Perspectives for the January 2003 Israeli elections

The new Israeli elections that will be held on January 28, 2003 highlight the deep political crisis that has paralysed the Israeli political system. The elections come at a time of deepening economy crisis. At the same time no solution is in sight to the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territories. A.Kramer in Israel explains that Israeli workers can expect nothing from the main contenders in these elections and stresses the need for a working class based socialist alternative.

The new Israeli elections that will be held on January 28, 2003 highlight the deep political crisis that has paralysed the Israeli political system. All the political players are formally declaring that this is the worst possible moment in Israel's history to hold an election campaign. The economy situation is catastrophic and spending about 3 billion shekels on the election campaign will not make the situation any better. On the security side of things there is the continuing Intifada, and the coming war between the USA and Iraq do not bode well either.

But they have no choice. The so-called government of "Nation Unity" failed to deal with any of the country's problems, just as all the other right and "left" governments during last 6 years had also failed. The situation has been getting worse every year. Politicians and journalists have calculated that since the assassination of Rabin in 1996 the average period of office of each Israeli premiership has been one and a half years. The bourgeois politicians have been constantly replaced in the same way as you would shuffle a pack of cards. This just serves to underline their utter incompetence, egoism and their total dependence on the so-called "captains of industry" - the ruling oligarchy.

Now they have brought on the main reserves of the Israeli political system - the Army. Mofaz and Ben-Elizer, Sharon and Mizna, all of these "heroes" that have appeared in the last month are products of the Israeli military. This cannot fail to have an impact on the political system in general. The question is being asked whether this doesn't represent a "junta" coming to power through the back door in the "only democracy in the Middle East". That may be an exaggeration, but we all know that when there is a threat to the system the bourgeois can be tempted to do away with the beautiful parliamentary decorations.

Today the election results seem absolutely predictable. According to all forecasts Sharon will win again. His next government will probably include Benjamin Natanyahu as Foreign Minister and Shaul Mofaz as Defence Minister.

From the Palestinian point of view this would be the worst possible cabinet there could be. Sharon will be under constant pressure from these two individuals that have even more right wing views than himself. It goes without saying that the Israeli workers will get nothing from these people either. The latest discussion on the budget demonstrated that Sharon will "solve" all the country's problems at the expense of the Israeli workers.

The Labour Party, according to some polls, will win between nineteen and twenty seats. As a result of this the Labour Party will be pushed out of mainstream Israeli politics. The problem with the Labour leaders is that they haven't forgotten anything and they haven't learnt anything either. They haven't forgotten that they ruled Israel for almost thirty years. But they haven't learnt anything from their previous mistakes. The Labour Party was discredited after its support for the new Sharon budget, which was directed against the poor. The election of the new party leader was connected with a number of scandals of a racist nature. Many observers have said that the real reason for Ben-Eliazer's defeat in the party primaries was not his role in the Sharon government, but his oriental origins! Mizna in fact got about 70% of the votes in the strongholds of the Ashkenazic elite - in Tel-Aviv and Herzelia. [Note 1]

Some left pacifists see in Mizna a new Messiah of the Israeli left movement, because he has declared his readiness to negotiate with Arafat. In fact these are the same illusions they had before the election of Barak. In the same way as Barak did before him, Mizna has declared that he is ready to make a peace deal with the Palestinians. But we should remember that Barak finished his career as the man that was responsible for the killings of Israeli-Arabs during demonstrations that took place in October 2000. At the same time we must not forget Mizna's past records. This man was the commander of the Central Military District during the first people's Intifada, and he was responsible for the atrocities against the Palestinian people that took place at that time. We must also not forget that Mizna, just like all the other leaders of the big Israeli political parties, he is a man of Israeli big business, and therefore the Israeli workers can expect nothing good from a government of his.

The perspectives for the Israeli left Zionist MEREZ party are also not too good. In these elections the Israeli elite decided to return to the old election system when the party that got a majority in parliament formed the government and its leader automatically became Prime Minister. After the last two elections the Prime Minister was elected separately and this led to an unprecedented crisis of the two biggest political parties - Avoda and Likud. Now if the electors want a government with a "left" Prime Minister their only choice is to vote for the Labour Party as they did in the past and according to opinion polls the MEREZ supporters will pay a heavy cost for this.

The perspectives for the HADASH electoral bloc that includes the Israeli Communist Party, are also not looking good. It is clear that this party was not prepared for this election campaign because its leading lights were expecting the elections for May of next year. They planned to start their campaign only this month (December) which means they will have lost a lot of time. Another problem for HADASH comes from the changing of the leadership in the Communist Party. The party congress that took place last October elected a new party leadership, but the new leadership needed some time to establish itself. Another reason for being sceptical about the perspectives for the Communist Party in the coming elections is that it is losing ground to the Islamic and Nationalist currents among the Israeli Arabs. The problems of the Communist Party are rooted in the deep ideological crisis that came about as a result of the long period of its Stalinist policies.

The HADASH is trying to get more votes through an alliance with Arab nationalists lead by Ahmad Tibi (a man close to Yasser Arafat), and by wining votes from the left of MEREZ. But even with this they are expected to win no more then three seats (in the beginning of 1990s they had about 5 seats). The only way to break out of this deadlock is for the Party to adopt Marxist principles, programme and tactics and declare itself as a real alternative to capitalism. Unfortunately this is not likely to happen soon.

Precisely because there is no genuine mass workers' alternative the coming Israeli elections are not going to produce a solution to the problems of the workers, either in Israel itself or in the Palestinian territories. One thing is sure: there will be a growing crisis and increased political instability.

For a genuine alternative to emerge the Israeli working masses must become not the object but the subject of politics. So long as the Israeli working class is duped by the present system there is no way out. The task of Marxists in Israel is to take the genuine ideas of socialism to the workers and youth wherever they are, in the factories, the offices, the neighbourhoods, the schools and colleges, in all those organisations that claim to base themselves on the interests of the working class, the trade unions and left parties, and push forward the idea of working class unity and socialism. Only on this basis can a solution to the problems of both Israeli and Palestinian workers be found. There is no other way.

Israel, December 16, 2002

[Note 1: Ashkenazic Jews are those who came from France, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Sephardic Jews are those who came from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East. The word "Ashkenazic" comes from the Hebrew word for Germany. The word "Sephardic" comes from the Hebrew word for Spain. Sephardic Jews were more integrated into the local Arabic culture. The Ashkenazic Jews lived in the "Christian" world where the tension between Christians and Jews was great, and thus the Jews tended to be isolated from their non-Jewish neighbours. Whereas in the Islamic countries, where Sephardic Judaism developed, no such segregation existed. Thus even within the Jewish community in Israel there are divisions and discriminations of a racist character.]