Why the right won
Tony Greenstein welcomes the lack of hypocrisy in the new Israeli government, if nothing else
At a time when virtually all bourgeois pundits and their echo chambers were cheering for an expected Israeli Labour Party (Zionist Union) victory, I wrote: “The Israeli Labour Party, running with Tsipi Livni’s Hatnuah, has high hopes of forming the next government. It is likely to be disappointed.”1
I do not possess a crystal ball, but I do have an analysis of Zionism and settler-colonialism which tells me what political direction Israel is travelling today. Settler-colonial states do not reform themselves of their own accord. The only thing that makes them change their behaviour is massive pressure on the settlers - external and internal. So far Israel has not experienced anything more than the mildest of social disapproval.
Furthermore, settler-colonial states develop their own momentum and dynamic, which, unless they come up against determined opposition or natural barriers, such as the sea, are likely to result in the expulsion or extermination of the indigenous population. In South Africa’s case it was a combination of military defeat in Angola, the struggle of the black working class and a growing sanctions and divestment movement abroad which led to the apartheid system being dismantled.
In Israel the original victims of Zionist colonisation, the Palestinians, have not been finally vanquished. They still continue to sit stubbornly in their villages and on their lands in the West Bank. Barring extermination (which an increasing number on the far right advocate) or transfer across the Jordan, then in Zionist eyes there is an uncomfortable status quo that needs to be resolved.
It is therefore not surprising that Israel’s Jewish population voted for the Zionist far right. The last Likud government spent most of its term demonising Israel’s Arab population as a fifth column. Legislation included the Acceptance to Communities law, which allowed open discrimination against Israeli Arabs wishing to lease land in Israeli villages, and the Nakba Law, which penalises any group receiving state funds that teaches or discusses the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948. The final straw, which led to the recent elections, was the Jewish State Law, which would have removed Arabic as an official language of Israel. It was no great surprise when Netanyahu, fearing that he might be defeated, openly espoused racism and took to Facebook to complain that Arabs were being bussed in by the left, subsidised by foreign money, to vote him out.
Whereas the Israeli Labour Party makes it clear that Jews and Arabs should be separated into different entities - hence its support for a Palestinian Bantustan - and that a deal must be made to that effect with King Hussein in Jordan, Likud under Netanyahu has no hesitation in wearing their racism on their sleeve.
For the first 30 years of the Israeli state, the Israeli Labour Party (Mapai) was the party of government. There is nothing that Likud has done since 1977, when Menachem Begin came to power, that Labour had not done before it. The expulsions and the massacres of 1948 were carried out by the ‘leftwing’ Zionists, including the Palmach shock troops, who were largely composed of the ‘Marxist’ Zionist kibbutzim of Mapam and Ahdut Ha’avodah.
All the nuts and bolts of Israeli racism, the discrimination in land, housing, employment, local authorities, etc, were created by Mapai, not Likud. Until 1966 Israel’s Arab population was subject to military rule and there were continual expulsions of Arabs - in particular the Bedouin of the Negev - into neighbouring countries. But, whereas Mapai presided over a large state-capitalist sector, with its own ‘union’, Histadrut, being the second largest employer, Likud embarked on privatisation and the opening up of Israel to private capital with Netanyahu’s stabilisation pact.
Far from the Zionist Union (an alliance between Israeli Labour and TsipiLivni’s Hatnuah) standing in this election for equality between Jew and Arab, they shared the common consensus with Likud that the Arabs were unwanted guests in the Jewish state. They preferred not even to talk about the Palestinian question and believed that by concentrating on social issues, such as poverty and housing, they could sweep the board. Netanyahu proved them wrong. In a settler state, the national question will always trump issues of class, because Zionism (like unionism in Ireland or apartheid in South Africa) is an intra-class alliance of the settler bourgeoisie and its working class.
The result is nothing short of disastrous for Israeli Labour. In 2013 Labour and Hatnuah gained 21 seats between them. In this election they gained just three seats to take their tally to 24. Likud, which last time was in alliance with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu, won 30 seats (gaining 12). To see the scale of Labour’s fall from power, it is worth nothing that until 1977 there was no election where Mapai did not gain at least 40 seats. The last time it achieved this was in 1992 under Yitzhak Rabin, when it won 44. In that election Meretz, the left Zionists, gained a further 12 seats. Since then it has been all downhill, with the nadir reached in 2009, when Labour gained just 13 seats. Two years ago they won just 15 seats.
As Israel travels further and faster to the far right, so the bulk of the population see no need for the hypocritical circumlocutions of Israeli Labour. Racist Israeli Jews prefer straight talk and slogans such as ‘Death to the Arabs’. As Israel moves to becoming an openly racist society, so the work of its defenders in the west will become that much harder. The sole bright spot of these elections, the election of a record 13 Knesset members for the Jewish-Arab Joint List, will no doubt be used to portray Israel as a ‘democratic’ state, no matter that the Zionist parties (including Labour, but not Meretz) voted to prevent HaneenZoabi from even standing in the election.
It is ironic that Israel’s fascist foreign minister, Lieberman, was responsible for increasing the threshold needed to be elected to the Israeli Knesset from 2% to 3.25% in order to remove Arab representation - previously there were three Arab parties and the Jewish-Arab Communist Hadash list. What he achieved was an unprecedented joint list of all the Arab parties and Hadash, while his own party, Yisrael Beteinu, came close to being excluded by his own electoral trickery.
I welcome the election of Netanyahu because under Labour nothing would have changed other than the hasbara (propaganda). For example, its partner in crime, war criminal Tsipi Livni of Hatnuah, was shown in The Palestine papers2 to have pressed Palestinian negotiators to take Israel’s largest Arab city, Umm al-Fahm, and the Arab triangle into a Palestinian state in exchange for Israel keeping the settlement blocs. It is no accident that in its election ads Labour’s leader, Isaac Herzog, criticised Netanyahu’s attack on Gaza, which killed 2,200 people, including over 500 children, for not hitting hard enough or early enough.3
Perhaps we should be grateful that Israel’s Jewish electorate voted for the open racist rather than the racist hypocrites.
1. ‘Polarisation continues to grow’ Weekly Worker March 5. A full version of this article appeared on my blog: www.azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/the-right-far-right-will-almost.html.
2. C Swisher (ed) The Palestine papers London 2011.
3. See http://mondoweiss.net/2015/02/leader-attacks-netanyahu.