Right wing gains strength in Israel

Submitted by Matthew on 16 January, 2013 - 12:52

At the end of December, two separate opinion polls found that two-thirds of Israelis would support a peace deal with the Palestinians involving a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital.

That includes 57 percent of those supporting incumbent right-wing party Likud, and 47 percent of those backing the even more right-wing opposition party Jewish Home.

Yet almost no one in official Israeli politics advocates anything like such a solution, or even serious negotiations with the Palestinians. All the polls suggest that, in the general election on 22 January, a big majority of Israelis will vote for right-wing parties, with an even stronger contingent of far-right MPs than before. Netanyahu, now running on a merged electoral list between Likud and the radical right Yisrael Beteinu, looks certain to be returned as prime minister.

The “rising star” of the elections is Naftali Bennett, the software tycoon who is leader of the religious-nationalist Jewish Home. In addition to his militant opposition to gay rights and to the trade unions, Bennett is opposed even in words to the creation of any sort of Palestinian state, advocating the annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank and the enclosure of its Palestinian inhabitants in a series of enclaves with “autonomy [sic] under the supervision of the IDF and Shin Bet” (the Israeli secret police). Jewish Home has doubled in the opinion polls, to about 12 percent.

The Israeli socialist Adam Keller comments: “It thus seems that somewhere in the misty future, the citizens of Israel might vote overwhelmingly in favour of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

“But in the here and now, at the general elections due to take place in Israel two and a half weeks from now, the citizens... seem likely to give a clear Knesset majority to the parties which strongly oppose such an agreement... they are about to fill Knesset seats with dozens of extreme right members as well as those from the even more extreme right, who are completely opposed to even the most petty and cosmetic of concessions.

“The fact is that most of the Israeli public completely believe what they had been repeatedly told over the past twelve years: there is no partner, the Palestinians do not want peace, there is no chance for peace, and all talk of peace is a pipe dream.”

Veteran Israeli leftist Uri Avnery describes the elections like this:

“Faced with at least three grave dangers... Israeli parties and voters just ignored them. As if joined in a conspiracy, they tacitly agreed among themselves not to talk about them. Instead, they bickered and quarreled about totally insignificant and irrelevant issues.”

The three dangers Avnery sees are massive attacks on the living standards of the Israeli working class, through tax rises and cuts to services; attacks on democratic rights and even the independence of the judiciary (because the right regards judges' timid opposition to some government measures as left-wing treason); and the Palestinian issue itself. He argues that much of the political elite has stopped even making much effort to use the alleged Palestinian “threat” to gain votes. Meanwhile the annexation of Palestine continues apace, with a constant expansion of settlements.

It is hard to deny Avnery's conclusion about what Israel's failure to offer the slightest measure of justice to the Palestinians could mean:

“In the coming four years, the official annexation of the West Bank to Israel may become a fact. Palestinians may be confined to small enclaves, the West Bank may be filled with many more settlements, a violent intifada may break out, Israel may be isolated in the world, even the crucial American support may weaken.

“If the government continues on its present course, this will lead to certain disaster – the entire country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will become one unit under Israeli rule. This Greater Israel will contain an Arab majority and a shrinking Jewish minority, turning it inevitably into an apartheid state, plagued by a permanent civil war and shunned by the world.

“This is so obvious, so inevitable, that one needs an iron will not to think about it. It seems that all major parties in these elections have this will. Speaking about peace, they believe, is poison. Giving back the West Bank and East Jerusalem for peace? God forbid even thinking about it.”

Meanwhile Israel's oppression of the Palestinians poisons both Palestinian and Israeli society.

In Israel, the poison of nationalism and racism is running strong at every level: from mob attacks on African migrants in the streets to state-level attacks on democratic rights (laws criminalising boycotts of the settlements; attempts to disqualify Arab politicians from elections).

Despite the skewing of politics to the right and the growth of racist reaction, Israel remains a democracy, with a functioning labour movement and an organised political left. Hadash, a non-Zionist, joint Israeli-Jewish and Arab party, has four seats in the Knesset, and is running a list headed by party leader Mohammed Barakeh.

The Organisation for Democratic Action (Da’am) is a left-wing (although still Stalinist) split from the official Israeli Communist Party (which is active in Hadash). Its members were integral to the setting up of the Workers ‘ Advice Centre (WAC-M’aan), a radical trade union centre that has led organising initiatives amongst both Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab workers. Da’am was active in the social justice protests of 2011, and is the only Israeli political party to be led by an Arab woman — Asma Agbarieh.

The Israeli Supreme Court overturned the disqualification from the elections of Haneen Zoabi, a candidate of Arab nationalist party Balad. The Central Elections Committee wanted Zoabi disqualified because of comments, including about Iran, which they claimed “undermined the state of Israel”. Although a small act in itself, Zoabi’s reinstatement into the election shows that there is conflict even within the Israeli state, and that the far-right can’t have it all their own way.

The working-class, socialist left is weak and still largely tied to the Stalinist tradition from which it comes. Da’am is likely to poll very poorly, although Hadash may retain its MKs. In general, things do not look good.

We should make the maximum possible solidarity with the Palestinians and the Israeli left, both beleaguered, to demand the only solution which can prevent Avnery's nightmare scenario: independence for the Palestinians and two states.

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