By Shahar Ben Horin and Yasha Marmer, Socialist Struggle Movement (our sister organisation in Israel/Palestine)
The fifth Israeli parliamentary election in less than four years, on 1 November, saw a scenario we consistently warned against of a narrow comeback for Netanyahu allied with a boosted far right and the Jewish ultra-orthodox religious parties. The gang is vowing to form a “fully right-wing government”.
Openly on the agenda of the apparently incoming ruling coalition are new barbaric assaults on Palestinians and the further enhancement of colonial settlements, heightened war threats against Iran and its regional allies, as well as pronounced threats to curb workers’ rights to strike, and to privatize public broadcasting.
The re-assertion of religious reaction is also advanced, as a vector in the sphere of national conflict, and as a manifestation of the anti-scientific programs of the self-preserving ultra-orthodox religious parties. A backlash against the gains of the liberation movements of women and LGBTQ+ is part of the program of components in Netanyahu’s bloc, and so are attacks on non-Jewish immigrants and asylum seekers.
Another major threat included is the ‘override clause’, a legal mechanism to allow a majority government to override Supreme Court rulings that affirm appeals against legislation that contradict the Basic Laws on civil rights — an unpopular measure to concentrate more power in government, scaling back even the largely hollow constitutional reform of the 1990’s — the so-called ‘constitutional revolution’.
A tight comeback
Netanyahu’s win is an uptick for the volatile global trend of hard-right and far-right alliances developing in the framework of destabilized capitalism. On the one hand, not on a par with Italy’s far right or with erratic Trumpism, Netanyahu is a bourgeois politician with a record of 15 years as prime minister at the head of the conservative “Likud” party. “Likud” remains the largest party with 23% of the votes. However, faced with the crises of Israeli capitalism and the occupation, and his own prosecution on corruption charges, Netanyahu has increasingly relied on right-wing populism and Machiavellian methods, emptying his party of the more traditional bourgeois elements, and gravitating towards alliances with the far right.
Like Trump and Bolsonaro, who were thrown out of power via elections, Netanyahu was ousted following last year’s election, by a peculiar combination of rival parties. His bloc soon regrouped in opposition to the unpopular ‘Change Government’. The outcome contains dangers, inspiring confidence in the most reactionary elements, but also revealing weaknesses.
The relative vote for Netanyahu’s party declined slightly, although overall his bloc won almost 50%. This was translated into a narrow four-seat majority in the Knesset. If it wasn’t for the threshold mechanism, which was raised in 2015 to 3.25%, that would have been one seat.
Netanyahu’s apparent return to the seat of government occurs when his power is profoundly weakened. His intervention, once again, to stitch together the electoral alliance of rival far-right parties — the “Religious Zionism” list — to provide him with a political lifeline has encircled his neck with a heavier chain of dependence. After swallowing 11% of the vote, more than doubling last year’s result, the far right is fully aware of this.
The long decline of the ‘Zionist Left’ reached a new low after its participation in the last government, with the elimination of ‘left’ liberal “Meretz”, and the worst result for its sister party, “Labor”. “Labor”, in the past the unshakable hegemonic ruling vessel of the Israeli ruling class, was almost eliminated.
Although relatively strengthening its position, another party that was eliminated was “Balad/al-Tajamu`”, a militant Palestinian liberal party, which was initially banned. It ran independently, after in previous elections participating in the Joint List, the former electoral alliance launched in 2015 with other parties based among Palestinian citizens of Israel. Generally, the parties from the former Joint List, despite at first meeting with a massive reluctance to vote — as a consequence of disillusionment and disappointment in the face of national oppression, poverty, and gun violence — increased their combined vote due to a defensive electoral drive against the far-right.
Far-right parties hungry for power
The far-right parties, headed by zealous colonial settlers, are determined to take an unprecedented hold of the central ministries. As a result, Netanyahu failed to meet his own target to launch a new cabinet within two weeks, and there’s indignation among his party careerists for having to make do with minor positions. Netanyahu’s final deadline will now be 21 December, before a possible rerun election. Until then, his bloc aims to amend legislation, including a move to enable him to appoint as minister the recently re-convicted corrupt leader of the right-wing populist ultra-orthodox party “Shas”.
Ben-Gvir, head of the “Jewish Power” party, who barely distances himself from his association with the neo-fascist Kahanist movement, is the designated Minister of National Security — a supposed “upgrade” of the Minister of Interior Security. Besides increased powers over the police, he has demanded supervision of the ‘Border Police’ gendarmerie, to further relax open-fire regulations, and worsen the conditions of Palestinian prisoners. The Israel Prison Service has recognized that in response it will meet general protests and hunger strikes by prisoners.
Smotrich, head of the “Religious Zionism” party (formerly the “National Union”, now rebranded the same as the whole electoral alliance), who is a staunch economic ‘libertarian’ and threatens to attack organized labor, is proposed as the next Treasury Minister, in a rotation arrangement. Netanyahu rushed to phone chairperson of the General Histadrut, Arnon Bar-David, promising that no harm will be done to organized labor, after Bar-David exceptionally retorted to say that Smotrich’s threats are a “call for war” and that the Histadrut “won’t hesitate” to mobilize all means within its disposal. One opinion poll by Channel 12 News (N12) suggested 61% disapproval of the appointment. Smotrich’s first preference to be appointed Security Minister (military) was rejected, not least under strong pressure from Washington, but his party was promised a designated Settlements Minister within the Security Ministry.
The head of the one-seat micro-party “No`am” (“Pleasantness”), the most fanatic anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQ+ spokesperson, is designated to control aspects of the education system via a ‘National Jewish Identity Authority’. LGBTQ+ rights organizations have threatened stormy mobilizations in face of any attacks — forcing Netanyahu to claim his government will keep the “status quo” on “issues of religion and state”. Any attempt to implement the type of rabid reactionary attacks on the legal freedoms of women and LGBTQ+ as seen in the US or Russia would currently ignite a massive social explosion. But encroaches will be attempted.
Dozens of Israeli municipalities have declared that they will boycott the new education ‘authority’ — some headed by Likud-affiliated mayors. Outgoing PM Lapid was quick to endorse these calls.
Ruling class alarmed
The anti-Netanyahu bourgeois camp hopes to exploit a mass revulsion against the far right to undermine Netanyahu’s own authority and may even call rallies. The previous Chief of General Staff Eizenkot from Gantz’s “State Camp” (“Hamahane Hamamlakhti”) alliance warned that “if Netanyahu harms the national interests… it should be addressed with a mobilization of a million people in the streets, and I’ll be among them”. The ‘center’ won’t immediately test any ‘national unity’ government with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu himself, although “strong enough” not to be forced again into rotating the post of prime minister, is in a delicate position, suffering from limited support, a corruption trial, and a growing challenge on the far right. The Security Cabinet, a central institution in the Israeli government responsible for implementing “security” policies, would be a particular arena for far-right ministers to challenge Netanyahu.
Concerns that new crises could sour their international relations, and in the long run erode links with Western imperialism, are one factor alarming the ruling class. Washington has raised mild warnings against far-right appointments at the Security Ministry. Also, the FBI has angered Israeli state officials by launching an allegedly unrelated probe into the Israeli killing of Palestinian-US journalist Abu Aqleh. US imperialism, strategically propping up Israeli capitalism’s war machine, worries about potential regional destabilization.
Far-right ministers might face diplomatic boycotts of the type that Israeli governments, including Netanyahu’s, enacted, albeit inconsistently, against the Austrian far-right FPÖ. But more than this, the Israeli occupation is on the way to be further exposed, exerting pressure on complicit capitalist governments internationally to distance themselves. In October, the Australian Labor government retreated on a formal recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In The Hague, Israel is about to face a legal report by the International Court of Justice again, and may face an International Criminal Court inquiry. Such legal measures don’t affect reality on the ground but draw international attention to the issue.
Netanyahu has had to conduct talks to calm representatives of the Arab regimes, some of which have no official relations with Israel, attempting to assure them that responsibility for all foreign and ‘security’ policies will be in his hands. Meaning these will not be controlled by his far-right petty-bourgeois allies, who could undermine the “normalization” process pursued by Israeli imperialism, which has led to deepening military and business relations with the Arab oligarchies, and thawing relations with Turkey.
The Israeli military drone export is yielding record profits, new contracts are being secured for Israeli hi-tech capital and water infrastructure technologies. Within the realigning regional relations, a US-brokered deal was signed just before the election between Israel and Lebanon over the contentious maritime border, which defined control of fossil-fuel resources. This deal stabilizes the political environment for hydrocarbon exploration by Israeli and foreign capital, and for the Israeli state to receive royalties from future Lebanese extractions. Before the election, Netanyahu played with warmongering threats to break the deal but pulled back, while reiterating promises for more “peace” agreements.
Will Netanyahu bomb Iran?
The increasing militarization of Iran has been a central factor driving the convergence of the Israeli and Arab regimes, as their concerns with the declining grip of US imperialism over the region have pulled them closer together in opposing their regional power antagonist. Washington’s recent attempt to backtrack on its abandonment of the imperialist imposed “nuclear deal” with Iran (JCPOA) has effectively been knocked off track by Russian imperialism’s onslaught in Ukraine. US and Western imperialist thirst for Iranian fossil fuel has meant that some weak initiatives have remained afloat, but they have come to nothing, while Iranian drones are mobilized to fulfil Putin’s orders.
The Israeli regime, the only nuclear power in the region, is vehemently opposed to the potential scenario of a nuclear Iran, but has been divided over tactics concerning the former US-led deal. Netanyahu has been its most outspoken adversary. In about 2012, he was isolated and blocked within the Israeli regime’s top echelons when he allegedly proposed bombing Iranian nuclear facilities. He was then restrained by the deal but claimed it would only boost the Ayatollahs’ regional position and militarization. Yet, Trump’s ‘Maximum Pressure’ campaign, using economic war to pressurize Iran to renegotiate the JCPOA, resulted in the accelerated development by Iran of nuclear capabilities to a record level, although not yet crossing into the military sphere. Simultaneously, Israeli military actions to curb the Iranian regime’s interests have continued unabated: in Syria, so far condoned by Russian imperialism; the assassinations of military officials and scientific cadre; the sabotage of facilities; and hits against Iranian ships. None of that had any strategic impact on the Iranian regime, which itself has targeted Israeli business ships. The Israeli regime has invested massively in preparing its options for military offensive.
The popular uprising against the regime in Tehran has been hypocritically cheered by Western and Israeli imperialism, as they regard it a potential agent of a regime-change in their interests — a “color revolution”. They underestimate the depth of anti-imperialist sentiments and revolutionary potential, although, in the absence of a working-class lead to provide a way out, the revolutionary process is protracted and could be derailed in several ways. It seems that elements in the Israeli regime currently contemplate exploiting the crisis for an attempted military offensive. A senior official of Netanyahu’s party, Likud, “estimated” that Netanyahu “will have to” strike Iran during the term of the upcoming government.
An Israeli bombing of several underground Iranian facilities could unleash a regional war. While it may cause delays in the Iranian nuclear program, such attacks may actually force a doubling down in the drive behind the program. It could also serve as an agent of counter-revolution by enabling the Ayatollahs’ regime to rally “anti-imperialist” support. Nevertheless, despite current opposition by US imperialism and sections of the Israeli ruling class, it cannot be ruled out. For the Israeli ruling class, such a timing is definitely unsuitable for adventurist far-right elements in command of central positions of power.
The “normalization” process is challenged by mass antagonism in the Arab countries, rooted in solidarity with the Palestinians’ plight. New Israeli assaults, particularly in Jerusalem and Gaza, may arouse mass protests in these countries — a troubling scenario for regimes in official relationships with Israel. The UAE has exceptionally signaled Ben-Gvir to mind not to harm its interests by inviting him along with other Israeli officials to its National Day event in Tel Aviv. But inflaming national and religious tensions is Ben-Gvir’s raison d’être.
The Israeli far right’s grab for more power coincides with the already ongoing escalation of national conflict. Since 31 March, the West Bank has been the target of another rolling Israeli military offensive — ‘Operation Breakwater’, resulting in the deadliest year for Palestinians killed by Israeli fire in that occupied territory since 2004 (B’tselem database). About 160 have been killed, dozens of them under 18. The offensive has involved arrests, abuses and killings, and repression of protests, near-daily raids at the heart of Palestinian population centers, including refugee camps. In August, a new bloody onslaught on Gaza ensued from an Israeli crackdown against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
The unpopular and crisis-ridden Palestinian Authority (PA) under the near 90-year-old autocratic president Abbas has been conducting its own crackdowns against rivals and figures wanted by Israel. The “national reconciliation” process, yielding in October a deal — the “Algiers Declaration” — between Fatah, Hamas, and other factions over organizing PA elections, is regarded with public indifference. The PA is in an ever-deepening crisis of legitimacy. The bite of economic crisis spurred the ‘We Want to Live’ (Bidna N`ish) protests earlier this year, and the rage over the Israeli offensive further emboldened a mood of defiance against Abbas and the PA, ultimately as a subcontractor of the Israeli occupation and capitalism — with the hated “security collaboration” and the economic Paris Protocol. In September, an arrest operation by PA forces in Nablus collided into a fierce youth-led armed protest.
Abbas urged his armed apparatus to help the Ramallah government regain control of the Nablus and Jenin areas. It is there the Israeli offensive took the greatest toll in lives. This is adding in these areas to ferment with elements of popular struggle, together with small cross-faction independent armed youth groupings such as the Nablus-based “Lions’ Den”, the “Hornet’s Nest” in Jenin’s refugee camp, and reportedly similar incipient formations developing in Hebron/Khalil and Tulkarm. The aim of these formations is to organize defense from raids by the military and settlers, and they correspond with or initiate calls for protests and strikes. At times, they embark on targeted shootings against military forces at large, and seemingly, some also generally target the Israeli settler population — although, in October, “Lions’ Den” handed two stray Israeli settler women with their children to the PA forces, explaining: “Our message to the occupation forces is that we don’t kill women and children, but we are warning those settlers that attack Palestinians, that they will be treated accordingly”. “Lions’ Den” (`Arin al-Usud), the most noticeable of the new groups, which is popularizing its actions via social networks, was launched in August in response to the Israeli killing of the 18-year-old “Lion of Nablus” Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, local commander of the Fatah-associated Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. It soon faced a heavy crackdown, with its leaders killed, and many fighters turned themselves to the PA.
These new formations represent the rise into a determined fightback of a new radicalizing generation, fed up with the false promises of “diplomatic solutions”, taking brave initiatives to address the need of organized struggle and self-defense, ultimately aspiring to a revolution of national and social liberation. The crackdowns highlight the importance of strengthening preparation by drawing lessons from past battles.
Coping with the military suppression of the second Intifada, which started as a mass uprising, secretive isolated militias took the lead with partisan warfare, together with attempts to address state terrorism using methods of individual terrorism against the occupying state, or even terrorist methods targetting the civilian population. The former fell victim to infiltration and crackdowns, while the latter — among recent examples, a bomb in Jerusalem killing two Israeli civilians, including a 16-year-old — have played a reactionary role, politically refueling the Israeli right-wing, serving as a pretext for more brutal atrocities against the Palestinians. However, phases of mass struggle, self-organized via popular committees, most remarkably in the mighty first Intifada, have posed a dramatic challenge to the strongest military power regionally.
The recent period has seen the tradition of protest popular strikes as a more prominent feature, alongside an enhanced element of labor strikes in Israeli owned businesses. These include the Dignity Strike on both sides of the pre-1967 border in May ’21, the more recent protest strikes in response to raids in the West Bank or to the military closure of the Shu`afat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, and a recent strike by West Bank Palestinians employed in Israel protesting a de-facto wage cut due to a prohibition on cash payouts.
These mobilizations of workers and youths, indicating potential for greater mass mobilizations, are the factor most troubling for the occupation regime. Linking up popular mobilizations with democratic self-organization, would enable the movement to better develop strategy and tactics, and to control its own coordinated armed defense. It would prove harder to suppress, may undermine the Israeli occupation propaganda among the Israeli working class, and could extract concessions and point the way forward for liberation.
Netanyahu and the far-right will generate new atrocities. But they’ll be risking popular explosions, stirring echoes of rage regionally and globally.
The fall of the ‘Change Government’
Since the election, the defeated ‘Anything-but-Netanyahu’ bloc has busied itself with blaming each other for failed electoral tactics, and, as is a typical feature in the crisis of liberalism globally, also blaming “the people” — whether former voters who deserted, or claiming that “demographic factors” limited their appeal.
Since 2019, the Israeli political system has seen a crisis of electoral deadlock, with Netanyahu’s bloc incapable of winning a decisive majority. Sunk in his corruption investigations and trial, and relying on an increasingly right-wing populist line, Netanyahu aroused growing opposition from different sections of the ruling class and state apparatus. They identified in him an unreliable, destabilizing factor for Israeli capitalism, while their system faces strategic challenges related to the crises of the occupation regime, regional and international relations, and social crises. No matter how much Netanyahu’s position weakened, the anti-Netanyahu establishment bloc has failed to win decisive electoral support.
Rapidly, the dialectics of this protracted crisis brought together in desperation allegedly “opposing ends” into this bloc. These parties were mobilized by wishful-thinking that they could provide a way out for the system, and for themselves. Meretz, who in the past characterized the party of the racist Thatcherite Lieberman as ‘fascist’, was now content to share power with him as Treasury Minister. Simultaneously, hard-right elements withdrew opposition to any reliance on an ‘Arab party’. This meant that the precarious 8-party ‘Change’ coalition also included “Ra`am” (‘United Arab List’), a right-wing Islamist party, associated with the ‘southern wing’ of the Islamic Movement, based among the poor Bedouin community. Earlier, after it broke from the Joint List, the party first sought a coalition with Netanyahu.
The ‘Change Government’, under a two-wing rotation agreement headed by prime ministers Bennet and Lapid, presided over bloody offensives against the Palestinians and a generalized escalation in the national conflict. Construction of Israeli colonial settlements in the West Bank was higher than average during the preceding decade of Netanyahu governments. The turbulence of the occupation regime was decisive in causing the disintegration of the coalition and forcing a new election. The Israeli offensive in the West Bank, along with Israeli far right and state provocations around the Al Aqsa Mosque fueled national and religious tensions. Under pressure to justify their participation in a government perpetuating national oppression and poverty, “Ra`am” threatened to resign, as did an Arab MK of Meretz. The then PM Bennet’s party, “Yamina” (‘Rightward’), was torn apart by defections to Netanyahu’s camp.
Even Meretz’s vote in the Knesset for the periodical renewal of West Bank legal apartheid regulations that extend Israeli law over Israeli settlers didn’t help the coalition. Netanyahu’s bloc tactically voted down the bill, as part of a general voting policy against all government bills. Not renewing the bill by 1 July would have meant an unprecedented legal and political crisis, unless a new Knesset election was declared — and so the ‘Change Government’ capitulated.
Economically, against the backdrop of rising inflation and interest rates, a biting crisis of living costs has re-raised its head — not least with housing sale prices jumping a record 19% over the last year. The growth of private debt, central to recent years’ economic growth, jumped an unprecedented 16% in a year by mid-2022. From its outset, the government led a neo-liberal U-turn, liquidating almost all Covid economic compensation schemes and adopting a policy of fiscal restraint and regressive new taxation, even despite a surplus budget. It further reduced the meager price controls over basic products. Resisting intervention to control housing prices, it instead continued with its circuses of house discount lotteries. The ‘invisible hand’ has been relied on to handle the living costs crisis faced by workers and the poor, and custom rules have been further liberalized to allow surplus foreign capital to flood in.
Determined cross-national community struggles by teachers, intern medical doctors, and bus drivers have compelled the government to make some concessions. But the pro-capitalist leadership of the General Histadrut operated against that trend, enabling the increase in women’s retirement age. It even attempted a pro-capitalist ‘package deal’ with the government and employers’ associations, which dictated de-facto a decrease of the Minimum Wage. The attempt imploded, as simmering popular discontent at high living costs pressurized “Labor” and “Meretz” to stall the deal, aiming to “improve” it, effectively frustrating it due to the election.
The ‘Change’ bloc, which only last year was celebrating, was heavily damaged in a spectacular political explosion. Former PM Bennet’s party evaporated, while the others — with or without electoral alliances — bled votes. Outgoing PM Lapid’s ‘center’ “Yesh Atid” was an exception, but this was a mere re-distribution among its own weakened bloc. Another exception was “Ra`am”, initially wobbling on the threshold, but it benefitted from the electoral drive against the far-right.
A rightward turn of what and why
The trend of an emergent Israeli far-right, while not as far-reaching as the consolidation of Bolsonaro’s camp in Brazil or the phase of neo-fascist upsurge in Greece in the previous decade, entails a marked rightward turn in the trajectory of the Israeli regime. However, there’s clearly been no generalized shift of mass consciousness towards Netanyahu’s bloc, and the rightward re-distribution of votes within his bloc, albeit dangerous, is not crystalized and points to contradictory trends.
The N12 opinion poll said 49% approved Ben-Gvir as National Security Minister, slightly behind 55% for the former general Galant (Likud) as Security Minister. All the other parameters show there is utter distrust in the new government before it was even launched. Only 31% had any illusion that an upcoming Netanyahu cabinet will “better handle” living costs. The exact same figure was given for those believing it will provide “a solution to the wave of terrorism”.
The fact that Netanyahu’s bloc only managed to snatch a narrow electoral victory is more glaring considering the empty campaigns of the establishment parties opposing Netanyahu, which were full of appeals for votes based on lesser-evilism, or to rescue parties from diving under the threshold, along with appeals amounting to defending the status quo and the establishment. With some exceptions, they primarily collected their votes from among the middle layers and more stable strata of the working class.
Netanyahu’s bloc was highly coordinated and more cunning in falsely posing itself as an alternative for Jewish working-class voters. Targeting the Islamists and the liberal “anti-religious” and “weak” figures in government, the bloc deployed nationalist and more pronounced religious demagoguery, mixed with vows for fiscal expansion.
Netanyahu promised a one-year freeze on the state-controlled prices of the municipal tax (Arnona), fuel, water, and electricity to restrain inflation. He even promised a freeze on mortgages but retreated, as obviously he meant no control measures over capital. Free childcare for ages 0–3 was promised, along with the scrapping of new regressive taxes. “Shas” gained its highest vote in nine years after an appeal to the more impoverished with the campaign “Hungry for Change”, advocating a food stamps program (a substitution for raising wages and state allowances). In a period of rising discontent over the costs of living, with class anger building against big business, class antagonisms found some twisted expression in right-wing votes against the capitalist government and Treasury Minister Lieberman. To maintain his base amongst Israelis of former-USSR descent, he typically poses as champion for the secular population, speaking against the ultra-orthodox poor.
But the national question was decisive in allowing Netanyahu’s bloc to secure its tight majority.
In May ’21, the previous Netanyahu cabinet’s swan song saw the policies of occupation and colonial settlements yield another spasmodic explosion, peaking with an onslaught on Gaza, accompanied by a brief eruption of elements of civil war along national lines in the divided “mixed” cities in Israel. Far-right groups intervened with organized violence. The incidents of assaults and lynchings against residents of both national communities were replied to by some important displays of cross-community solidarity, including in workplaces, indicating an element of class solidarity. But in the stark absence of a working-class left leadership, the dominating trend among the Jewish population was of nationalist reaction, encouraged in one way or another by all establishment parties and the far-right. A relative majority of the Jewish population opposed, once more, the ceasefire in the barbaric Gaza offensive, a mood manufactured by the logic of that offensive itself.
Since 2000, when the Barak government’s attempt to force a Palestinian capitulation resulted in the second Intifada, the Israeli ruling class has led a general rightward shift of propaganda and policies on the national question. The dominant bourgeois stance is that the Israeli state should implement a doctrine of “conflict management”, avoiding any major territorial and political concessions to the Palestinians, against the backdrop of regional revolution and counter-revolution, including the spread of Salafi Jihadist elements, the inherent instability of the PA, and its loss of control in Gaza to Hamas. Instead, policies of colonial settlements and ‘Judaization’ are extended, and frequent military offensives are launched to guard ‘order’. ‘Labor’ and Meretz have been a faithful part of the chauvinist choir, mobilizing support for atrocities against the Palestinians as a “security necessity”.
While the bourgeois stance is echoed in Israeli Jewish mass consciousness, there is a tendency for patience to be wearing out. When Netanyahu returned to power last in 2009 after an onslaught on Gaza, he played with such sentiments when promising a “military solution”. Later, figures such as Lieberman and Bennet loudly challenged him on the right with the same logic, and in recent years were appointed by him as Security Ministers before they switched to the anti-Netanyahu bloc. Ben-Gvir is a more assertive iteration of the same logic. The crises of Israeli capitalism and its occupation regime gave way to the intervention of an element who merely in the March ‘21 election would likely not have even become a Knesset member, if it wasn’t for the far-right electoral alliance formed under Netanyahu’s pressure.
Ben-Gvir’s soft split with Kahanism
Ben-Gvir, from the zealous colonial settlement in Hebron/Khalil, is an armed provocateur fueling nationalist-religious tensions around Al-Aqsa or in Sheikh Jarah, and a lawyer for far-right activists. His close milieu includes figures associated with the far-right settlerist “Hilltop Youth” movement and Kahanist cadres such as leader of the racist ‘anti-assimilation’ “Lehava” (“Flame”) organization, which persecutes intimate relationships which cross national-religious lines. Until recently, Ben-Gvir openly displayed at home a photo of the Kahanist terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred dozens of Muslim Palestinians during prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron/Khalil. The massacre triggered the outlawing of the Kahanist party “Kach” (“Thus”), and Ben-Gvir, a former Kahanist youth organizer, was soon convicted of supporting a terrorist organization. Even the Israeli military refused to draft him.
However, in the run up to the election an open split developed between Ben-Gvir and Kahanist leaders. Ben-Gvir claimed he no longer supports deporting ‘all’ Arabs, nor segregated beaches, and opposes the slogan ‘Death to the Arabs’, which he replaces with ‘Death to the Terrorists’. He was booed by Kahanists, when he repeated these points in a speech at the annual memorial rally for the assassinated US-Israeli founder of Kahanism, Meir Kahane. Ben-Gvir’s soft distancing from Kahanism is a calculated opportunist adaptation, based on the realization that Kahanism, currently isolated in the Jewish population, obstructs his potential popular appeal.
Ben-Gvir’s campaign, which included secular candidates and some lip-service to care for the more deprived geographic periphery within Israel, focused primarily on exploiting security fears to whip up ultra-nationalist ‘security’ demagoguery, calling for the imposition of ‘governability’ over the Arab-Palestinian population. The campaign pumped out the slogan that Jews are the ‘landlords of this country’ and promised to legislate for the deportation of ‘anybody operating against the State of Israel’, including Palestinian political representatives, anti-occupation Jewish representatives, or the anti-Zionist “Neturei Karta” ultra-orthodox group.
The weakness of the left forces globally, regionally, and locally, after the wholesale capitulation of political parties to decades of neo-liberal counter-revolution, allows more space for far-right security demagoguery, portrayed as advocating “radical” solutions, to intervene among a section of the Israeli Jewish population. However, the vote and sympathies for Ben-Gvir among Netanyahu’s bloc are not a reflection of bursting support for Kahanism. This support seems unstable, and resembles more the type of mood that allowed Lieberman in the 2009 election to reach a record of almost 12% based on racist incitement. Occupying the spot now is a less stable element for the system.
The poison of national chauvinism and “divide and rule” policies nurtured by the ruling class and feeding the danger of the far-right is a serious, complex challenge to overcome. The far-right forces could be undermined objectively, with Ben-Gvir and co. more exposed in government, facing crises and militant counter-movements, particularly if they, and the capitalist establishment, face working-class mobilizations united across the national communities. But the task of harnessing these to exhaust all opportunities to create mass points of reference for pro-working class internationalist politics is decisive — not least, to consistently counter bourgeois national chauvinism with a working-class-based program on the national question. This should underline an end to all national oppression and expropriation, and a guarantee of equal national rights, including the right of self-determination, and high living conditions, in the context of a socialist transformation.
A wake-up call and new opportunities
A former Member of the Knesset from “Meretz” claimed that the fall of his party — itself a creation of a collapse of the historic peculiar ‘left’ social-democratic “Mapam” (‘United Workers Party’) into a liberal union in 1992 — and of “Labor” is part of a global trend of “revulsion at social-democracy”, because “the world nowadays is more individualistic, each one to themselves”. This rationalization by a prop of the last government conflates the fall of former social-democratic parties that became integrated into neo-liberalism, with the vector of political support for ‘social-democratic’ or socialist ideas. He conveniently skips over Sanders, Corbyn, Mélenchon etc., who emerged meteorically in popularity as new social-democratic points of reference for the working class and youth, even internationally. In a phase when these have been largely pushed off the stage due to their vacillations, concessions, and programmatic weaknesses, they’re easier to ignore. But in outbreaks of social movements in any country a process of left radicalization, responding to a systemic crisis, finds some expressions.
Although the national question is a highly complicating factor, the general features of a leftward response to bankrupt neoliberalism and the general crisis of capitalism are evident among Israeli workers and youths. A periodic poll by the Katznelson Fund conducted just months prior to election repeated previous findings such as 57% prefer a “social-democratic approach” over a “capitalist approach”; 68% support higher taxation of capital; 73% support workers’ unionization, 87% support raising the Minimum Wage. Even such a soft reformist program runs contrary to the policies of the last government and of the liberal, national chauvinistic ‘Zionist Left’.
In this election, we expressed a concrete preference for a vote for “Hadash-Ta`al” list as the opposition on the left of the ‘Change Government’, being a relevant vote from the prism of a cross-community working class struggle. But we also explained that “Hadash/al-Jabha” (controlled by the ‘Communist Party’) must generally shift its orientation towards the broad working class, to mobilize for extra-parliamentary struggle instead of a central focus on parliament, to leave the leadership coalition of the Histadrut, and adopt a day-to-day anti-capitalist, socialist program, including on the national question, as opposed to its overall narrow focus on a democratic program.
Hadash chairman, MK Ayman `Odeh, said after the election that “our struggle won’t be only in parliament, but also in the streets, of Jews and Arabs together. During the swearing in of the government, and then in the weeks after — demonstrations. In every place, we’ll struggle publicly… We have an opportunity to fight against this government, and to build a genuine alternative against the damned occupation”. Although lacking class emphasis, this is a message pointing in the necessary direction, coming while a petition by party activists calls for a general transformation of the party. It is occurring in a conjuncture when the crisis of ‘Zionist Left’ is leaving a certain vacuum and stimulating some openness and debates among left-leaning layers on the way forward to build a political alternative on the left.
It could be an opportunity also for some activists around the “Power to the Workers” union who in recent years contemplated steps to launch a new party, to re-engage. As shown before, we’ll be open and willing to take part in any such project alongside others from the trade-union and social movements and pro-working-class forces, and help it march ahead, while advocating openly for an effective working-class based, socialist program, including a sharp commitment to fight all forms of national oppression.
If the ‘fully right-wing’ capitalist government of Netanyahu is formed, it will be on a course for explosions. Its inherent pyromaniac tendency will inflame the crises it will oversee, surrounded by aggressive influences of global and regional economic and geo-political instability. Rising costs of living, aggressions against organized labor, attacks on Palestinians, trampling of democratic rights — would further propel important movements on both sides of the national divide, even undermining Netanyahu’s own base.
Netanyahu and the far-right will unleash atrocities to the extent they can — although not on the scale of the historic catastrophes of the Nakba and the 1967 war led by the Israeli ‘Labor’ party in its heyday. They must be resisted with bold mobilizations on all fronts, to defend against attacks and to challenge the government, while putting forward a program to highlight class antagonisms and broad working-class demands to point a way forward. Every opportunity must be seized, on both sides of the divide, also to appeal and advance the building of new broad struggle formations and political parties, and most urgently to popularize and organize around socialist ideas, that are the only genuine answer to the far-right threat, and to the occupation and the social system that allow it a breathing space.