Letter from an Activist on the Israeli workers’ movement

The Israeli workers’ movement: Down with opportunistic leadership!

Letter from an Activist on the true causes for the failing of the social protest movement in Israel

by Shmuel Yerushalmi, Occupied Palestine/Israel, June 2013


For many years I have been active in the social protest movement in Israel, and have taken part in hundreds of demonstrations, strikes, and other actions organized by Israelis and Palestinians. My long experience has led me to the conclusion that the Israeli workers’ movement lacks two essential elements: class consciousness and worker solidarity.

Active today in Israel are a number of general trade unions: The Histadrut, Koah LeOvdim (“Power to Workers”), and Maan (a small workers organization affiliated with the political party DAAM). The one thing all three organizations have in common is a heavy dose of trade union opportunism, i.e., trying to resolve all problems within the framework of the present system. This is attempted using a number of means sanctioned by “democratic” capitalism: participating in elections; bringing workers grievances to state labor courts; and by conducting negotiations with employers.

Established in 1920, the Histadrut is the largest trade union in Israel and was founded as an integral part of the Zionist movement. Since the end of the British Mandate in 1948, the Histadrut has continuously collaborated with the government of Israel to prevent authentic worker struggles in the country. Usually, this is done by the trade union’s calling for symbolic strikes of only one or two days, thereby exerting as little pressure as possible on the capitalists and state-owned companies and offices of the governmental bureaucracy, before ending the strike. At all times the Histadrut does the maximum to prevent true mass demonstrations of the workers and is never prepared to cooperate with the Palestinian working class for joint struggles. Every time Israel has set out on one of its military adventures against the Palestinians or Arab states, the labor aristocracy of the Histadrut calls off all labor disputes and strikes, thereby demonstrating its complete identification with and loyalty to Israel’s bourgeois, colonialist regime.

Koah LeOvdim (“Power to Workers”) officially defines itself as cooperative trade union for Jews, Arabs, and migrant worker. Even in this relatively progressive movement, we find a great many signs of opportunism on the part of the movement’s leadership. Perhaps the best example is that the majority of its leadership supports the Scandinavian model of a social state. Such support demonstrates both opportunism and ideological hypocrisy. I have taken part in many actions, meetings, and demonstrations organized by Koah LeOvdim, and have always heard their leaders say “We support the power of the worker class; working class power called Social-Democracy, the best examples of which are the Scandinavian states where the workers are in power!’’ I’ve had many discussions and debates with representatives of Koah LeOvdim around questions like: What exactly is a workers state? Do Sweden, Denmark, and Norway really exemplify political and economic power in hands of the working class?

A few days ago, a demonstration of the building cleaners trade union from Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva, organized by Koah LeOvdim, was supposed to have taken place. A few hours before the scheduled start of the demonstration, it was called off by the Southern district leadership of Koah LeOvdim. Instead of a demonstration, a brief meeting of the workers was held, after a committee of the Knesset that reviews worker-related and social issues met with directors of the University, and promised to intervene and support a negotiated resolution of the conflict. It should be noted that these very same cleaners at Ben Gurion University, whose strike was called off at the last moment by Koah LeOvdim, like so many other wage earners in Israel, are not directly employed by the institution they work at, but are rather contract workers who are severely exploited by their middleman employer. The heads of Koah LeOvdim with whom I spoke afterwards claimed that the workers themselves were eager to call off the demonstration. I replied that true labor leadership needs to explain to the workers the central importance of demonstrations and strikes in the struggle against capitalist exploitation. But the Negev district leadership of Koah LeOvdim preferred to cancel this demonstration, with the claim that they intend to eventually initiate combined demonstration and strike of cleaners, non-tenured faculty, and other workers and students of the university. We will wait and see…

On 3rd June, I participated in a meeting of about 30 social activists from Beer Sheva devoted to the planning of new protest actions in our city. This meeting revealed at its worst the bourgeois, reformist nature of most of the local protest movements. During this meeting I made a number of suggestions to intensity the level of protest in the city. One suggestion I made was to make workers struggles central to all protests. Some of the meeting’s participants supported this idea, but all the organizers of the meeting (students and labor bureaucrats) were strongly opposed to any making any link between general protests and protests related to workers struggles. They claimed that the protest movement and worker struggles are two separate matters and that we don’t have to combine them (!). I objected that such a position is both opportunistic and reactionary and that a truly revolutionary struggle cannot to be divided from working class questions.

The masses of Israeli and Palestinian workers must unite and topple the opportunistic and bureaucratic leaderships of workers and protest movements in the entire area of Palestine from the river to the sea. We need a strong, ideologically-based movement that can (a) integrate the worker struggles with the protest movement and (b) create a united revolutionary protest movement of Israelis, Palestinians, and migrant workers that serve as the basis of a sing revolutionary, multi-national state in all of Palestine. Without class consciousness and a fusion between protest movements and the working class struggle in all parts of Palestine, the protest movement in Israel cannot succeed.


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Comment from the Editorial Board:

While, in general, we agree with the conclusions Comrade Yerushalmi’s brings in the last paragraph of the above article, we must emphasize what, to our own thinking, is the authentic key to the failure of the protest movement in Israel.

Israel is a colonialist settler society that, by definition, oppresses and must continue to oppress the indigenous Palestinians Arab population. This is so whether the latter are 2nd class citizens of Israel (one quarter of whom are “internal refugees”), residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (nearly half of them being refugees), or entirely ex-territorial refugees living in neighboring countries or overseas.

The position of the Israeli working class within this reality is such that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, its members have absolutely no will or desire to give up their own relatively privileged status compared to that of Palestinians workers, unemployed, and increasingly landless peasants. A large proportion of the Israeli working class has been and remains bought-off by that portion of the ‘primitive accumulation of Capital’ allotted to them by the Zionist political elites and bourgeoisie since the 1948 war, when 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and possessions as well as the massive economic support by US and European imperialism throughout its whole history and finally the imperialist extra-profits which Israeli monopoly capital is achieving. The Israeli working class has been educated from childhood to believe in the sanctity and the absolute inviolability of the Zionist state; that without this state, their fate, as Jews, is one of utter destruction; and that they must therefore gratefully accept their ultimate existential duty as payers of this state’s taxes and soldiers in this state’s army.

In such a reality, there is no realistic possibility that the masses of the Israeli working class will develop automatically a political class consciousness and international workers solidarity that comrade Yerushalmi so perceptively notes is missing from the social protest movement in his country. Doing so would necessitate a radical break with the sectarian, chauvinistic, and often racist attitudes endemic to so much of the Israeli ‘Weltanschauung’. For such a break, massive political concussions in the Middle East and North African region are necessary such as a successful working class revolution in one of the countries or a massive military defeat of Israeli imperialism in a war with its neighbors. Secondly the formation of a revolutionary party is required which can transmit a socialist, internationalist class consciousness and help to break away a section of the Israeli-Jewish working class from Zionism.

The relatively small percent of Israeli workers who have or will achieve such a proletarian and internationalist outlook must understand that the only potential for a significantly powerful revolutionary force resides in the Palestinian working class and peasants in conjunction with the oppressed masses of the entire Middle East. Nevertheless, it remains the right and obligation of this small Israeli revolutionary vanguard to stand shoulder to shoulder with their Palestinian working brothers and sisters to bring about a Free, Red Palestine. To move forward with this task, the building of a revolutionary party as part of the Fifth Workers International is necessary.

For a better understanding of the complexity of the revolutionary program in Occupied Palestine/Israel we refer readers to two longer studies which the RCIT has recently published:

* Yossi Schwartz: Israel's War of 1948 and the Degeneration of the Fourth International, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/israel-s-war-of-1948-1/;

* Michael Pröbsting: On some Questions of the Zionist Oppression and the Permanent Revolution in Palestine. Thoughts on some exceptionalities of the Israeli state, the national oppression of the Palestinian people and its consequences for the program of the Bolshevik-Communists in Palestine, May 2013 http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/permanent-revolution-in-palestine/. Both documents have been published in the RCIT’s international journal Revolutionary Communism No. 10, June 2013).