A new phase is opening up in Israeli politics, and it affects relations between the US and Israeli governments and US politics itself.
In Israel, on Holocaust Remembrance Day (May 4), the Israeli army’s deputy chief of staff, Yair Golan, compared what has been happening in Israel to the situation in Germany in the 1930s, when the Nazis were rising to power. This set off an uproar, but it shouldn’t have; Golan was right.
“Death to Arabs”
We have the example of marches of thousands, primarily youth, calling for “death to Arabs”; assaults on Palestinians, boycotts of Palestinian businesses and even of Israeli businesses that employ Palestinians, refusal of landlords to rent to Palestinians, etc. Recently, a video surfaced of an Israeli soldier – El’or Azaria – running up to a Palestinian man – Abdel Fattah al-Sharif – who was wounded and lying face down on the ground and shooting him in the head, killing him. Al-Sharif had been accused of attacking some Israelis with a knife, but whether he did or not, he was no threat whatsoever at the time. It was a cold blooded assassination. The Israeli military brass, which covers up every Israeli military atrocity that it can, was unable to cover up this murder and they put Azaria on trial. This has set off a furor of protest in Israel, with thousands calling Azaria a hero.
The Israaeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is a Trump-like politician – cynical, corrupt, demagogically playing on the worst racist fears. He has moved so far to the right that his Minister of Defense, Moshe “Bogy” Ya’alon, resigned on May 20. Netanyahu replaced him with Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, the Israel Home party. This is a party that mainly is based among the Russian Jewish immigrants and is a far, far right party. It models itself after Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Zionist Revisionism (the wing of Zionism that originally advocated for an independent Israeli state, rather than simply being a Jewish colony of Britain). Jabotinsky was a fascist sympathizer, and Lieberman is not far from it. He has commented, for example, “those who are against us deserve to have their heads chopped off with an axe.” In the context of discussing attacking Iran, Lieberman has raised the example of the US government’s use of nuclear
bombs in WW II. His fellow party member, Ayelet Shaked, talked about Palestinians as if they were all “terrorists” and called for killing them all. “They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there,” she said.
Shaked is the “Justice” (!) Minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet. Ya’alon also resigned his seat in the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) and will be replaced by Yehuda Glick, who is described as “the leader of the ‘Temple Mount Loyalists’”. This is a group that seeks open and violent confrontation with Palestinians over the historic “Dome of the Rock”.
Ironically, one of the main forces that is unhappy about the rise of racist populism in Israel is the Israeli military establishment. In part that’s because, like most military establishments, it tends to take a more strategic view. It has to since it must live with the direct consequences of strategic blunders. That’s what happened when they tried to invade Gaza during the recent war against the people there. It’s what happened in the Israeli war in Lebanon. In both cases, the Israeli military suffered a surprising number of casualties – something the Israelis are unused to – and had to withdraw.
A major wing of Israeli capitalists are equally concerned with the growing role of Lieberman and his party, as witnessed by this article in the daily newspaper Ha’aretz, which commented: “Apparently not everyone is willing to stick his nose into Yisrael Beiteinu’s open sewer, sniff and enjoy it…. And Lieberman is really frightening, let’s admit it.” They concluded: “Rabbis and nationalist zealots marked Yitzhak Rabin, Sarah Palin marked Gabrielle Giffords, and now, Avigdor Lieberman is another right marker. Only yesterday, another target was marked in Jerusalem. Watch carefully, glance right to the Kahane and Goldstein commemoration corner, for the fire will open from here.” (Meir Kahane was an extreme right, violent racist, founder in the US of the Jewish Defense League. He ultimately emigrated to Israel, became a member of parliament who was so extreme that his party – Kach – was ultimately banned there.)
Nor is Corporate America, as represented by the Obama administration, happy about the developing situation in Israel in general and the appointment of Lieberman in particular. “We have also seen reports from Israel describing it as the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history and we also know that many of its ministers have said they oppose a two-state solution. This raises legitimate questions about the direction it may be headed in … and what kind of policies it may adopt,” said US State Department spokesman Mark Toner in commenting on Lieberman’s appointment.
Pressuring Israeli Regime & Bernie Sanders
Their problem is that they have so strongly defended the Israeli regime for all these years, and now it’s difficult to publicly pressure that regime. After all, they don’t want to weaken it or weaken US support for it, they just want it to take a more reasonable – meaning strategic – approach. But who knows what workers and youth would start to discover, what reality they would start to see, once that can of worms is opened? (The Israel lobby also plays a powerful role, but they could be overcome if Corporate America decided it was completely necessary.) Into this breach steps…. Bernie Sanders. He has pressured the Democratic Party tops to be allowed to name five people to the Democratic Party platform
committee. Two of those he’s named are Cornel West, the left-wing African-American academic, and James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. They have made it clear that they will be pushing for opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. A Clinton representative made it clear that nothing of the sort will be passed, but the Israel lobby is disturbed anyway. Malcolm Hoenlein, representative of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he found it to be “disturbing” that people such as Zogby and West (as well as Muslim congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota) were even on that committee.
In this way, some “outsider” voices can start to be raised in order to pressure the Israeli regime. Corporate America’s problem is that it’s no more entirely up to the saner heads among Israel’s capitalists than it is entirely so here in the US. After all, if here they face the actual possibility that the loose cannon Donald Trump could become president while the radical liberal Bernie Sanders has gone far further than anybody (including himself) expected in the Democrats, if here they are no longer in total control of their two parties, then imagine how things must be in Israel!
Class Struggle vs. Racism, Communalism & Bigotry
The rise of open racism and even fascism in Israel and the rise of far right populism in the US (Donald Trump) is part of a global trend. This includes the attacks on the Rohingya minority in Myanmar (Burma), the Islamic State elsewhere, the communalist BJP in India, and the far right, xenophobic parties throughout Europe. The answer to them lies not only in open opposition, it also lies in building the class struggle, the most prominent example of which is presently the mass strikes and protests against attacks in France against long-standing workers’ rights there. The liberal politicians will not save us. Bernie Sanders (who fundamentally supports Israel as well as US militarism, including drone warfare) will not save us. The union leadership – which represents the employers and one of their two parties, the Democrats, inside the workers’ movement – won’t save us. It is up to workers and youth to join together and form their own organizations of struggle, ultimately forming a mass political party, to save ourselves.