Israeli and Palestinian activists discuss resisting Nentanyahu and urgent need to build socialist forces
On 18-19 December 2015, about 140 people took part in Socialism Conference 2015 in Tel-Aviv. The audience included both Israeli-Jewish and Arab-Palestinian people. In 13 different discussions, debates and rallies, we have discussed and outlined the best ways forward for the different forces resisting the Nentanyahu regime, and emphasized the urgent need to build socialist political forces, in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories, that could take society out of these crises.
The event has taken place successfully despite the bloody escalation of the national conflict in recent months. Right-wing incitement and whipping up of national and religious tensions, deadly brutalization of the national oppression of the Palestinians, a McCarthyist witch-hunt of Israeli anti-occupation activists, rise in terrorist attacks by individuals on both sides of the divide – all of these have been dominant features of the recent period, alongside ever-growing inequality, including within Israeli society itself, as well as growing distrust among Israeli working class layers in the ability of the government to supply them with personal security.
The opening session was the annual session on the issue of organized labor. It involved five workers’ representatives from the two main union centers - ‘Histadrut’ and ‘Power to the Workers’. Shay Gali of ‘Socialist Struggle’ (CWI in Israel-Palestine) introduced the discussion. Shay emphasized the key role unions have in winning rights and raising living standards for workers: "Under Capitalism, rights are taken and not granted. At this point the union’s role comes in".
Morad Attun, a workers’ committee member in the "Kavim" bus company, and a resident of occupied East Jerusalem, was first to speak. Morad described the tendency of every boss to oppose any benefit for the workers and even to reject recognition of the union itself. He said that every little benefit won for the workers, and be it higher wages or better conditions, it had to be fought for: "unionizing is the only way to improve our conditions". Significantly, Morad’s union had to fight for simple safety and security measures, including the installation of security cameras, in order to deter racist harassment cases against Palestinian drivers.
As a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, Morad spoke about the internal police checkpoints and the collective punishments against the Palestinian population in the eastern city. One of the brutal aspects of this is the cut-off of residents from their workplaces. Shay mentioned a positive statement of a leadership member in ‘Power to the Workers’ (which Morad is a member of), opposing the blockade policy on the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods.
Morad described how, with the pretext of “attaining security”, the Jerusalem municipality decided to cut-off services for Palestinian neighborhoods. "They decided to remove the trash bins as a first step, but after decades of occupation, they discovered the only service they supplied at all was collecting trash! So they brought it back". Morad summed up his words by saying that "organized labor is the only force that could change the situation, also in these neighborhoods".
Ali Tult, head of the cleaning workers’ committee in Tel-Aviv University, spoke next. He told about their struggle against outsourcing and for direct employment. Ali described the solidarity they have from parts of the committees of the administrative workers and of the lecturers in the university, and from some of the students. He then criticized the bureaucratic leadership of the Histadrut. Despite speaking publicly in favor of direct employment for all workers and threatening a general strike on the issue of contract-workers back in July – a very weak ‘compromise’ was achieved with feeble gains. Ali said that the Histadrut could and should have taken strike action, and if they did more they could have surely led to the achievement of better gains.
Na`ama Levin, an elected representative in the Social Workers Union (part of the Histadrut) and a member of ‘Socialist Struggle’, described the long dual fight, for improved working conditions and wages, as well as for democratization of the unions. Two weeks after Socialism Conference 2015, Na`ama played a key role in organizing a demonstration of over 100 workers, linking together workers from different unions, in protest against the new public sector agreement, which was signed by the Histadrut leaders above the heads of the workers, with once-again very mild gains.
Another speaker in the panel was Hanokh Livne, head of a workers’ committee in a bank. He described the need of workers to continuously fight against erosion of their gains, even in workplaces where there are well-established unions. Naor Kapulnik of ‘Socialist Struggle’, an active worker within a financial company union, emphasized the essential need of a union to be democratic in order to allow workers to control their own struggles and thus reach better gains.
Fighting racism, national oppression and division
The following session was about the earlier explosion of a protest movement by Ethiopian-decent Israelis against racism, discrimination and police brutality. Avi Yallo, a leading activist in that movement, described the deep racism existing against Ethiopian-decent Israelis. He emphasized the importance of linking together struggles of different groups who suffer discrimination – and importantly referred particularly to struggles by Arab-Palestinians.
Bracha Mekonen of Socialist Struggle expanded outlined the similarities and differences between that movement and the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. She firmly explained that both movements must also fight to overthrow capitalism, because it always exploits any prejudice to divide and rule the working class.
Another main session focused on the struggle against the escalation in the national conflict, against the occupation and for peace. Over 150 Palestinians were killed by Israeli armed forces from October to December. Some were killed as suspects of attacks against either civilians or soldiers, and a large part were killed just because they were in or near a demonstration. Thousands were injured. More than 20 Israelis have been killed over the same period, mostly by sporadic despaired individuals. Demonstrations against the occupation took place mostly in the Jerusalem/Al-Quds and Hebron/Al-Khalil areas.
With this background, a discussion of five activists from both sides of the national divide had taken place, under the title: "Refusing to be Enemies".
John Mazzawi, a Socialist Struggle member, had led the discussion. He explained how the escalation of violence and division was fueled, first and foremost, by Netanyahu’s settler capitalist government. This consists not just even worse brutalization of the martial dictatorship in the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza, but also a new level of political repression inside Israel itself, including the advance of government plans for further expropriation of Palestinian communities within Israel.
Mohammed Abu-Hummus, a member of the Issawieh popular committee in occupied East Jerusalem, had taken part in the discussion. He described the systemic repression and step-by-step land seizing the village faces from state authorities. Maya Hascal, an activist of ‘Combatants for Peace’ (a joint Israeli and Palestinian organization), described how anti-occupation activists, Arabs and Jews, still meet regularly despite the escalating situation. She emphasized the importance of the recent leftist campaign "Standing Together", which organizes rallies against the occupation and the right-wing government, bringing together people from both sides of the national divide.
Ahmad Jaradat, a Palestinian resident of Hebron/Al-Khalil and a member of the ‘Alternative Information Center’, also participated, via a Skype link, as due to the closure policies he couldn’t physically come to Tel-Aviv. He described the massive repression the Israeli army imposes: since October 1st, there were more than 1,000 arrests in Hebron only. Dozens were killed by the army. Because of blockading policy, it became difficult to supply goods to the city – causing food prices to rise dramatically. And yet under that repression – thousands of young Palestinians still went out on the streets demanding an end to the occupation.
Ahmed made clear that "Israeli ordinary people have no interest in continuing the occupation", and that’s why socialists must insist to build and convince also among the Israeli working class. He said that the ’leaders’ failed to achieve peace, and that’s why "we have to build an alternative peace – peace from below".
Yasha Marmer of Socialist Struggle had later explained why it is necessary to fight the Israeli capitalist elite in order to end occupation. Having no will to give away a drop of its imperialist interests, it inevitably fuels the national conflict and divide. The fight for a just peace must therefore be linked to a struggle against the capitalist social system and for a socialist transformation across the region.
John summed up the discussion saying that "only when everyone will stop to rise up and struggle we could afford being in despair". While a struggle still exists, we must continue to build a socialist alternative to war and national oppression.
Debating a socialist alternative and reformist trends
On the second day of the event, a debate about the necessary lessons of the Oslo Accords and their failure has taken place. Uri Bar-Shalom Agmon of Socialist Struggle debated Eliran Bikhovsky, a leading young activist of Meretz, a left-tending liberal zionist party. Meretz took part in Rabin’s government at that time and helped carrying through the accords, as well as privatizations and neo-liberal attacks on the Israeli working class.
Eliran had argued that Oslo failed because it was not carried through to the stage of a "permanent agreement", which should have put an end to the national conflict. On behalf of Socialist Struggle, Uri replied that Oslo was not made to establish a Palestinian state at all – as Rabin himself argued for an entity which would be "less than a state". Such puppet autonomy was supposed to serve the Israeli capitalists better, allegedly stabilizing the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict. As the CWI had analyzed already in 1993, Uri Argued, this plan made a mockery of the Palestinians rights and aspirations, deteriorated the Palestinian masses living conditions, and was bound to end up in further bloody deteriorations.
Another debate took place between Or Dar of Socialist Struggle and Danny Guttwein, a known Israeli zionist ‘social-democratic’ lecturer. His ideas gained echo recently, while he co-participated in a documentary mini-series on Israeli political economy which put forward some criticism of neo-liberalism.
Reflecting reformist ideas, Guttwein had claimed that the main task of the ’broad left’ is to grab power electorally. When this would happen, he argued, "the left could use the state mechanism to impose its own agenda". Or replied that Gutwein was ignoring a lesson of the first year of Syriza in power (and other reformist experiments), and stated that "without a clear program taking into account a clash with – and eventually an overthrow of – capitalism itself, no left government could implement even minor reforms". Moreover, Guttwein’s political plan includes "entrism" in the Israeli "Labor" party, arguing that its complete neo-liberal character is not important because it is the biggest established "left" force. The Israeli "Labor" party has never been an instrument of working class struggle, and has a record of oppressing the Palestinians and of attacks on the Israeli working class. Or had put forward the stance of Socialist Struggle: the need to advance an independent left working class party, based on workers and youth from both national groups, armed with a socialist program.
Several discussion groups took place throughout that weekend on different topics, including: the fight against sexism, the climate crisis, the global refugee crisis and imperialism, the Marxist approach toward "human nature", five years since the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions, robotic automation & socialism, and a rally about arts and protest - with artists from both national groups.
Socialism is back on world agenda
The closing rally of Socialism 2015 featured an inspirational participation of Chairman of TUSC and former Labor MP Dave Nellist of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, Giannos Nikolaou of Xekinima in Greece and Shahar Ben-Horin of Socialist Struggle.
Dave outlined the disastrous effects of neo-liberalism on Britain, making it “from one of the most equal societies globally to one of the most unequal”. This, he explained, is the root cause of the mass movement which has been developing against austerity and around Jeremy Corbyn. He continued describing the ’civil war’ developing inside the Labor party, and the necessary steps that should be taken to defeat the right-wing of Labor and to establish a new, mass force of a working class and anti-austerity agenda. Dave explained that different movements against many negative features of capitalism develop globally, first and foremost because of capitalism’s deep economic and political crisis.
Giannos had lively described the mighty events that captured Greece: the rise of Syriza from the political sidelines to power on an anti-austerity program; the amazing turnout of the Greek working class, with 61% of the vote rejected a new Memorandum; and finally the shameful capitulation of the Syriza government to the EU capitalists. Giannos said that despite Tsipras’s historic betrayal, the ’NO’ turnout in the July referendum – facing an unprecedented campaign of intimidation – was a colossal victory of the working class. And yet, he added, despite the major defeat with the third memorandum, the Greek working class has not exhausted its power and it would rise again as the crisis of capitalism will deepen.
Giannos drew another important lesson from Syriza’s first year in power: "every struggle inevitably has a leadership. But not every leadership is fully committed to the interest of the mass, or has clear perspective and program of struggle". The failure of Syriza was first of all the result of wrong perspective and strategy. It is the task of socialists to draw the full lessons of defeats as well as victories, to eventually succeed and topple capitalism.
For a Socialist Middle East!
The rally and the whole event were summed up by Shahar of Socialist Struggle. He started outlining the complex challenges that socialist forces in Israel-Palestine are facing, particularly with the development of the bloody national conflict and the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians.
He had started explaining how the huge political vacuum of the left helps to maintain the Netanyahu regime. He added that "Netanyahu can strengthen his case exploiting deep existential fears among Jewish-Israelis, only because deadly counter-revolution really is taking place across the region". However, Shahar continued by describing that Netanyahu’s coalition rests only on a rather limited support – only about one third of the electorate voted for these parties. The lack of any left alternative in the last parliamentary elections, in March 2015, is a primary reason for the regime’s narrow victory.
"The worst economic crisis of capitalism since 80 years is driving masses of people globally to fight with measures not seen for decades – in some countries, like Israel, not seen ever. Capitalist apologists try to undervalue the huge significance of the mass and revolutionary movements we have witnessed during the last years and even argue that the bloody disaster the whole region is suffering is the outcome of the millions’ movement itself and not of their robbery and repression! But these events were the most important in our generation and region and they showed a huge potential for social change". Shahar continued to describe how the masses in each country search for an alternative, despite the bloody counter-revolution in the Middle-East.
"It is true that the situation in Israel-Palestine is different, and the challenges of the Left here are complex, but there are nevertheless opportunities", he said. "It should be remembered that the last two decades included not only a bloody conflict but also the largest workers’ strikes in Israel’s history and the largest social protest movement just in 2011". There’s a relative disillusionment among Israeli workers from the main capitalist parties, and despite the currently widespread nationalist chauvinism, there’s a growing tiredness from the national conflict. He also underlined, "as Marx explained, a system that is based on the control of a minority over the entire wealth of society also creates poverty, alienation, oppression and prejudices. Such a system cannot maintain democracy or personal security".
"We have to emphasize that the road for democracy, peace and social justice in the middle-east does not go through weak alliances with corrupt monarchies and right wing dictatorships. It goes through struggles that erupts earthquakes in history itself. This road is being taken by tens of millions in recent years. It goes through Tahrir Square and Taksim Square, but it doesn’t stop there. It is paved by the revolutionary spirit of thousands of young Palestinians that in the face of live-bullets are calling millions of Palestinians to rise and get rid of occupation and discrimination. When thousands of Israelis and Palestinians stand together, refusing to be enemies, calling to overthrow racism and oppression – they show the way forward… but of course this way only begins there. To lay the foundations for a Middle-East of democracy and peace and social justice, the struggle has to be for a root-change in society - to a society which would control democratically and rationally the production, the main services, its wealth; a society which would harness the existing resources and technology in order to uproot poverty and plights and social gaps, and assure welfare for all, with no glimpse of discrimination between blood and blood. This is the alternative. A struggle for a socialist change, with equal rights and independence for both nations, combined with a struggle for a Socialist Spring, that would throw to the dust bin of history that cycle of blood and despair. Let’s make sure that the socialist alternative will raise its head here as well".