Burg, Avraham (1955–)

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Israeli political figure. Born in 1955 in Jerusalem, Avraham Burg is the son of the leader of the National Religious Party, Yosef Burg, who joined the government of Menachem Begin as minister of the interior in August 1981. The following year, after completing his military service, Avraham Burg participated in forming a small group, "Soldiers Against Silence," that called for an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Shortly afterward, he joined the ranks of Peace Now, where he spoke in favor of Israeli-Arab peace and the creation of a Palestinian state. In 1984, having joined the Israel Labor Party, he became advisor to Prime Minister Shimon Peres on issues related to the diaspora. In 1986, he was named director of the Center for Judaism and Tolerance.

During the summer of 1988, Avraham Burg was elected Labor Party member of Knesset and was appointed chairman of its education committee. Confirming his reputation as an orator, he became one of the principal figures in the party and a leader of its "dove" wing. In the Knesset, his fight for tolerance and for the creation of an Israeli constitution attracted notice. In the parliamentary elections of June 1992, he ranked third on the Labor Party list, after Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Within the Labor Party, he belonged to the renewal tendency, along with Yossi Beilin, Yael Dayan, and Nawaf Massalha. On 15 February 1995 Burg was elected chairman of the executive committee of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the state organization in charge of immigration to Israel and relations with the diaspora. A few months later he launched an international inquiry to restore to their rightful owners or their descendants the Jewish assets seized during World War II and deposited in Swiss banks.

In June 1999 Burg was reelected to his Knesset seat and was chosen speaker of the Knesset; while the head of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak, was elected prime minister. On 4 September 2000, his selection as head of the Labor Party was contested by his adversary, Benyamin Ben-Eliezer, leading to the initiation of an internal inquiry procedure. He was invited, shortly thereafter, to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, along with the president of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmad Qurai. There, Burg spoke on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, recommending the resumption of negotiations. Affirming that "religious fundamentalism" was the common enemy of both the Palestinians and Israelis, he came out in favor of shared "sovereignty" of the three religions (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim) in Jerusalem, and for the creation of a Palestinian state. That year, Burg was finally bested by Ben-Eliezer for the leadership of the Labor Party, in an election where participation was particularly low. In 2003 Burg was re-elected to the Knesset on the Labor Party list. Since that time, he has written several critiques of Israeli policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

SEE ALSO Barak, Ehud;Beilin, Yossi;Ben-Eliezer, Benyamin;Israel Labor Party;Peace Now.