Even if one believed that terms like “socialism”, “class struggle” or “working class” would be restored into Israeli society, a campaign waged by Israeli socialists to take control of the leadership of Israel’s Labour party sounds like a dream.
Nonetheless, it is absolutely not a dream as Amir Peretz MP, the leader of Israeli’s federation of trade unions, carries forward a comprehensive campaign for the party’s leadership. Recent polls amongst Labour party members give to Peretz the second place in the struggle for chairmanship, while the current chairman, Sharon’s deputy Shimon Peres (who is 82 years old), is in the first place.
Peres, while serving as the opposition leader, condemned Israeli Finance Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, for his “brutal” or “barbaric” capitalism, but has no problem about authorising the a dismissal of more than 2,000 teachers, who were fired a week ago by the Education Minister, Limor Livnat (Likud). Two days ago, Amir Peretz’s rivals, aided by the liberal Right in the Knesset (organized around the chauvinist Shinui party), passed a bill that prevents the Histadrut’s leader from being a Member of Parliament, something that may make Peretz leave the union leadership in order to remain a member in the Israeli parliament.
Peretz is not a socialist in the Marxist sense; he is more affiliated with the traditional values of the Western labor movement, the ones that characterized Britain’s Labour prior to the seizure of the party by the neo-liberals led by Blair and his conservative gang. The Israeli “socialist” scene, mainly the Communist Party and its surroundings (the local groupings associated with British Trotskyist “Internationals”, but also many ultra-leftist groups with post-modernist approaches) have been refusing to aid Peretz’s drive toward the creation of a true workers’ party in Israel, based on the unions.
But the infantile radical milieu does not play a role in Israel’s politics; many trade unionists, along academics and “ordinary” workers, have joined Labour in order to strengthen Peretz.
Thus, we see things which have not been seen for years, as Israeli Labour members wish to launch a labor paper, the old Davar, that was established in 1920 by the new-born Histadrut but was closed in 1995 for economic problems and huge deficit. It is a real tendency of people who wish to see a new Israel, a socialist and democratic state, alongside an independent Palestinian state.
If Peretz becomes the party’s leader, the coming elections will pose the Labour as true alternative to Sharon’s Likud. Many Israelis believes that there is an agreement concerning the political solution which should be arranged in order to finish the conflict with the Palestinians, but there is a deep dispute over social questions.
While Netanyahu wishes to carry out vicious ultra-capitalist policies, many Israelis want to see a new ideological direction toward a true welfare state. In this sense, they find Peretz a leader who can bring about principled change in Israeli politics.
Although Peretz’s radicalism changes from time to time, as Israeli capitalists join his camp in order to moderate his socialistic stands (since they know what is the potential of his leadership), it is clear that his leadership can become a true source for social revolution in Israel. A revolution that can bring the unions to play a crucial role in socialist transformation of the Israeli society, and lay the foundations for a local socialist movement that can fight the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and other wings of the global capital.
Now we face the question of building a socialist movement in Israel. While to historic Left, around the Stalinists and the anti-Zionists, is associated with views which were rejected for decades by most of the Israelis, socialists in Israel can transform the Labour into a new political power which will change the historic shift of Israel to barbaric capitalism.
I hope that the coming elections in the Labour party will enable us to revolutionise the party and gather around Labour’s new and energetic forces for a true change.
David Merhav adds: I am a student in the Philosophy Department, University of Haifa, supporter of the Alliance for a Workers’ Liberty and member of Yesod, The Social-Democratic Israel, a tendency in the Labour party. Yesod’s paper, Hevra (Society), is the only socialist journal in Israel and is published six times a year.