Israel: Following defeat in the war, scandal and crisis engulf the bourgeois government

Instead of emerging strengthened from the recent war in Lebanon, the Israeli ruling class been enormously weakened. It failed in all its objectives. Now we are witnessing an unprecedented level of distrust in all the institutions of the state. What is being prepared is a backlash on the part of the Israeli workers.

Since 1948, many important revolutionary events have taken place all across the world. In 1952, the Egyptian Free Officers, an organization of left-wing army officers, took over the country, carrying out a land reform. Two years later, Jamal Abd An-Nasser, a left-wing pan-Arabist and one of the most popular leaders in Arab history, became President of the country, shortly thereafter nationalizing the Suez straits and carrying out other progressive measures as well.

A similar process took place in the 1960s in Syria, where the Ba'ath Party went even further than An-Nasser, nationalizing industry and turning the state from capitalist to Proletarian Bonapartist for a whole period. Outside the Middle East, national liberation movements took power in China and Cuba, with left-wing governments coming to power in Chile, Nicaragua, and other countries.

Not only in the colonial countries, but also in the imperialist ones, many important struggles took place: in the United States, the massive Civil Rights movement brought into political life militant and brave revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers, whose effect on the consciousness of American workers, especially Black workers, can be felt to this day.

In Britain, the 'Winter of Discontent' strike wave in 1978-9 reached a level that caused the ruling class to consider the option of a military coup. In France, the French workers could have taken power in 1968 had it not been for the betrayals of the Socialist and Communist Party leadership. The list goes on and on.

In all this, Israel always seemed to most people as an entirely reactionary entity, determined to crush all progressive anti-imperialist movements of the Arab masses. And yet, even in the early years of Israel, the Israeli working class was at times incredibly militant. In the 1950s not only were there many strikes by the working class, notably the Sailors' strike, but also the level of opposition to the Korean War was larger in Israel than anywhere else in the entire world if we consider the proportions of the country. The 1960s, up to the war of 1967, were characterized by economic and political crises.

However, since 1967, with the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the stabilization of bourgeois rule, it seems to most people that other than the short lived Black Panthers movement (based on the American BPP), no class struggle has taken place in Israel, and that Israeli society has been stabilized. It has become popular among the petty-bourgeois left, in Israel too, to declare all Israelis 'reactionary'. But this infantile, ultra-left perspective has been completely shattered by recent events in Israel.

The Marxists, organized in the IMT, are the only political current that have correctly used the method of Marxism, insisting, as Ted Grant put it, that "outside the working class movement there is nothing". We have consistently advocated the perspective that the Israeli capitalists will inevitably force the burden of economic crisis on the backs of the Israeli workers, that Israeli society is not a bloc but a class society, that the Zionist regime is highly unstable, and that the Israeli working class will rise up to fight against the aggression of Israeli bosses. Recent events have completely vindicated this perspective.

We shall not dwell on the history of the class struggle in Israel since 1967. Suffice it to say that it is far richer than most people imagine. We shall now show how, through the crushing defeat of the Israeli generals at the hands of Hizb Allah (also known in the Arab world as ال-مكاومه), Israeli workers are constantly being radicalized and are turning against the Olmert-Peretz government, which they correctly see as a government which serves only the needs of the rich.

The 2007 Budget: Cracks In the Coalition

After the elections at the end of March, a coalition government was formed with Kadima at its head, the Labour Party, Gil (supposedly "The Pensioners' Party"), and the orthodox parties Shas and Yehadut HaTorah. Kadima was formed through ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's split from the more radical right-wing Likud, most of the party's (if Kadima can indeed be called a party, having no conventions or institutions of any kind) leaders being high-profile ex-Likud members (Olmert was Sharon's second in charge even back in the Likud, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was a rising star in the Likud before the split, and so on). The Labour Party, as a social-democratic party for most of its existence and for a while as a party of the higher middle class during 1994-2005, has long since been a pillar of bourgeois rule. Gil is a party headed by Rafi Eitan, a former Shin Bet Chief of Operations (Israeli security service), and has recently become a division of Kadima. Shas is a party based mainly on the poorer Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin (Mizrahi Jews, or Mizrahim), with its role (at least objectively) being the blocking of the development of radical movements within those sections (such as the above mentioned Black Panthers) by using populism and anti-Ashkenazi (and anti-Arab) demagogy. Yehadut HaTorah represents the interests of the Ashkenazi rabbinate (mainly middle class).

This coalition had several goals set before it from the moment it came to office:

1. To stop the leftward movement of the Israeli working class, at one moment led and later betrayed by Labour chairman Peretz, but to an extent also reflected in parties such as Shas and even Meretz (a party of the left-wing middle class).

2. To overthrow the Hamas government, democratically elected in January 2006, by any means possible: diplomacy, civil war, or direct military intervention.

3. To crush the Hizb Allah Lebanese resistance movement.

None of these goals have been achieved, and as a consequence cracks can already be seen in the coalition, which many bourgeois analysts claimed would be the first in years to finish its term (something that hasn't happened since the first Shamir coalition in 1984-1988, even then with a rotation between then Labour chairman Peres for the first two years and Shamir). The study of these divisions is quite telling of the character of the government and of the stage through which Israeli society is passing.

Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson (Kadima) attempted to push forward an extreme-right-wing budget, which suggests, among other things, the privatization of care for the disabled, closing down the office for rehabilitation of prisoners, to set the minimum age for unemployment benefit at 28, to start charging high-school students fees for their final exams (a practice which was only recently cancelled), and to slash the budget of the teachers' colleges.

The Kadima leadership was certain that including Labour and Gil in their coalition would prevent these parties from opposing the budget. However, some of the leaders of these parties understand that the Israeli masses would be radicalized by such measures, and that should they support them they would politically pay with their own heads one day. Avishai Brauerman and Shelly Yachimovich (Labour) have already been vocal in their opposition to the budget, despite Brauerman's former right-wing positions on economic issues. Shas chairman Ali Yeshai threatened to vote against the budget in the cabinet and Knesset, and to quit the coalition. Gil's ministers said that they would vote against the budget should it harm the elderly in anyway. Even Peretz's associates said that, "If Olmert wants to preserve the coalition, he will have to back down". Should Olmert fail to pass the budget, his government will fall.

The right-wing reformist leaders of Labour, the reactionary Rabbis and Orthodox leaders of Shas, and the opportunists of Gil (who came to office based mainly on the protest vote of many young people, disillusioned with all political parties) are not genuinely opposed to measures against the poor. They supported both aggression against Lebanon and the raising of the price of bread when the government was formed. However, all these people base themselves on the vote of the workers and the poor. The most intelligent of them realize that should they support the budget, it will seriously undermine their own political power and could even be their downfall.

One needs to understand that the new budget is not the result of the stupidity or malevolence of the ruling class. Not only did the war cost quite a lot, and the Israeli bourgeois is now seeking to get the working class to pay the price (the Finance Ministry suggested that workers pay for their bosses' losses from their own paychecks, while Histadrut representatives pushed for workers to pay for 'only' 20%!), but they realize that Israeli capitalism is about to enter a serious crisis and they are seeking to avert it. Even some of the staunchest defenders of capitalism know this. As one of them, Nehemia Shtrasler, wrote: "When Peretz supported the Lebanese war, and its expansion, he did not take into consideration that every missile fired and every tank hit mean fewer classes in schools, fewer roads, fewer trains, less welfare and fewer allowances." The Israeli bourgeois faces a serious crisis, economically, politically, and socially. It cannot avert it and some sections of the ruling class know this already. They can only continue going down this road, knowing well that they cannot keep power in their hands for long.

Another sign of things to come is that out of all the institutions and leaders of the Israeli state ‑ the prime minister, the president, the government, the Knesset, the army - most Israelis during this recent war had more trust in the words of... Hassan Nasrallah. According to a research conducted by Proffessor Udi Lavel of Ben-Gurion University, not only did Israelis find Nasrallah trustworthy, as opposed to Israeli leaders such as Olmert, Peretz, and Halutz, but most of them actually waited for Nasrallah to speak in order to find out what was really going on. According to Lavel, a staunch pro-Zionist, the government has no credibility whatsoever. It is well known in Israel that Israeli army speakers constantly lie, but this level of distrust in all the institutions of the state is unprecedented.

It is still unclear if the Olmert coalition will be brought down by its own inner problems or by popular opposition. Olmert might even cow some of the ministers into supporting the budget, should they remain adamant in their opposition, or he could replace them with ministers from Likud and Yisrael Beitenu (a radical right-wing party, which advocates 'territorial exchange', in effect a form of forced transfer). However, it is absolutely clear that the government cannot not survive for long. Its quick downfall is certain, as we Marxists have predicted since it was elected. Stability is not on the order of the day in Israel.

The Labour Movement

The Israeli Labour movement is represented by two organizations who, to a certain extent, have been intimately linked for almost 90 years: the Labour party and the Histadrut (Israeli Trade Union Confederation). The former was a mass working class party for most of the country's existence and had been the largest party in the Knesset for almost 30 years, until the right-wing Likud won the elections for the first time in 1977. The rampant corruption in the party leadership and in all sectors of the state, combined with Herut leader Begin's populism, coloured by anti-Ashkenazi rhetoric (Begin spoke of voting against Labour as fighting the 'Ashkenazi establishment', even though he himself was a Polish Jew, his party, unlike Labour, never had a non-Ashkenazi chairman in its entire history, and his right-wing policies have pushed more and more Mizrahim into poverty and unemployment). Since being defeated in 1977 Labour never held office in Israel, except for the Rabin government in 1992-1995 and the Barak government in 1999-2001. In 1994, Haim Ramon of Labour, and today of Kadima, used his reputation as a 'left' in order to undermine Labour's position in the Histadrut and to sever the historic and organizational ties between the two organizations. Until 2005, Labour would remain a party of the wealthier sections of the middle class and of the Labour aristocracy.

The Histadrut was formed in 1920 as a Zionist federation of Jewish workers. For a long time since its creation, it claimed the membership of most Israeli workers. However, since the 1980s its membership has dwindled, to the point where today it only has 700,000 members out of the nearly 3 million proletarians in Israel (less than a quarter!). Today it too represents mainly the Labour aristocracy and the white-collar workers.

After several strike actions in the 1990s and the beginning of this decade, including the largest strike in Israel's history in 1997 and a general strike in 2004 which caused then Finance Minister Benyamin Nethanyahu (Likud) to accuse the striking workers on TV of being 'terrorists' (seriously perspiring all the while!), Peretz had built up a certain reputation within the labour movement that allowed him to ascend to the leadership of the Labour party in November 2005. This was seen as a victory by most Israeli workers, to the point where many pro-Peretz intellectuals and associates claimed that a revolution was starting (they were of course correct, but not in the sense they meant it). We wrote at the time that:

"After Amir Peretz's election to chairman of the Labor party, most Israeli workers and left-wing petty-bourgeois were very excited. Soon after, many people began making grandiose speeches about a radical change and, as one Peretz supporter put it, "not merely a change - a revolution". A never-ending stream of speeches about a social revolution, socialism, trade-union militancy, a coming peace with the Palestinian people, in other words - a real socialist paradise on earth should Peretz become Prime Minister, were given on radio and television. The right-wing too, including the right-wing of the Labor party, agreed that Peretz is a militant socialist, a 'Bolshevik' even, only they said that he is 'dangerous' because of this [...] Unfortunately, Peretz is no socialist, much less a militant one, but a social-democrat, and not even a very left-wing one at that. However, his coming to the head of the Labor party, which had up to this point always did exactly what the Israeli bourgeoisie told it to do, is enough to give most of the bourgeois and right-wing middle class a good fright.

"The Israeli Marxists gave critical support to Peretz since the first day that he stated that he would run for chairman of Labor. We have done this for two reasons: first of all, Peretz was the only left-winger among the candidates, and second, he is the chairman of the Histadrut, the largest trade-union federation of Israel. His election to chairman of the party creates a powerful bond between the largest workers' party in Israel and this federation. However, we do not give Peretz a blank cheque. Critical support means that we support everything that Amir Peretz does which betters the lives of Israeli and Palestinian workers and poor, and condemn him whenever he gives in to the right-wing."

Peretz has long since switched to the camp of the right wing, something that we had constantly warned was possible and even likely, unlike what the sects claim. However, he has made Labour a working class party again, albeit a reformist one, which made it easier for Israeli Marxists to work in it, and as we had already seen, brought several left-wingers into the party (Yachimovich is a prime example) whom, together with some more intelligent people of Peretz' wing, are causing the coalition many problems on the subject of the budget.

The Israeli working class itself has already started to protest against the budget in some ways. About two weeks ago, a power shortage occurred in the Finance Ministry. It is speculated that Electricity Corporation workers deliberately cut off power to the Ministry in protest at the 2007 budget. This speculation was reinforced when customer service workers walked out in the middle of the working day in protest at the budget, transferring all incoming calls to the Ministry. These are small actions yet they show a certain ferment within the working class. It is no coincidence that Minister of National Infrastructure, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labour), recently ordered the further privatization of another 10% of the Corporation (it was 99.85% state-owned) ‑ the Israeli ruling class is now attempting to block the ferment of the well-unionized, militant and powerful workers of the corporation.

This isn't everything, however. Hirschson has already stated that he intends to freeze the 'updating' of the allowances for the whole year, which would cause them to drop by another 1.6% to 4%, and to freeze the increase in the minimum wage. This has prompted the right-wing reformist leader of the Histadrut, Ofer Eini, to announce that he would not hesitate to declare a general strike in response. Peretz himself threatened to quit the coalition should the minimum wage increase be frozen, saying he saw this as the primary achievement of the coalition agreement. Obviously these right-wing reformists can see where the wind is blowing, and Hirschson and Olmert have already carried out some minor changes in the budget in an attempt to stave off public anger. Not only that, but the leader of the clerks' union criticized Eini's policies and threatened to split from the Histadrut to create a 'left' trade union. This is an ultra-left position and Marxists would not support it, because it splits the Labour movement. However, the left-wing talk of the Histadrut bureaucracy reflects the left-wing moods of Israel's working class, especially the organized working class.

As I have mentioned several times already, the ruling class is in a state of acute crisis and it is fully aware of it. An article by Yoel Marcus, 'Awful Days', was published in Haaretz, and is worth quoting extensively:

"The Days of Awe aren't here yet, but it's hard to deny that things are looking pretty awful. There's a feeling of system collapse, of the country in a funk. The famous ‘What's going to be?' plaint has returned. All the institutions and symbols of the state are riddled with cracks. The president is being questioned under caution on a rape charge, and he has no intention of stepping down or even going on holiday. The chief of staff, considered a military genius and a future candidate for prime minister when he took office, messed up his first war and will face the music when the investigation committees call him in. The national police commissioner is being interrogated. The prime minister, who has bribe charges pending against him, will also have his performance during the Lebanon war scrutinized by a battery of investigators (...)

"After all the outcry about Kadima not being a party and not having a single branch office, they dropped the office idea and built themselves a building - Kadima House. Cyril Northcote Parkinson once said about the British Colonial Office that one of the signs of imminent collapse was putting up a new building. With a mass of investigations and a slew of bad decisions, Olmert looks like a loser, with or without a building.

"The last of the losing quartet is Amir Peretz, who waved the social banner but found himself playing defense minister. With his bizarre public appearances, he came out looking like a rubber stamp for Dan Halutz's plans. Smug, to the point of bragging that Hassan Nasrallah would never forget his name, Peretz will also be hauled before the committees probing into the bungling of Lebanon War II (...)

"News reports and political commentators, some serious, some not, end up determining the national agenda. They decide who gets into power and who goes to the guillotine. Sometimes, the political arena looks like one of those beer-and-good-cheer shows. All of a sudden, pensioners' parties are all the rage. Today, they have seven members in the Knesset; tomorrow, they'll have none. All of a sudden Kadima, which once had 45 seats in the opinion polls, is worried that the only convergence it will ever see is convergence with its mother party, Likud (...)

"What a pity that Nasrallah was the one who had to expose the ignominy of our leaders, who deviated from Israel's mythical motto with their hasty offensive in Lebanon. What a pity that Nasrallah was the one to pull the cover off and reveal the rustiness of the Israeli army."

The Israeli working class has shown its potential on several occasions. One was the movement against the first war in Lebanon, which was radicalized by the slaughter of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila by Lebanese Phalangists, supported by the Israeli army. In 1983 a demonstration of 400,000 forced Prime Minister Begin to step down in order to contain the rage of Israeli workers. Major clashes between students and police took place in the 1990s due to the student protests against the right-wing policies of the government and their attempt to increase tuition fees. As already mentioned, strikes in the late 1990s and in 2004 rocked Israel. Peretz was merely a stage which reflected the changing consciousness of Israeli workers.

The Stalinists and other reformists and nationalists claim that Israeli society is a reactionary bloc, and that a revolution could never happen here at least for hundreds of years. This is nonsense. Right now, as this article is being written, all the objective conditions for revolution are maturing: demoralization within the ruling class and an inability to rule, complete hostility of the masses towards all institutions of the state, and so on. If a mass revolutionary organization existed in Israel, it could quickly grow and take hold of the labour movement. The fact that this is not so is because of the historic crime of Israeli Stalinism with its collaboration not only with the Palestinian liberal bourgeois, but also with Israel itself. However, this state of paralysis will not last. In the following period, we shall witness great movements of the working class that will sweep aside the right-wing reformists from the leadership of Labour and the Histadrut, and will increase the strength and authority of the Marxist tendency in Israel.


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