he wanted to be a candidate for the Knesset on the Labor Party list. Further, a friend of my family, an American Conservative rabbi [United Synagogue] living in Israel, told us that Burg had approached him --telling him [some 20 years ago] that he did not like being an orthodox Jew like his father, who was a rather cynical opportunist too-- and that he wanted to move over to the Conservative Judaism movement. Apparently, he decided that it was more opportune to be formally an orthodox Jew in Israel rather than a Conservative, and so he stayed formally orthodox. I once met him in Jerusalem and complained to him about one of his positions. I then told him the Talmudic story that concludes that hypocrites are more dangerous than frank enemies. He didn't like that story. The more I know about him the better I understand his reaction to that story.

Muraskin ought to ask Burg why he came out with a moralistic anti-Israeli outburst a couple of years ago shortly after losing a suit in court in which he was demanding special retirement privileges from the Jewish Agency. Not only did he demand more money but he wanted a car and paid chauffeur provided too.

Now, since Burg's book sounds like it was written by Jimmy Carter's ghostwriter, maybe he found it more profitable to lend his name to publications such as the work in question.

As to Jews, Israel, and the Holocaust, there is good reason to believe that forces are at work in the world with genocidal intentions toward Jews and Israel. Has Muraskin or Burg listened to Ahmadinejad's speeches??

Another problem is that Burg and Muraskin's arguments are rather stale. Much of their effusions were heard in the 1960s.