Israel: National elections after the Gaza massacre

Those responsible for the massacre of the Palestinians in Gaza have turned this to their advantage in the national elections, exploiting the fear of ordinary people in Israel. The new government will have to be a coalition of reactionary parties like the previous one but will prove to be totally incapable of solving any of the real problems of ordinary working people in Israel. What is required is class based politics.

After Israel's unilateral and sudden withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, "coincidentally" two days before the inauguration of US president, Barack Obama, the country was fed a barrage of propaganda about the bloodletting created by its own ruling class. The Gaza massacre was depicted by the media and politicians as "a glorious victory". A glorious victory indeed! One of the strongest and most well equipped armies in the world “gloriously” defeated family homes, kindergartens and hospitals. Over 1300 unarmed civilians were “gloriously defeated” among them the army also “defeated” close to 300 children.

Israeli politicians (Olmert above) have a tradition of using attacks on Gaza to get votes. Drawing by Latuff.
Israeli politicians (Olmert above) have a tradition of using attacks on Gaza to get votes. Drawing by Latuff.

However, once the militaristic, almost tribal ecstasy subsided, questions started to emerge. Although most commentators supported the operations, more and more started to wonder what had actually been achieved. After all, Hamas seems stronger and more popular than ever. It managed to keep on firing rockets during and after the withdrawal. Its leadership remains intact. On the other side, Israel is hated throughout the world and ordinary Jews are suffering from growing anti-Semitism, fuelled by the Gaza massacre. Even in the 2006 fiasco in Lebanon, Israel gained some achievements such as the demilitarisation of the south of Lebanon. Here, the barbaric violence, while dealing a severe blow to Hamas, did not and could not destroy it. In that sense it produced no gains, other than crude revenge.

These commentators were right, that from a purely security point of view there were no general gains from the massacre, in the sense that Hamas is still a force on the ground. But those who initiated the massacre weren't thinking in those terms. They were sending out a message to the world that Israel is a serious force that has to be reckoned with. At the same time they were thinking of their own immediate political interests. From this perspective the massacre was indeed a victory for it improved the standing in the election polls for two of the candidates who initiated the massacre, Ehud Barak and Tzipy Livny. Before the operation, these two candidates were facing declining popularity. Their opponent, Benjamin Netanyahu was predicted to win in a landslide. After the operation, the picture changed completely. Netanyahu's support declined, as more and more voters moved into the camps of Livny and Barak.

The Gaza massacre introduced a twofold sense of confusion among the voters. On the one hand, it blasted through Netanyahu's hardliner campaign, de facto adopting his hard-line stance. It showed to the frustrated masses that Livny and Barak could be as militaristic as Netanyahu's camp. On the other hand, it gave the more sophisticated voters a taste of what hardliner "solutions" can really accomplish: nothing. This confusion, this situation whereby all the major parties seemed to be presenting the same basic policy, turned what once was a decisive choice for Netanyahu, into a random selection between the candidates, with many voters not knowing who to vote for until the very last minute. The result was almost a standoff between the two camps, with a slight advantage to Netanyahu's. Even this slight advantage is due to the achievements of other rightist parties, and not to the disappointing achievement of Netanyahu's party itself.

The early lead in the opinion polls of Netanyahu's Likud was cut across by the attack on Gaza. Photo by World Economic Forum.
The early lead in the opinion polls of Netanyahu's Likud was cut across by the attack on Gaza. Photo by World Economic Forum.

From any perspective, there is no fundamental policy difference between the candidates or their parties. However, if we were to ask ourselves whose leadership would be most prominent in provoking a reawakening of class opposition in Israel, Netanyahu fits the bill. Netanyahu was very talented in criticizing the former government's policy on most fields, but his own solutions are ultimately more of the same. His government will prove to the masses without the shadow of a doubt that none of the bourgeois parties are capable of solving any political or economic problem.

What we have to understand is that in a situation of decline and hopelessness within the old order, and especially where no clear socialist and working class mass alternative is available, the masses don't always go directly down the revolutionary road. Many times in the past we have seen how they can become entangled in diversions along the way. One of these diversions is populism.

In all this we can add one point, and that is that the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas, rather than weakening Zionism has actually strengthened it. It has pushed ordinary working people in Israel into the hands of their Zionist exploiters. It also gave the Zionist ruling class an apparent “justification” for the terrible massacre in Gaza. Zionism is the enemy of the Palestinian people, and it is the task of genuine revolutionaries to defeat Zionism. The way that is done can only be through class politics, whereby Israeli society does not remain as one bloc held together by fear of the masses but one where the working class is turned against the ruling class.

The rise of right-wing populism

In this context one of the more reactionary forces has made headway, Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing populist party, "Yisrael Beiteinu". Many in Israel and also in the Arab world express deep concern about the growing strength of this party. Lieberman is labelled as a fascist by many of his opponents. Although this label is far from accurate - Lieberman is indeed an extreme reactionary racist, who would contemplate the mass expulsion of Israeli Palestinians - it shows the fear it induces among the progressive masses.

Like most kinds of populism, Lieberman's support is drawn from numerous sources, but the major one in his case is the Russian immigrants. This sector has no political representation, so they are attracted to Lieberman because of his Russian origins. These immigrants have also become very nationalistic due to distorted rightist propaganda they are exposed to through the Israeli media in the Russian language, and above all due to fear of the surrounding Arab neighbours. Another major source of support is the so-called “under-class” – the working poor, the unemployed, the small traders and the forgotten dwellers of the isolated "development towns" in Israel. There are also a segment of educated and devoted Zionists of the petty bourgeoisie who have drawn the conclusion that Zionism can only be truly fulfilled through ethnic cleansing.

The war with Gaza has temporarily strengthened the reactionary forces in Israel. Photo by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi.
The war with Gaza has temporarily strengthened the reactionary forces in Israel. Photo by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi.

Lieberman's populism capitalizes on basic emotions of fear and revenge. The bourgeois media and politicians are responsible for pushing a layer among the masses to Lieberman, a bit like sheep to the slaughter. The historical split of the Israeli working class into two separate ethnic groups, set up one against the other, is the infrastructure for Lieberman's populist agenda. By promising to use the powers of the state to defend "Jews" from the Arab threat, and to punish the Israeli Arabs’ "lack of loyalty" to the very same state, he manages to gather support from a large number of terrified Israeli "Jews".

So far, though, other than big words, Lieberman's populism has achieved nothing concrete. In the last government, he was Olmert's poodle, dancing on his hind legs for a cheap treat. He sat quite obediently in a government that promised to evacuate settlers unilaterally, and did nothing against the strengthening of Hamas, all in return for an artificial ministry, created just for him, with no authority whatsoever. The fact that he recently commented that he intends to demand for himself the Foreign Ministry, illustrates the fact that his status will not change in the future, as the Foreign Minister in Israel has very little political influence, especially on security issues, which were the core of Lieberman's populism.

Although his powers will still be very restricted, some dangerous reforms and acts will be carried out to appease his supporters. These reforms can only push further the contradictions of Zionist capitalism, causing an almost inevitable explosion.

The CPI

The only true opposition party in Israel, other than the sectorial Arab parties, is the Israeli Communist Party (CPI), which is represented in the parliament under the banner of the Hadash Party (initials for Democratic Front for Equality and Peace). Hadash failed to reproduce on a national level its recent historical achievement in the municipal elections for Tel Aviv. However, it did win one extra seat compared to the previous parliament, but still a modest four seats out of 120.

The Israeli Communist Party offers no solution other than the bourgeois two-state solution. Photo by Ygurvitz.
The Israeli Communist Party offers no solution other than the bourgeois "two-state solution". Photo by Ygurvitz.

Hadash's campaign appealed mostly to the educated youth, who have been moving ever more to the Left, but who for now are still not ready to completely relinquish the lies of Zionism. Hadash portrayed itself as a fresh and "cool" party with a youthful spirit and progressive agenda. It was the only party (other than the sectorial Arabs) that was against the Gaza massacre from the beginning. For many young war-weary Israelis, that is reason enough to vote for it.

But in the end, its solutions were no different from those of the bourgeois parties. It too adhered to the bourgeois "two states solution", i.e. the bantustanisation of Palestine. It has supported all the various bourgeois agreements that have been promoted by American imperialism since the Oslo accord. These solutions have already proven to be a failure. Supporting these so-called “solutions” gave Hadash no advantage over the other parties. Even Lieberman the "fascist" supports some kind of a two states solution. Moreover, Hadash talked a lot about economic and political justice, but very little about the potential economic and political power of the working class if only it were united, rather than forcibly divided by the state.

This is not to say that the party didn't manage to attract new layers. Numerous new recruits joined the party and were eager for fieldwork. In some polls in Tel Aviv, Haifa and even Jerusalem, the votes for Hadash doubled, even quadrupled, in comparison to previous elections. Clearly the bankruptcy of Zionist politics is having an effect on a more advanced layer of society in Israel. The willingness of this section to vote for a non-Zionist party for the first time is rooted in a profound understanding that Zionism, and the capitalist system which created it, are not going in the direction they desire.

Conclusion

Since the mid 1990s, each successive government in Israel has appeared to be more degenerate and corrupt. The politicians seem more obtuse, more incompetent and much less concerned with anything other than their own personal careers. Israel under their reign has become more isolated, more hated and more disintegrated in both the regional and international spheres. This brings it to rely more and more on the military and violence as the only means to consolidate itself. However, such a solution pushes Israel even further down the same path of appearing as an artificial and alien entity within the Middle East as a whole. Rather than becoming more integrated into the region it is closing itself in.

This feeling of isolation introduces an overwhelming feeling of fear into the Israeli masses, and this fear is translated into more militarism and more support for the same politicians and their empty promises. For that reason, the degeneration of the state is reflected within society as well. Certain layers of the population have become brutalized by this situation, adopting a desperate outlook.

But there is another aspect to this situation. The changes within the CPI, even if they are not yet translated into more parliamentary seats, clearly indicate that more and more of the advanced layers in Israel are beginning to look beyond Zionism for solutions. Considering the complete bankruptcy of bourgeois politics, it will only be a matter of time until a larger mass will follow suit. So paradoxically, at this time of ideological convergence between all the bourgeois politicians at the top, Israel is on the verge of the deepest political division in its history. On the one side we have the supporters of the old order, who rely more and more on the military and on the other those that seek radical change, who can rely only on an inter-ethnic collaboration of workers and students.

For the moment Israel is gripped by a wave of reaction, the direct result of the isolation of the country with no genuine class alternative being offered. But the new government will offer no real solutions to the pressing social and economic problems facing the masses. History teaches, and the new government will expose the bankruptcy of the bourgeois politicians even more. The small signs on the left indicate that in the future an opportunity will open up for a genuine left force. In the long run the only real solution lies in class unity across the ethnic divide, not in constant warfare between the peoples.


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