On Monday, May 14, we were treated to the scenes of tear gas, massive smoke, thousands protesting… and massive violence by the Israeli army, as some 60 Gazans were killed and over 2500 wounded or treated for tear gas.
Meanwhile, just 49 miles away, the “graceful” Ivanka Trump (as one newspaper referred to her) and Jared Kushner were living in a different world as they presided over the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. The opening and closing benedictions (what happened to the separation of church and state?) were given by the fundamentalist preachers Robert Jeffress and John Hagee. The presence of Hagee, who has said that the Holocaust was part of god’s plan, was welcomed by Netanyahu and company. After all, these religious bigots and fanatics are Netanyahu’s closest allies in the United States.
However, these twin events have set off tremors throughout the world, especially the Muslim world. Even Netanyahu’s ally Erdogan in Turkey felt forced to recall the Turkish ambassador to Israel in protest. This shows the enormous anger that must be felt by Muslim people the world over at what the racist, expansionist state of Israel is doing.
How did we get to this point, where is it headed, and what is the socialist position on this? To answer that, we have to see the situation not as something unique to Israel. Rather, what is happening in Israel and the role Israeli capitalism is playing is the most extreme, the most concentrated expression of the crisis of world capitalism.
Consider the early history of Zionism and the founding of the State of Israel: It was based on a balance between social democracy and fascism. (Those wishing to read a more extensive history of the origins of Zionism and the founding of the state of Israel should see this pamphlet.)
On the one hand, you have the role of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Zionist revisionism and a fascist. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, simply proposed that Jews return to a Palestine that was under the rule of British imperialism, and that the Jews in effect represent British imperialist interests there. However, it was Jabotinsky who first proposed the idea of an independent Jewish state – the State of Israel.
Such a project would have been impossible without the emigration of masses of Jewish workers. Those Jewish workers in their overwhelming majority supported the Bund, which was a Jewish social democratic party in Europe. It required the crisis of capitalism – as expressed in the rise of Hitler – and the betrayals of Stalinism to push these Jewish workers over to Zionism. However, what was also required was labor Zionism – Jewish social democracy. As such, labor Zionism played the same traitorous role that social democracy has played historically.
In general, social democracy is based on capitalist economic and political stability. During such periods it can even win some gains for the working class. However, capitalism is inherently a system of periodic crises – wars, economic crises, and revolutions. In these crises, social democracy reveals its true inner nature. The social democrats betrayed the working class during WW I by supporting their own imperialists. They then proved themselves totally incapable of dealing with the crisis that followed – the rise of fascism and WW II. And Jewish social democracy – labour Zionism – was no different.
Whereas the Bund initially strongly opposed Zionism, it then evolved into support for it through labour Zionism. As such, it played an essential role in attracting millions of Jewish workers to Palestine. There, the labour Zionist leaders dedicated themselves to running Arab workers out of one work place after another so that Jewish workers could replace them. (See “Comrades and Enemies” by Zachary Lockman for further reading on this.) The labour Zionist leaders also did everything in their power to insure that the Arab workers did not build organizations where they had some real say. They also did what they could to prevent real unity in action between the Arab and Jewish workers.
Role of the Nation State
As far as the establishment of the State of Israel one general point emerges: In Europe, capitalism arose organically; it evolved through and out of the feudal system that was then in existence. The French Revolution is a prime example of this. An integral part of the rise of capitalism was the development of the independent nation states. They, too, arose organically out of the situation then in existence in Europe.
In the rest of the world, it was different. In the main, just as with capitalism itself, the nation states in general were imposed from outside by the imperialist rulers. The Arab world is a prime example of this, where most of the nation states were simply created by the French and British imperialists after WW I through the Sykes Picot Accord. Their borders – in fact their very existence – had nothing to do with the actual situation of the peoples of that region; it was simply a matter of dividing up the loot by these two great plunderers.
Creation of the Nation-State of Israel
The creation of the Jewish State of Israel is an extreme example of that process. It was created through fascist methods – mass terrorism, mass slaughter and mass ethnic cleansing. The ideological founder of Israel, Jabotinsky, well understood the necessity for this. “Zionism is a colonizing adventure,” he said, “and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force.”
Just as the ruling class in the colonial world always does, we also saw the reactionary role of the Arab ruling class during the “War of Independence” that created the State of Israel. King Abdullah of Transjordan (now Jordan) conspired to work a deal with the Israelis so that he could get some of the territory. The Lebanese ruling class, dominated by the Christians, supported the creation of the State of Israel, which they saw as a balance against the other Muslim states in the region. As for Syria, it was wracked by coups and unable to act.
The new Israeli capitalist class also expressed in a more extreme form the general tendency of all capitalist states: Expansionism. As Menachim Begin said after the war, “We liberated a very large area, much more than we thought…. Now we have to wait for two or three generations…. As for the rest, we’ll see.” Yes, “the rest” they are proceeding to conquer. They’ve taken over the Golan Heights and expanded into the West Bank, with every intention of incorporating the West Bank into Israel itself. If and when this is accomplished, further territorial expansion will be on the agenda.
During the 1967 war, incidentally, it was the dithering of one Syrian military commander that facilitated Israel’s conquering of the Golan Heights. That commander? None other than Hafez Assad.
The criminal role of Stalinism should also be considered. Stalin’s prime concern was the threat of imperialism, including British imperialism. He thought that if then-Palestine broke away from British rule it would weaken British imperialism and he therefore supported the creation of the State of Israel. Ever under the thumb of the Soviet bureaucracy, the Arab Communist Parties followed suit.
Fast forward to Gaza today. Living under a state of siege from Israel, Gazans are in the world’s largest open air prison. They cannot leave by land, sea or air. The State of Israel also controls what goods can enter Gaza. Fisherman who stray more than a few miles from the Gaza shore are sunk by the Israeli navy. This has resulted in horrific conditions. According to “Foreign Affairs“, of the two million inhabitants:
- 43% are officially unemployed.
- 39% live in poverty
- 80% depend on international aid
The same Foreign Affairs article writes, “97% of the Gaza water supply is contaminated by sewage and seawater, and according to the United Nations, shortages in clean water and fuel, on top of the inadequate health and education services, have essentially made the strip uninhabitable.”
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, whereas the Palestinians compose 38% of the population in that city, they only receive 12% of the municipal budget. It is such situations that has left 72% of Jerusalem’s Paletinians living in poverty.
Public Opinion Among Palestinians
A recent public opinion poll among Palestinians was very revealing. For one, it revealed a widespread lack of confidence in both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. It also showed the assessment of the general state of affairs. Only 9% believe that a peace agreement is possible even in the next 100 years. 57% say that a two state solution is no longer possible due to the settlements in the West Bank, and 73% say that the chances of establishing an independent Palestinian state are slim or none, but only 28% support a one-state solution. Meanwhile, in the here and now, 77% worry that they will be attacked by Israelis in their dialy life and/or that their land will be confiscated.
Within Israel, there has been a steady turn towards further racism, chauvinism and violence. This should be understood in the context of the inherent racism of Zionism itself as well as in the context of the general world situation, as we will explain.
Israel has never been fully able to resolve the contradiction between its origins in overt racism and fascism and in social democracy. Among other things, that has been expressed by its inability to write a formal constitution. As far back as 2011, a piecemeal attempt to develop a constitution was initiated through the writing of a nation state law. But right away, the contradictory nature of Zionism was revealed. How to resolve the contradiction between bourgeois (or capitalist) democracy and a state that is for one specific religious/ethnic group? Impossible.
That was revealed in the debate over this law. For example one Israeli member of parliament, Miri Regev, said she was “happy to be a fascist.” As far as that law, MP member Miki Zohar said that Palestinians “have one major disadvantage — they weren’t born as Jews.”
That contradiction was further exacerbated by the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014. Whenever a country goes to war, violence and even blood lust is stirred up. Israel has always been at war to one degree or another, but wars such as the one in 2014 make things even more extreme. Already in 2012, these tendencies were being expressed, such as by Miki Zohar, a member of the Israeli parliament who said he was “happy to be a fascist”. And the liberal Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz warned, “The left is no longer capable of overcoming the toxic ultra-nationalism that has evolved here, the kind whose European strain almost wiped out a majority of the Jewish people…. we see not just a growing Israeli fascism but racism akin to Nazism in its early stages.”
In part this is due to the racism that is inherent in Zionism, but that has combined with the fact that Israel has always been in a state of low-grade war. And war always tends to bring out violence, blood lust and cheapening of human life. That low grade war broke out into the open in 2014, with Israel’s war on Gaza. In that war, soldiers reported that they were ordered to shoot Palestinian civilians and other soldiers reported that they did so simply out of boredom.
The crisis in world capitalism has also intruded into Israel in another way: The entrance of thousands of African refugees into Israel. Traveling through the desert, they have come from such countries as Chad and Sudan to escape war in their homeland. In Israel, they are met with extreme hostility and locked up into concentration camps. Over 2/3 of Israelis support sending these refugees back to the countries from which they came. This from a population composed in the main of the descendants of exactly such refugees!
An example of the fascist terrorism that has developed in Israel, especially among the settlers, was seen in July of 2015. A settler terrorist gang torched the home of a Palestinian family, burning alive the 18 month old toddler Ali al-Awabash. In most such instances, the perpetrators are never caught, but in this case one was. He was Matt Ettinger, grandson of the fascist rabbi Meir Kahane, who originally was from New York City. Ettinger was sentenced to all of ten months in prison. But what was even more revealing was a marriage celebrated in a settler community in October of the following year. A video captured the wedding guests dancing and celebrating the murder of al-Awabash. They were waving mock Molotov cocktails and guns in the air and stabbing a photo of the toddler!
This degeneration of Israeli society is mirrored in the degeneration of Israeli politics and the reelection of Netanyahu, who is every bit as much of a lunatic as is Trump. He is also under investigation for his wife’s having used state funds to remodel their personal residence and then he, himself, committed all sorts of crimes such as bribery in an attempt to cover it up.
US politics must also be considered. The US capitalist class burned its fingers on the neoconservatives’ shoot first, ask questions later approach. Contrary to what they thought, even US imperialism cannot just invade anywhere and take over a country without even any allies. Contrary to what they thought, diplomacy and even compromise are sometimes necessary. That’s why the mainstream of the US capitalist class installed Obama as president.
However, this mainstream partially lost control over their presidency when Trump got elected. With his appointment of unreconstructed neocon John Bolton to head the National Security Agency, it seems he will be returning to a more aggressive military approach. And as we see with the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem, Trump is encouraging all the worst tendencies of Netanyahu. Similar to Netanyahu, Trump relies for support to a great extent on the Christian fundamentalists, who have long supported such a move. (It is no accident that the governments of Paraguay and Guatemala have also moved their embassies; Christian fundamentalism is rampant in those countries.)
But it is not only Trump. As the Wall St. Journal editors pointed out, “the transfer of the US Embassy had been promised by multiple presidents… including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.” In other words, these presidents helped pave the way for this move. The WSJ also quoted liberal Democratic senator Chuck Schumer: “In a long overdue move, we have moved our embassy to Jerusalem… I sponsored legislation to do this two decades ago, and I applaud President Trump for doing it.”
As for the great liberal hope, Bernie Sanders, he offered faint criticism of Israel’s murderous attack on the Gaza protesters and then lapsed into silence.
The conclusion is clear: Just as with domestic affairs, to really fight US imperialism including its support for Israel, it’s necessary to start down the road towards building a mass working class party in the US. It’s impossible to do so while supporting one single Democratic Party candidate or office holder.
The rise of Trump and Netanyahu are not isolated phenomenons. Similar types have risen around the world, including Recip Erdogan in Turkey, Victor Orban in Hungary, Nerandra Modi in India and, in fact, Putin in Russia. The reason for this is, in part, the developing breakdown of the old system wherein national governments had some real power in regulating domestic affairs. Now, there is an increasing tension between the very existence of national borders – the nation-states themselves – and the global economy. This “demise of the nation states” as an article in the London Guardian has called it, is creating mass confusion and a desire to return to the old relative certainties.
Israel, which has always represented the very worst that capitalism has to offer, is simply a most extreme example of this degeneration of capitalism itself.
The fact that Erdogan felt forced to withdraw his ambassador to Israel is significant. It shows the tremendous mood that must be developing throughout the Muslim world regarding the murderous policies of Israel. At the center of, and bearing the brunt of these policies, are the Palestinians. And they are spread out throughout the Arab world. Unfortunately, the the resistance of the Palestinians has been led by such reactionary, capitalist forces as Hamas and this leadership is tied to the reactionary Arab ruling class.
The Palestinian masses, however, are in a position to really transform the politics throughout the Arab world and throughout the Muslim world in general. Given the low level of confidence in Hamas as well as in the Palestinian Authority, who knows what other trends are stirring? Who knows what is stirring among the survivors of the Palestinian community in Yarmouk, which Assad recently bombed to smithereens?
A revival of the socialist traditions of the world working class could be finding its way among these masses of Palestinians. They would then be in a position to influence the movement throughout the Arab world.
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