Israel: The two dangers on the road of the working class

The change of leadership at the top of the Israeli Labour Party is still sending shockwaves throughout the whole of Israeli society. Now the new leader will come under immense pressure. Sharon with his new party is also manoeuvring. He can play the game of provoking further conflicts with the Palestinians to re-enforce the siege mentality among the Jews and he can try and trap Labour in a new coalition. These are the two dangers facing Israeli workers.

For a long time it seemed as if nothing new was happing in Israel. The news seemed to be dominated by the same items about the repression of the Palestinians, about Israeli state terrorism and to which the Palestinians responded with individual acts of terror.

Sharon seemed to be a Prime Minister who could do no wrong in the minds of the majority of the Israeli electorate, including those who considered themselves to be on the left. This of course, was accompanied by daily reports on corruption, on the growing poverty levels, of suicides.

While in other countries the class struggle was heating up, in Israel the attempts of the workers and poor were drowned by nationalism, the ideology that the ruling class has used as a whip to prevent any revolt.

Then, apparently from nowhere, Amir Peretz, the leader of the Trade Union Federation, the Histadrut, was elected as the leader of the Labour party. This single event has sent a shockwave throughout the entire political system, a chain reaction where one event leads to another.

Since he forced the Labour Ministers to resign from the Sharon government, the right wing in the Labour Party has been leaving or thinking of leaving the party. Haim Ramon left, and now Peres after pondering the idea for a while has now taken the step and has joined the Sharon camp. Some of the right wing of the party may stay behind, but only to try and stop the Labour Party shifting further to the left.

The change in the Labour Party has had an immediate effect on the Likud. Sharon, who founded the Likud in 1973, has left the party taking with him 14 of its Knesset (Israeli parliament) members and now what is left of it is falling apart and seven self-proclaimed captains are fighting to take command of the sinking ship.

Sharon was forced to go to President Moshe Katsab to inform him that his government was no longer tenable and new elections have been fixed for March 28, 2006. The new party of Sharon, by the name of Kadima (forward), is not winning many middle rank and grass roots members from the old Likud, but he is still popular outside the Likud, in particular among the petit bourgeois.

According to the latest opinion poll commissioned by Israel's privately-run Channel 10 on Thursday his new party will do much better than the party he left behind. Kadima would win 34 seats in the 120-member parliament against 28 seats for Labour and just 15 for the Likud. This was the fourth poll since Sharon's resignation from the Likud earlier this week. The others suggested Kadima would win between 30 and 33 seats, the Likud between 12 and 15 seats, a dramatic drop from its current 40, and Labour some 26 to 28 seats.

If this proves to be the outcome in the forthcoming elections, Sharon will still be Prime Minister and will form a centre-right coalition, and unless Peretz decide to commit political suicide the Labour party will become a party of opposition based on the workers and the poor and will be pushed further to the left.

For most people inside and outside Israel these events came as a thunder bolt from a clear blue sky. The Zionist ideologues have declared for years that all the Israel Jews are united together as one mass because their fear of the Arabs who want to push the Jews into the sea. “Do not rock the boat, we are all sailing together in it”, we were told so many times.

The Arab nationalist ideologues have also declared that all the Jews in Israel are one block. The individual terror of Hamas and the Jihad against innocent Israeli citizens were based on the same assumption that all the Israelis are the same. The same idea was peddled by many left sects tailing-ending Arab nationalism.

We were the only tendency to have insisted that the capitalist ruling class in Israel has created its own gravediggers in the form of the working class and that Israel, in spite of the way it was created when it expelled close to one million Palestinians, is a class society and that is what will decide its future.

The earthquake we are still experiencing, however did not come from nowhere. It is the result of the growing contradictions within Israeli society. The constant, unending, daily attacks of the ruling class on the standards of living combined with the growing personal insecurity of the Jewish and Arab workers inside Israel eventually saw the confirmation of the law of the transformation of quantity into quality. The small daily changes, hardly noticed by anyone, and each one on its not making any change, at a certain point erupted and came to the surface; they became effective and provoked a massive a change   a real shift to the left among the masses in Israel.

It is not yet a revolution, of course. However, this is the beginning of a process, which in the long run can only lead to revolution. We are going through a transitional period that has not been seen in Israel for decades.

Even left Liberals like Uri Avneri, the leader of Gush Shalom was able to see what the meaning of this change really is. In an interview with Al Jazeera on November 13, he said some interesting things. We reproduce some of them here:

“Aljazeera: Why is Peretz' victory significant in your opinion?

“Avneri: It is very significant; it could have profound and far-reaching ramifications on politics in Israel and the prospects of peace with the Palestinians.

“We can compare the ascendancy of a Jew originating in North Africa to the helm of the Labour Party to the Likud's victory in 1977 under the leadership of Menachem Begin thanks to the overwhelming support of Jews who had immigrated from Arab and Islamic countries.

That was a watershed moment in Israel politics. Peretz' win could be a new watershed.

“Aljazeera: Who elected Peretz?

“Avneri: Peretz was elected by towns and villages inhabited mainly by immigrants from North Africa, the same people who are rioting now in France. And I would say that they elected Peretz very much for the same reason that North African Muslim immigrants are rioting in France, namely social alienation and economic deprivation…”

It wasn’t just Uri Avneri who has welcome Peretz. The Syrian President has also welcomed this turn of events in Israel. We find the following information in the Daily Star (Saturday, November 19, 2005):

“Syria regards the election of Amir Peretz as leader of Israel's Labour party as a positive move and believes he could become a negotiating partner, an Arab-Israeli MP said on Friday after talks in Damascus. Talab al-Sana, who travelled to the Syrian capital in defiance of an Israeli ban, said he had met with a number of officials during his week in Damascus including Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.

“ ‘The subject of Peretz's election was brought up and Sharaa said it represented a positive change in the political track in Israel,’ Sana said.

“ ‘He told me there was no peace partner in Israel at the moment and the election of Peretz [as premier in upcoming elections] would revive hopes that such a partner could emerge for he has peaceful tendencies,’ added Sana.”

But this week Peretz disappointed the doves. The Housing Minister, Isaac Herzog (Labour), approved the construction of 350 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.

In an interview Herzog said that “Ma'aleh Adumim is part of one of the settlement blocs about which there is an Israeli consensus that they should be kept under any final-status agreement, and, therefore, he supports construction within the city limits.” He added that the decision had been agreed with the new Labour Party Chairman Amir Peretz, and that “the area covered by the tenders would remain part of Israel even under Yossi Beilin’s Geneva Initiative.” Peretz made another statement that upset the doves; he declared that Jerusalem will remain unified under Israeli rule.

Not surprisingly, in reaction MK Azmi Bashara, the head of a radical left Palestinian party, Balad, in Israel in his latest article in Mashum wrote under the title The Lack of Peretz and the Destiny of Peres:

“The election of Peretz is a cynical reflection of the crisis within the Labour party. The Labour party is supporting Sharon’s political plans without having its own plans, and this is true for Peretz himself who does not have any different program from Peres. The only thing that differentiates him from Peres is the fact that he does not want to stay in Sharon’s government and act as a PR office for Sharon. He reflects the will of the Labour party to survive. If the Party under Peres would have stayed longer in Sharon’s government it would have died. This does not mean that Perez is an alternative. Peretz will act on the political level like Peres but at the same time he has a populist agenda on the social issues.” [My emphasis]

There are two reactions to this new development. Some give Peretz a blank cheque, while others deny that Peretz’s victory is significant. Both are wrong.

The Labour party based on the Histadrut has become more like a classical Social Democratic party. It is not a revolutionary party and Peretz is not a Marxist. It is a party acting under crossfire. On one hand it is under the pressure of the workers and the poor; on the other hand it is under the pressure of the capitalist class and the right wing including those inside the Labour party. Peretz’s consciousness reflects these opposing pressures and we can expect him to move both to the left and right in a zigzag fashion.

Those who oppose this analysis, who merely disregard the process inside the Labour Party as irrelevant to the working class, and call themselves Marxists and even Leninists, reveal that they are no more than mere sects. They just prove that they have either never read Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder or if they have read it they did not understand a word.

The duty of Marxists is to give the Labour party under Peretz critical support while calling to vote for it in the coming elections and while praising every step of the party in the direction of the working class and the poor, criticizing any steps in the direction of capitulation to the capitalist class and to social chauvinism.

In order to clarify this point it is necessary to quote Lenin at length:

“It is true that the Hendersons, the Clyneses, the MacDonalds and the Snowdens [leader of the British Labour Party when Lenin was writing in 1920] are hopelessly reactionary. It is equally true that they want to assume power (though they would prefer a coalition with the bourgeoisie), that they want to ‘rule’ along the old bourgeois lines, and that when they are in power they will certainly behave like the Scheidemanns and Noskes [leaders of the German Social Democratic Party who betrayed the German revolution]. All that is true. But it does not at all follow that to support them means treachery to the revolution; what does follow is that, in the interests of the revolution, working-class revolutionaries should give these gentlemen a certain amount of parliamentary support…

“On the contrary, the fact that most British workers still follow the lead of the British Kerenskys or Scheidemanns and have not yet had experience of a government composed of these people   an experience which was necessary in Russia and Germany so as to secure the mass transition of the workers to communism undoubtedly indicates that the British Communists should participate in parliamentary action, that they should, from within parliament, help the masses of the workers see the results of a Henderson and Snowden government in practice, and that they should help the Hendersons and Snowdens defeat the united forces of Lloyd George and Churchill. To act otherwise would mean hampering the cause of the revolution, since revolution is impossible without a change in the views of the majority of the working class, a change brought about by the political experience of the masses, never by propaganda alone. ‘To lead the way without compromises, without turning’ this slogan is obviously wrong if it comes from a patently impotent minority of the workers who know (or at all events should know) that given a Henderson and Snowden victory over Lloyd George and Churchill, the majority will soon become disappointed in their leaders and will begin to support communism (or at all events will adopt an attitude of neutrality, and, in the main, of sympathetic neutrality, towards the Communists). It is as though 10,000 soldiers were to hurl themselves into battle against an enemy force of 50,000, when it would be proper to ‘halt’, ‘take evasive action’, or even effect a ‘compromise’ so as to gain time until the arrival of the 100,000 reinforcements that are on their way but cannot go into action immediately. That is intellectualist childishness, not the serious tactics of a revolutionary class.”

Lenin was very clear indeed, and no amount of hair splitting and sectarian denial can change what he said and wrote.

From the working class perspective there are two major dangers we should be aware of in the new situation that has emerged in Israel. The first danger is that Sharon and the army command will do their best to provoke the Palestinians and Hizb Ullah into carrying out retaliations against the Israeli army in the Lebanon and on the West Bank. This is the big winning card that Sharon can play between now and the elections.

As I write this article the story in the news is that on Wednesday, November 23, Israel dropped thousands of anti-Hizb Ullah leaflets over Lebanon, two days after the heaviest fighting in years. Then Israeli soldiers clashed with Hizb Ullah fighters to enable the escape of an Israeli who had floated into Lebanon on a hang-glider and landed across the border. Hizb Ullah's Al-Manar television, that has a name for honest reports, said the clashes began when fighters engaged Israeli troops who had crossed into Lebanon.

Not surprisingly the UN Security Council that has acted as a PR office for the US for years expressed "deep concern" over the fighting and then declared that… Hizb Ullah had started it! Under pressure from the United States, Israel, the real aggressor, was not mentioned by name.

“I wanted to underline the importance of saying expressly that it was Hizb Ullah that initiated the attack,” US Ambassador John Bolton told Reuters. This statement makes it clear that the fighting on the Israel-Lebanon boarder is part of the US’s overall campaign against Syria, and that Sharon is happy to use this as part of his election campaign.

This new tension in the region reflects the growing instability following the war against Iraq and its occupation by the Anglo-American imperialists. Now they want to open a new front against Syria and Hizb Ullah is seen as an organisation controlled by Syria. Gone are the days when Hizb Ullah was declared a terrorist organization controlled by Iran! In reality Hizb Ullah is a local Lebanese organisation that sprang up as a reaction to 18-year Israeli occupation of the Lebanon.

At the same time Sharon is not setting fire only to the northern border of Israel but also to the West Bank. As they say, “Two for the price of one.”

For several days, the Israeli army has been attacking the Palestinians in different parts of the West Bank. On Wednesday (November 23) a Palestinian was shot dead and twelve more were wounded in gun fighting after Israel military entered the West Bank town of Jenin and put it under curfew. The excuse was that the Israeli military were conducting routine operations to arrest Palestinians suspected of “terrorist” activity.

Three Israeli soldiers were also lightly wounded in the clashes.

Meanwhile in the village of Kfar Kadum, near Nablus, where two wanted men were hiding, an army bulldozer started to demolish the building with the suspects still inside. There was an exchange of fire but no casualties were reported.

Outside a military checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron, about 200 children and 10 teachers protested about what they consider unnecessary and dangerous searches of the children on their way to school The Army’s excuse is that the high-tech checkpoint is a target for “terrorist” activity. The teachers and students rightly say that they are worried about the health hazards caused by the radiations of X-ray equipment. At one point soldiers fired tear gas to disperse around 300 children protesting at the checkpoint.

This exploiting “terror” attacks   provoked by the Israeli military – could be used to whip up further anti-Arab sentiments among the Jewish population is one danger. The other danger is that Sharon will win the elections on March 28, and form a coalition government with Peretz. Big pressure will be brought to bear on the new Labour leadership to join such a government. This would be a manoeuvre to block the shift to the left.

This may well happen. It would be an attempt to slow down the process of radicalisation of the workers in Israel. It may put obstacles on the road of the working class but it will not stop it. The workers will learn from every turn of events and push even further to the left.

November 30, 2005

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