A Marxist analysis of the Knesset Election in Israel/Occupied Palestine:
By Yossi Schwarz, Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT Section in Israel / Occupied Palestine), 2.4.2015, http://www.the-isleague.com/bedouins-20-1-2015/
On March 17, the elections for the 20th Knesset ended in victory for the bourgeois Zionist right Likud Party which won 30 seats (out of 120 in Israel’s parliament). The bourgeois center-right “Zionist camp” came in second with 24 seats.
The third largest party, with 13 seats, is the “Joint List,” an electoral alliance of four different parties representing the majority of Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel: Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality – at the center of which is the Communist Party of Israel) headed by Ayman Odeh, Secretary of the Front; the United Arab List (UAL), within which are activists from the southern faction of the Islamic Movement; Taal (the Arab Movement for Renewal), led by Dr. Ahmed Tibi; and Balad (the National Democratic Assembly) a liberal party led by Dr. Jamal Zahalka and Haneen Zoabi.
With this alliance, the Palestinian citizens of Israel increased their power in the Zionist Knesset by two more seats compared with the number of seats won by its four component parties when they ran separately in the 2013 elections. For now, the major achievement of the Joint List is having garnered a significant increase in voter turnout among the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Another achievement, according to our reckoning, is the more highly-resolved picture it has given of the relationship between Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Jewish Israeli left, as the number of Jewish voters for the Joint List dropped to almost half the number who had, in the last election, voted for all the parties comprising the list (from 12 thousand to 7 thousand).
As our readers know, the ISL (Internationalist Socialist League) chose to stand together in these elections with the entire Palestinian-Arab population of Israel by giving our critical support to the Joint List.
On the surface, it seems as if at the heart of these elections was the struggle between the Likud and the Zionist Camp. However we know that, from a class perspective, at their center was in fact the struggle between two largest bourgeois Zionist parties on the one hand and the Joint List on the other, as an expression (even if not entirely unambiguous) of the class struggle.
In this article we will discuss the following questions: (1) Was it correct, in light of the results, to have voted in these elections? (2) Was it correct politically to have established the Joint List to begin with? (3) Why did Benjamin Netanyahu win these elections? (4) What must we demand from the leadership of the Joint List?
I – The Position of the ISL Regarding Voting for a Zionist Knesset
For us, as revolutionary socialists, the question of whether to vote, to entirely boycott elections, or not to abstain from voting is not a question of principle, but rather one of tactics. When the majority of workers, poor, young, and unemployed still have parliamentary illusions (i.e., the misconception that significant and long-term social change can be achieved by participating in elections and sending representatives to parliament), communists participate in elections, ideally being organized in a revolutionary workers’ party. When they do not have a party of their own, communists use the tactic of the united front and call for workers and the oppressed to vote for reformist labor parties (parties which support gradual social change and oppose revolution).
In the absence of a revolutionary workers’ party, an additional tactic appropriate for states and peoples suffering from imperialist oppression, is the formation of an anti-imperialist front in conjunction with forces of the bourgeoisie (the wealthy and large employers) and petty-bourgeoisie (small business owners, peasants, and professionals) and voting critically for petty-bourgeois parties as an expression, even when inconsistent, of the mass struggle against colonial oppression.
The various tactics employed by revolutionary socialists are not the result of idealistic whims of politicians, but the result of the accumulated experience of revolutionary movements which preceded us and the lessons of past, centuries-old struggles between the masses of the oppressed, dispossessed, and exploited against their oppressors, dispossessors, and exploiters. Our position on the question of participation in the elections is derived from the experience of the struggle of the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Third and Fourth Congress of the Third International during Lenin and Trotsky’s time.
In contrast to our position, some of the radical Palestinians in Israel (especially Abnaa el-Balad [Sons of the Village]) and Northern Islamic Movement) called in this election, as they always have in each past election, to boycott the elections for the Knesset because of the racist and apartheid regime at the head of which it stands. We do not think they are wrong in their analysis of reality, but rather in their tactics for dealing with this reality. In retrospect, the election results show that the majority of the Palestinian masses believe that significant gains can be achieved through the Knesset. The question is how to prove to them that this is an illusion? Abnaa el-Balad’s own experience demonstrates that it is simply not enough to repeat over and over again the call for an electoral boycott, a position with which we were partners in the past.
The path which we propose in fact calls for participation in the elections of the apartheid Knesset, but without obscuring its racist character, while at the same time calling for the need for a civil and democratic alternative to Israel’s parliament, meaning a constituent assembly of all the inhabitants of Palestine – Arab-Palestinians, including of course the refugees and displaced, and Jewish-Israelis, on the basis of “one person – one vote.”
However, as Marxists we must point out that the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie Arab sector in general and in Palestine in particular, because of the web of economic and class interests with which it is bound, is unable to lead to victory the struggle against the apartheid Zionist regime and is incapable of establishing a single democratic republic from the river to the sea. For this reason, the working class must grab hold of the reins of the struggle, since it is the only force with both the interest and ability to lead the Palestinian people and Israeli supporters of democracy and social justice to victory.
Our position, as stated, is firmly rooted in the historical experience of the socialist revolutionaries who came before us. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, demonstrated in two different situations two seemingly contradictory positions regarding parliamentary elections in Czarist Russia: one called for boycotting them, the other called for participation in such elections. Of particular interest is that the Parliament for which the Bolsheviks adopted the tactic of boycott, was less reactionary than the Parliament in which the Bolsheviks actually chose to participate. The reason is probably that the degree of a parliament’s baseness is only a secondary criterion, while what is more important is the relationship between the Parliament and the way the oppressed perceive it. Thus, an electoral boycott was adopted by the Bolsheviks during the 1905 revolution, when people had no illusions about the Tsarist parliament and they began to build popular and electoral alternatives. On the other hand, participation in the parliamentary elections was the tactic adopted by the Bolsheviks when the alternatives had been eliminated by force by the regime and people believed that the only way to exercise influence is by utilizing the right to vote.
II – Was it right to establish a joint Arab electoral front for elections?
The establishment of the Joint List was the result of Lieberman's attempt to eliminate Arab representation in the Knesset by increasing the minimum electoral threshold for any party from 2 percent to 3.25 percent. Since each of the separate parties which eventually united to make up the Joint List was in danger of not achieving this threshold on its own, it was necessary to establish a common electoral front.
The establishment of a united party for the elections was not an easy step. Some members of Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality -- dominated by the Communist Party of Israel) were opposed to forming a combined list for fear of subsequently being increasingly identified as an Arab party. But, in the end, the decision to join such a list was approved in Hadash’s National Council. In the Joint List there is representation of all ethnic groups and two women were slated in realistically electable positions (Aida Touma-Sliman from Hadash in fifth place, and Hanin Zoabi from Balad in seventh place).
Ma’avak Socialisti (“Socialist Struggle”, CWI in Israel), a centrist organization (i.e., one oscillating between reformism on one hand and calling for revolution on the other) tend to the right, and they opposed the creation of the Joint List, claiming that a Jewish-Arab socialist camp should be established instead, in other words, one composed by Hadash and Ma’avak Socialisti. The latter wrote:
“Unfortunately, Hasash has chosen to identify itself politically with both religious [Muslim] right-wing elements and a narrow-based [Arab] national line, and thus has sacrificed the opportunity to wage a truly independent political campaign which will represent an alternative of the left which will turn to workers and the poor from among Jews as well as Arabs. MK Dov Hanin, who initially opposed electoral cooperation on a national basis, says that ‘The challenge before us was and remains the founding of a broad-based Jewish-Arab democratic camp. Only such a camp can reverse the direction in which this country is headed and truly change existing priorities here. We must make every effort to ensure that in the next elections, a broad-based camp of this sort will stand before the public.’ It is only proper that Hadash will withdraw from the Joint List immediately after the elections and not only assist in establishing a ‘Jewish-Arab democratic camp’ ‘but build the necessary political alternative of a Jewish-Arab socialist left.” (Ma’avak Socialisti’s public statement on the 2015 elections and the left)
While this position sounds like a consistent position of the left, in practice it is one which reflects the Zionist pressure exerted upon this movement. The interesting question is for whom did the members of this movement actually vote, in light of the criticism of its leadership for the Joint List? Did they entirely abstain from voting and thereby sabotage the possibility of achieving more power for the Joint List, or maybe in the final analysis they voted for a Zionist party? Or perhaps, despite their leadership, they voted for Joint List?
There’s no doubt that part of Ma’avak Socialisti’s criticism on the limitations of the Joint List is justified. However, as an alternative they propose establishing a broad-based reformist-left party, which will support a solution of two bourgeois states with “socialist” governments. This, rather than fighting for the perspective of a revolutionary workers’ party, which struggles for a single workers’ state from the river to the sea.
While Ma’avak Socialisti writes a lot on their website about the onslaught of capital against the working class, and they raise correct minimum demands (demands which tycoons grant by relinquishing some of their profits but without jeopardizing their class rule), there is in their writings no trace of transitional demands (demands which on the one hand are not revolutionary but on the other hand ones which capitalists cannot grant without endangering their rule). In addition, their writings make no mention of the racist nature of the apartheid Knesset nor the need to convene a constituent assembly, as we mentioned above. Their website even omits one of the central demands of the Palestinian people: freeing all its political prisoners.
While they write that it is necessary to nationalize private capital, there is no trace of the demand for supervision by the workers, and instead of this demand they make a typical reformist demand: “[...] to cancel all privatizations and to transfer the banks, the large corporations, and all natural resources to public ownership, under public and democratic supervision and management, with the aim of establishing an economy which is organized and managed democratically for the benefit of all.” (2015 Elections – To fight for putting forth an alternative).
While this organization identifies itself with the Marxist Trotskyist tradition, it seems that they have forgotten that in the Transitional Program Trotsky write that without the supervision of the working class (as distinct from “public” supervision and management which also include the capitalists and the petty bourgeoisie) the demand for the expropriation of capital is meaningless. In his writings on the United States in 1932, Trotsky opposed the call for the establishment of a reformist workers’ party and saw it as an obstacle to socialist revolution. In 1938, when a real movement emerged from the trade unions to establish a workers’ party, Trotsky recognized the need to join it, but only on the condition that a struggle be waged by the revolutionaries to adopt the Transitional Program – the bridge between the prevailing reformist consciousness among the working class and the socialist revolution.
Another centrist-right organization which attacked the establishment of the Joint List was the Da’am Party, which was abstained from contending in these last elections from considerations of power relations. Yacov Ben Efrat, one of Da’am’s leaders, attacked the Joint List and wrote that it was a party of “all the Arabs against all the Jews.” He compares the Joint List with Meretz and concludes that it shouldn’t be voted for but instead a Jewish-Arab socialist party should be established. (2015 Elections – For whom to vote? 04/02/2015)
III – Why Netanyahu won the election?
Netanyahu won the election, first of all, because there is a Jewish majority in Israel which supports the existence of an apartheid state; there is no reason to try sweeping this fact under the rug. However, the difference between the Likud and the “Zionist Camp” is more a matter of style than substance. While the right-wing bloc led by Likud advocates preserving the apartheid state between the river and the sea, clashing to a certain degree with US imperialism under the leadership of Obama on the issue of Iran, the Zionist Camp is seemingly prepared to make territorial concessions on part of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, while at the same time strengthening its relationships with and providing more loyal services to US imperialism.
But ultimately, despite the differences between these two bourgeois parties, they both reflect the interests of Israel’s tycoons and the Zionist imperialist state apparatus. Otherwise it’s impossible to explain the positions expressed by the leadership of the Zionist Camp, for example: Support for the assassination in cold blood of Jihad Mughniyeh along with several other members of Hezbollah and the Iranian general Muhammad Alladadi in the area of Quneitra, Syria; Herzog’s support for retaining a “united” Jerusalem; and his criticism of Netanyahu’s dividing the city by setting up checkpoints at the entrance of Palestinian neighborhoods.
While the “Zionist Camp” is a composite of the Labor Party and supporters of Tzipi Livni, who was until recently Netanyahu’s Justice Minister and Israel’s Foreign Minister during the Second Lebanese War, it is certainly not a social democratic party with bourgeois elements, but a party similar to the American Democratic Party – a bourgeois party which enjoys the support of the trade union bureaucracy.
Many were surprised by the results of the elections, as polls and samples, including those of election night, gave the two bourgeois parties an equal number of seats. If so, what explains the victory of the Likud? First, since Operation Protective Edge last summer, there is a strong movement to the right of the Jewish population in Israel. Secondly, Netanyahu’s visit to Washington at the beginning of March and his address before Congress convinced the masses of right-wing voters that his determination to deliver the speech demonstrates personal courage and his unyielding commitment to defend Israel. These right-wing voters were also impressed by the honor paid to Netanyahu by the Republicans during his Congressional speech, on top of which Obama is considered a Muslim by many supporters of the right in Israel. Third, Netanyahu utilized the weapon of fear and racism in his last speech before the election, when he claimed that the left was transporting the Arab masses in buses to the polls and if you, the settlers, not vote for me, a government of the left will be established with the support of the Arabs, and they will drive you from your homes. To this he added that he’s committed that no Palestinian state will be established during his tenure. This tactic of his constituted a kind of cannibalism, as he swallowed up whole entire limbs of support for the HaBayit HaYehudi (“The Jewish Home”) led by Bennett and from Yisrael Beitanu (“Israel is Our Home”) led by Lieberman. Also, Netanyahu managed to shift not a small number of undecided voters to cast a ballot for the Likud, supporting him as their Savior.
The results of the election, therefore, will lead to the establishment of a particularly brutal right-wing government. The “Zionist camp,” led by Herzog and Livni, will lead the opposition as it consistently supports “Israel’s right to defend itself,” that is to say intensify its repression against the Palestinian people and the other peoples of the region. This government will exploit even more than in the past the fact that the Israeli working class is almost entirely paralyzed by its loyalty to the state and Zionist ideology, and thereby intensify and deepen the oppression, exploitation, and repression of the workers and the weaker sectors.
IV – So what do we do now?
Just like us, the capitalists and their minions examine, analyze, reach conclusions, and draw up plans based on what can be learned from the election results. This is one reason that, under the circumstances, there was for us no choice but to vote. When capitalists learn that the oppressed and exploited are loyal to them or that they are too weak or disillusioned to fight, they see this as a green light to deepen their exploitation, to further increase their own profits, and to force the workers and poor to foot more of the bill for basic services like welfare, education, health, and infrastructure; to say nothing of the damage incurred by the deepening of the crisis of decaying capitalism.
Aside from the historic democratic achievement of Palestinians-Arabs in Israel, these elections mark a clear victory for the Zionist capitalists, the results of which won’t be long in coming. Opposite the Zionist apartheid camp, in all its shades, left and right, and against the rule of the capitalists, there is only one significant democratic force – the Joint List. But this force, even for the most naive who believe in the possibility of changing reality through the Knesset, is not sufficiently large to transform the colonial-settler society of Israel into a democratic society.
Therefore, in this context, before the Joint List there are two main realms of activity which are intertwined – increasing its strength in numbers and increasing its strength in quality. The main potential for numeric growth of the Joint List is obviously among the Palestinian-Arab population of Israel. Despite the increased voter turnout in these last elections, there will be a long road until the full electoral potential of this population is realized. Justice (even social justice) need not only be done but also must be seen to be done. Therefore, the representatives of the Joint List must convince the Arab public beyond any doubt that they are working energetically and courageously to achieve the most modest and minimal demands along the socioeconomic plain, for example: solving the problem of unemployment (especially of women) and pensions; improving the amount and quality of fully subsidized health care and education; eliminating all sectoral and ethnic discrimination for housing and all other areas of life; seriously reducing the amount and severity of violence (especially against women) and the use of weapons (especially those held by criminal gangs) in Arab society. In addition, on the national level: eliminating racial laws which exist and curbing enactment of the new racial legislation; the release of political prisoners; the return of refugees to their homeland; the abolition of the apartheid military regime in place since 1967 and the daily harassment of Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Jerusalem; organizing neighborhoods and villages for self-defense (within the law and the bounds of common sense) against those committing crimes against Palestinian-Arabs dubbed “price tag” and against fascist and Kahanist gangs, and more.
But anyone who is familiar with the political reality of the apartheid state called Israel knows that, in the eyes of the Zionist establishment, even the most modest demands of the Palestinian civilians constitute an existential threat to the state. Thus, just as in all cases in which the oppressed classes, by increasing their power, threaten the rule of the capitalists, the capitalists change the rules of the game and resort to violence (for example in the form of a military or fascist coup), this is what we can expect in present case. For this reason it is not enough to act with force and determination in the Knesset, but rather the public should be prepared mentally and practically for the possibility that the Zionist establishment will ignore, block, and suppress with brute force any struggle by the Palestinians to improve their standard of living or end their national oppression.
In the not very distant future, boycotting the elections and building an electoral alternative to the Knesset will become a matter of necessity. But we must get to that day fully aware of the implications, from within a struggle, with our heads up and not out of desperation and disappointment with shattered illusions.
The admittedly secondary, but nevertheless critically important potential for growth of the Joint List is, of course, Israeli-Jewish society. While at the moment it seems that loyalty to the state and Zionist ideas are matters of wall-to-wall consensus, Israeli society is, after all, a society beset by contradictions and sharp conflicts of interest. Ignoring these contradictions would be a serious error which carries a heavy price. On the other hand, the main problem now is precisely giving too much weight to these contradictions while ignoring the colonial-settler nature of Israeli society. The results of such an approach are hurled at us time and time again, and now, following the elections, even more so.
While all of the “red” organizations in the country, including ISL, support Jewish-Arab partnership, there is a fundamental difference between us and the rest. While most socialist organizations in the country see this partnership as possible on the basis of a compromise between the realization of Palestinian national rights in all of Palestine and the realization of the Zionist fantasy of the Jewish nation-state on the land of Palestine, we negate any such possibility, and certainly under the present circumstances.
For this reason we must turn to the Israeli Jewish public in order to clearly demonstrate beyond any doubt that the Zionist fantasy is nothing short of a death trap, but also a heavy weight which prevents the development of a significant social struggle between the oppressed and oppressing layers of society. The Joint List must strive to increase its power among the Israeli public, but not at the cost of relinquishing any of the modest democratic and legitimate demands of the Palestinian people. This can be done by incorporating in prominent, realistic places in the next election slate, or in the institutions of the parties which make up the Joint List, representatives of the most disempowered groups and oppressed peoples in Israeli society -- for example, men and women from Oriental Jewish communities, sons and daughters of the Ethiopian community, women and men from the ultra-Orthodox community, and others who will express unequivocally their ideological and practical opposition to Zionism and support democracy and civil equality. A glance at the social networks demonstrates that such people are rare, but they are out there. They need the Joint List and the Joint List needs them.
True, we do not see in the Joint List itself or in any of its constituent parties a revolutionary party of the working class, nor do we have any illusions that it can act as such or serve as a substitute. However, it can act as a party which mobilizes the masses of the Palestinian people and Jewish democrats for real struggles and for this we will fight with the help of all those who believe in our own way and want to join us in building a real socialist alternative.