Like every other struggle, the fight against racism is international. That’s doubly true for the State of Israel, which has accurately been compared with apartheid South Africa. And that’s why we should consider yesterday’s elections there.
Yesterday’s Election Results
After trailing in the polls, Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party came out with more votes than any other party, winning 30 seats in the Israeli parliament (“Knesset”) out of 120 vs. 24 for its closest rival, the “Zionist Union”. (There never has been a government that had an outright majority in the history of Israel.)
Israeli politics are a corrupt and confused mess, as is to be expected of a racist, colonialist state. “Bibi” Netanyahu is widely hated by a large sector of the Israeli electorate, as much for his proven corruption as anything else. (He and his wife, for instance, were so petty as to keep money due the government for government-purchased recycled plastic bottles!) Now, this war criminal will almost certainly add to his reign, this time by relying even more strongly on the far right racist parties like Shas.
Ali Abounimah has clearly explained the lack of an alternative in his article, “Why I’m Relieved Netanyahu Won”. The main “opposition” was from the team of Tsipi Livni and Isaac Herzog. How much of an alternative they are is revealed by the fact that Herzog criticized Netanyahu for not attacking Gaza strongly and soon enough in Israel’s recent slaughter there and Livni has expressed policies that imply ethnic cleansing and was responsible for the criminal war against Gaza known as “Operation Caste Lead”.
As it is, Netanyahu won based in part on the promise that there will never be a Palestinian state as long as he is in office. On the alternative, Abounimah writes: “Had the Zionist Union (Herzog/Livni) won, there was a very grave danger that the Palestinians would have been dragged back a decade into fruitless Oslo-style “negotiations” that would have served as a cover for continued sugbjugation and colonization….
“Such negotiations have provided the principal excuse for the so-called international community to endlessly defer holding Israel even minimally accountable.”
Abounimah’s entire article is well worth reading for anybody who fights against racism and oppression as, among other things, it clearly explains the fantasy of the idea of a separate, independent Palestinian state. However, he is mistaken as far as the election outcome outcome: It is based on a strategy that revolves around the governments of the Western states (including the United States) forcing a change on Israel. It fails to reckon with the fact that every wing of Corporate America, including its most liberal representatives, supports Zionism in one way or another. The liberal economist Paul Krugman, for instance, claims that Israel “was built on the socialist ideals of the kibbutz system,” and while he decried the increased economic inequality in Israel, he ignores the most sharp inequality – between Israeli Jews and Israeli palestinians. US Senator Elizabeth Warren, the great hope of the liberals, has commented, “America has a very special relationship with Israel…. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world…. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.” (Whether Palestinians have a right to defend themselves from land and water theft, mass murder and other war crimes Warren didn’t comment on, of course.)
Abounimah’s view also shows no appreciation for the potential role of any sector of the Israeli working class, even including the Palestinians in Israel. It is hard to imagine that these results will not further demoralize the Palestinians, both in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, and thereby make building a movement even more difficult.
The opponents of Israeli racism and oppression tend to ignore the sharp increase in poverty and inequality in Israel. In fact, the increased opposition to Netanyahu was largely based on the fact that a layer of the population for the first time tended to focus on this issue rather than on the issue of “security”. Many of the poorer Israeli Jews tend to be the most racist, similar to poor white Southerners in the US. But this has a twist: This is not simply a matter of “white supremacy” as a disproportionate number of those poor Israeli Jews are Sephardic, or West Asian (non-white), Jews.
US Capitalism & Israel
Today, Israel is one of the most racist societies in the world. The only hope for change is to connect the issue of poverty at home in Israel – that is to say, the class struggle – with the issue of racism and oppression. It won’t be easy. That was proven by yesterday’s elections. And possibly the only hope is linked with the international struggle, including in Western Asia and Northern Africa. Maybe a real class struggle and a struggle for socialism throughout the region will help start to break through the deep-seated racism within Israel. That, connected with the ongoing efforts to isolate racist Israeli society globally. But whatever it takes, it certainly can’t be argued that the present ignoring of the class divisions within Israeli Jewish society has been very successful. What is the alternative?
There’s a lesson to be learned there for the movement in the United States.
Note: For a more comprehensive explanation of the rise of Zionism and how it relates to the crisis of capitalism as well as the failure of the reformists of all stripes, see this pamphlet.