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Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice

Seek peace...and pursue it : Psalm 34:15

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I. Articles & Speeches

UAHC Biennial
Address by Speaker of the Knesset Avram Burg

This is the transcript of the speech Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Avram Burg gave at the UAHC Biennial on December 6, 2001, via satellite from Tel Aviv.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie: Avram, we thank you. I just gave you a very elaborate and laudatory introduction, which I wonít repeat at this time. We are here at a convention, the largest convention on the North American Jewish scene. Weíll have five-six thousand Jews. We have three-four thousand sitting in the room now. We thank you for being with us and of course we express our solidarity with the people of Israel during this very difficult time.


I wonder if you could simply give us some sense of the situation, how you see the mood of the people of Israel and how you see the political realities at this moment.

Speaker Burg: Thank you very much to all of you over there. Iím so sorry I cannot be with you today. I wanted so much and, those of you who know me, know that my heart is really there with you, with the concepts of pluralism, and tolerance, and acceptance, and the progressive concepts of Judaism.

Therefore, wherever you are all around the globe, whether it is in North America or here in Israel, please consider me as a very, very, very good friend of yours. You are over there, and I am over here and still we are in the same place. We are on the Jewish planet. So therefore, I apologize for physically not being with you but spiritually I love being with you tonight.


Second, before we go into the politics of it. Is Uri [Regev] there?

Rabbi Yoffie: Is Uri in the room at this moment? Uri is with us. He spoke to us this morning. As you know, heís just been elected to head the World Union for Progressive Judaism and he does not appear to be in the room at this second.

Speaker Burg: So, all of you. I want to congratulate you for electing or selecting Uri for this very important position. I know Uri for so many years. He is a partner of mine for so many spiritual investments here in Israel. And many years ago I knew that there is a future for this young boy. And I tell you: you have the best, the best one to fulfill this job. We need people like him here in Israel to represent the spirituality and the essence of Reform Judaism and progressive Judaism so thank you very much for electing Uri for this position.


Now, as for your question. Iíll tell you the mood of the country if I can define it, I would say what you see is not necessarily what you got. The pressure is very difficult one. Itís not only the external situation of the world campaign against terrorism. It is not only the around us environment of the combat against the terrorism which tries to terrorize us. And we say yes, it is very painful; yes, it is very difficult; yes, we suffer from it. But no, we are not terrorized. We are not afraid.

You find within the Jewish people, in the Israeli people, what you usually find in situations like this in our history. We are something like an egg: the more you boil us, the harder we become. And I feel this mood of the people. Listen, as difficult as it is, we love this place. We are fully committed to our historic role as the only and the best Jewish state we are having in our generation and therefore forget it, our enemies, to scare us off this place. This is the mood. As difficult as it is , we are very determined.

But deep within, I would like to share with you a sense of confusion. Up until a year ago, the uprising, the Intifada of the last October events, we had a feeling that maybe it will work, there will be a peace. Then one day, we woke up and the whole region erupted, a kind of a local, typical Middle Eastern volcano erupted and all of a sudden both hemispheres of the Israeli psyche woke up and realized that we are short of words for this new conversation. We have no vocabulary and Iíll show you how it works.

We, the peace camp in Israel, woke up and realized that there will not be here very soon a kind of 60s peace of make love, the kind of peace that we were all eager to believe we were going very soon to have between us and the Palestinians, like between the United States of America and Canada or like between European nations. We woke up and we realized that maybe, if and when there will be peace here in this region, it will be at best a no war peace but definitely no make love one. And this is very difficult for us: to realize that the dream and the vision of the new Middle East is not yet here.

When the right wing woke up in Israel a year ago, they realized all of a sudden, that there is no military solution to solve or to overcome or to suppress or oppress the national motivation of another people. Now a state or a society that one side of it realizes that there is no Middle East, and the other side of it realizes that there is no occupation and there is no military solution is a very, very, very confused society because the old faith and the old beliefs and the old fundamental positions of both sides were exposed as, at best, invalid ones. In a situation like this, in which one side of Israel felt that we did not know what to do and the other side felt as well, came the Israeli public and told us, if you do not know what to do and you do not know what to do, please do not do it together.


This is actually the cradle of the national unity government. We tried together to control the crisis till a new concept, or a new vision, or a new opportunity will emerge and offer itself to us and to the Palestinians to go out of the very malicious, vicious circle.

For a long time, almost a year, this national unity government, as fragile as it is, held. It worked, with many difficulties. But despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the government was the right wing majority, the influence and the impact of the Labor party was on two very important fields. The first one is to restrain the military reaction of Israel. And other one is, at the same time that you are fighting terrorism, you try to develop, you try to nourish, you try to support a kind of political, diplomatic peace horizon and bring new hope to the region. As long as we had this input, we were very good members and active members of this government.

Recently, unfortunately, it looks as if the deterioration of the situation brings about a reality in which the Prime Minister of Israel has to decide what is his policy. Is his policy the right wing policy, which is to bring down the Palestinian Authority, to do its best, to do the governmentís best, to destroy Yasser Arafat and any chance for peace. And in this kind of coalition, I do not see much of a chance for the Labor party to continue for a long time.

Or, his policy is to go alongside with the Labor party and, at the same time that we are going to fight our enemies and we are going to do our best to defend our streets, our people, we are going to open every door, to knock on every door, and open every door to introduce peace and hope to this region. And this decision is to the table of the Prime Minister.

Though it is so difficult, though sometimes we cannot understand our yesterdayís enemies and maybe tomorrowís partners, and I think it was Abba Eban who once said that the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Even though Iím still a great believer in dialogues, Iím a great believer in trying to outreach to my enemy or to my opposition and to bring him or her closer. Because by the end of the day, I do believe that the substance and the duration of a solution coming out of a dialogue and a conversation and getting to know you is much stronger than a result coming out of shootings and terror and fighting and wars.

Therefore, as a Jew who fundamentally believes in peace, Iíll do my best, Iíll do my utmost that my nation will never lose its moral character of ohev shalom and rodeph shalom, peace lover and peace seeker, because our enemies try and do the best to change our national character and make us look like them.


In this situation, and I would like to conclude my opening remarks if thatís okay or my remarks to your question, I will say the following: When you open the papers, when you read the news, when you listen to the reports, you have a feeling, wow, it is so difficult, it is so sad. We had a chance here at the tip of our fingers and all of sudden it flew, it evaporated, it expired. It is not here. What happened to us? And people are very sad, in North America, around the democratic hemisphere, here in Israel in the Middle East and the full front of the democratic value system here in the Middle East.

When I look at our situation, Iím not a pessimist. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, sometimes I donít like it. But still Iím an optimist. Iím not this kind of optimist who says yes, Iím an optimist because today is better than tomorrow. Oh no. This is not my kind of optimism. Iím an optimist because I know that only could I have the chance to talk to my bubbe and zayde over 50 years ago, or 150 years ago or 1500 years ago, and I could have asked them, bubbe and zayde, tell me, how do you feel that in the year 2001, by the end of the year 2001, 77% of the Jews are living either in the United States of America, or the Golden Medinah, or in the State of Israel which is our independent state. We have the best universities in the world, a very good economy, access to the super power of the world and we are very influential, we have members of our communities and congregations well spread all around the place, many Jews, millions of them are talking Hebrew, speaking Hebrew, the overwhelming majority of the Jews are living within the democratic hemisphere and outside of the tyrant, totalitarian one. And yes it is difficult because we do not yet have peace with our enemies, but we have the best army the Jews ever had, and we can defend ourselves fantastically.

What do you say bubbe and zayde? I donít know what about yours. I know that mine would immediately have reacted and say, "What happened? Did the Moshiach come? Is the messiah here?"


And please remember: yes, it is difficult. And sometimes when we cannot draw hope from the future, we have to look back and realize that our generation is the best generation after so many years, in prosperity, in tranquility, in ability, in access, in acceptance, in power. Yes, weíre not perfect. We have to leave something for our children to repair the world and to correct the world under the mitzvah of Tikkun Olam. But the world we are living is no doubt a better one than our fathers and mothers gave us fifty, sixty years ago out of the ashes of Europe. If there is a generation that I would like to live, it is our generation. With its challenges, with its missions, with my partners over there.


Rabbi Yoffie: Avram, I know that itís late so Iím just going to ask you one more question and then let you go with our profuse thanks. This morning when you were unable to make it you actually suggested that Professor Tamir come and speak to us. She came, she spoke beautifully and during the course of her remarks, she spoke of her own commitment to the concept of hafrada chadtzdadi, unilateral separation. We had a brief discussion on that. I wonder if you could share your thoughts about this concept supported by Dr. Tamir but at the same time not supported, we know, by others in the party.

Speaker Burg: I love Yuli and I really appreciate the kind work she is doing, both on the social front here in Israel and the national one, diplomatically speaking. I didnít have the chance to talk to her seriously about the unilateral program so I donít know exactly her position. I will express mine with your permission Eric, okay?

Rabbi Yoffie: Sure.

Speaker Burg: And then, if you will let me, Iíd just like to add one more sentence about something else.

Rabbi Yoffie: Absolutely.

Speaker Burg: I do not feel that, at this stage, we should raise our hands and give up the chance for a dialogue. A unilateral solution is actually a giving up of the hope that there will be a partner on the other side. A unilateral solution, whatever it is, for me looks like a fantasy, itís a kind of a fata morgana , as if we will wake up one morning and they wonít be there. Okay, youíll have a fence, and then youíll some ground obstacles, and youíll have some electronic solutions. Will that solve the problems of the settlements, which are settled there, very deep at the mouths and the throats of the Palestinian lion? My answer is no.

If there is a solution in which Israel is ready and there is a national consensus, and I think that when the time will come there will be a national consensus, to redefine our borders, and part of it will be a very dear price to pay in order to keep our democracy intact, in order to keep the majority of the Jews within the Jewish state we have, we will have to give up the Greater Land of Israel, the cradle of our civilization. It is very difficult. It is very painful. But it is a necessary operation that will amputate a part of the body in order to save the rest of the body and the soul of the people. And it means that we will have to give up a part of the Holy Land of Israel in order to have peace. We will have to withdraw from some of the territories, and we will have to remove some, actually many settlements that are today, obstacles for peace.

I know it is tough but thatís the tough call of leadership in Israel. To save the majority, to save democracy, to save the Jewishness of the State of Israel, we have to redefine our borders between us and the Palestinians. There will be two states between the Jordan and the [Mediterranean] sea: a Palestinian state that will be the homeland of the Palestinian state and there will be the State of Israel that will be the homeland of the Jewish people. And there will be no returning of Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel.


Unthinkable to even believe. The day we will establish and will recognize the first Palestinian state via the venue of right of return, we will establish the second one as well and the State of Israel will become the second Palestinian state. This is a non-starter. There is no way it will happen.

When I say this, I actually tell you the following: if there is a readiness in Israel, and I believe the readiness will be there, to withdraw from territories and to make a very deep, serious redefinition of the settlements map of Israel, this is a very, very good ground for renewal and resumption of the peace talks between us and the Palestinians, in order to have an agreement which is based on a dialogue and mutuality rather than a unilateral one. A unilateral solution does not necessarily solve the needs and the motivations of the other side.

And please, let us not have again a kind of a patronizing, colonizing Israeli attitude that we know better than them what is good for them. They are here. We have to realize it. It is very difficult. Itís a moral call for us as Jews not to do to the others what we didnít like to be done to us in the past. And this is the Jewish way -- to sit down and to realize that what is being said. In one of our sages, the highest stage of heroism, this is the hero among heroes, says Judaism, is the one who makes his enemy into his beloved friend. This is my call, this is our call -- to have a peace agreement with our enemies without ignoring them.


When I say this, I would like to add one more sentence. Please be with us and we will be with you to remember that the challenges that we are facing in our generation are not the external one only. We have the internal ones as well. The divisions among ourselves are so powerful. And I will not let not nobody try to pass in the Knesset any kind of legislation that will put an extra barrier between Jews and Jews, living in Israel, living in the United States of America, believing in the oneness of the Jewish people and want to pray alongside the Wailing Wall as egalitarian people. God created us, men and women equally, equally.


Therefore, the entire Judaism, the entire heritage of ours, every holy site of ours is belonging to all of us, men and women alike. And therefore, the front that we are facing is not only the external attempt to make peace with our enemies but the internal attempt to make peace within ourselves, within the Jewish people as a concept of shalom bayit. For this, I hope me as a Jerusalemite-born Orthodox Jew boy and you, progressive Jews all around the world, are partners that wonít let anybody to divide this kind of oneness of ours.


Rabbi Yoffie: Avram, in that regard, since youíve raised it, I understand actually that there is a law, I saw the text of the law, having to do with the Western Wall and in fact itís going to appear before the Knesset next week, that would make it a criminal offence among other things for women to pray with a tallit at the Western Wall in fact it would be punishable by up to 7 years in prison. I would hope, I hope you would reassure us that there is no chance that such a law would ever be passed and certainly now for even to be seriously debated would be a terrible blow to the unity that we so desperately need. Could you tell us anything you might know about this particular legislation?

Speaker Burg: Yes. There is a bill put on the table of the Knesset by a Member of Knesset Yaíakov Litzman, the chairperson of the budget and finance committee of the Knesset, who is a Member of Knesset who represents Agudat Israel. And this calls for more or less what you described Eric. This week I persuaded him not to raise the issue in the Knesset because we had such a terrible week. I told him listen, itís not a week for something like this. But it will happen. Will it be next week or the week after? It will happen.

Iíll do my best and Iím fully committed to it to defeat this law with overwhelming majority. I would like the Knesset to vote against it and to show that this kind of initiatives we do not technically remove from the table but we put it on the table, we discuss it. I would like to hear the Members of Knesset actually saying what they feel about it. And I promise you, not only will I vote in order to defeat this very unegalitarian and if you ask me very un-Jewish law, but I will do my best to recruit and to persuade as many Members of Knesset, mainly the Labor party to vote against it as one body, with one soul.


Rabbi Yoffie: Avram, ani míod modeh lícha al ha hishtatfut bísha'a meuchret. [I am very thankful to you for your participation during this late hour]. We support your efforts to reach a just and secure peace. We support the people of Israel and the State of Israel. Thank you very, very much.

Speaker Burg: Love you Eric and love you all people. We love you and we need you. Thank you very much for being with us.