A tent city in Tel Aviv set up to draw attention to the high cost of housing in Israel has sparked a mass protest movement across the country. Last weekend over three hundred thousand Israelis marched in protest. “The people,” they chanted, “want social justice!”
Stagnant wages, rising prices and cutbacks in social welfare have indeed been making life unbearable for a growing number of Israelis. A struggle against this is long overdue. However, the current protest movement has limited itself to demanding “social justice” only for Israelis. Meanwhile, right under the protesters’ noses in Israel, not to mention in Gaza, the West Bank and beyond, Palestinians suffer the most terrible deprivation and oppression.
Revolutionary socialists join with today’s protesters in condemning the policies of Netanyahu’s Likud government (as well as those of Labor and Kadima before it), which have ensured that a growing number of Israelis have fallen deeper into poverty while Israel’s capitalist profiteers have laughed all the way to the bank. But we challenge the protesters: if the cost of living is becoming unbearable for Israelis, consider what life is like for Palestinians.
In Jerusalem, for example, the city’s most recent municipal plan, “Jerusalem 2000,” is openly racist, asserting as its goal the maintenance of a Jewish super-majority in the city. Accordingly, in recent years, thousands of Palestinians have had their residency permits revoked and been deported on the basis of technicalities no Jew ever faces. Kilometer after kilometer of land in the city continue to be stolen from Palestinians to make way for new Jewish settlements or private capitalist enterprises. Palestinians’ applications for permits to build or improve their housing are systematically denied, forcing them into poorly constructed buildings whose illegality is then used by the government as an excuse to demolish them, seize the land and expel the residents. Palestinians face similar efforts at ethnic cleansing, both overt and covert, from places like Jaffa and Al-Ludd to the villages of the Negev.
If the more than one and a half million Palestinians living inside Israel endure such conditions of cruel apartheid oppression, what of the stateless millions beyond the Green Line? In Gaza, their access to even the most elementary necessities of life – food and medicine –is subject to an Israeli blockade which can be accurately compared to the Nazis’ genocidal siege of Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto. In the West Bank, the Israeli state is not satisfied with the Palestinian Authority’s work in brutally oppressing the masses on its behalf and promotes the theft of more land and more murderous violence by settlers and the Israeli army. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands more Palestinians still languish in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Showing that their desire to return to their homeland remains unbroken, this year on Nakba Day, Palestinian refugees marched peacefully toward its borders, only to be slaughtered by Israeli soldiers.
Despite being appalled, to say the least, by the Israeli protest movement’s chauvinist indifference to the Palestinians’ plight, we revolutionary socialists support the current struggle to defend the living standards of Israeli working-class, poor and young people against capitalism’s attacks. By exposing the Israeli rulers’ lack of loyalty to the poor, the struggle can begin to break down support for the Zionist state and thus also weaken its ability to oppress the Palestinians. Further, the more that Israelis mobilize against their government and capitalist class in order to defend their living standards, the more likely the more class-conscious and democratically inclined will be to begin to surrender their identification with the Zionist state and begin to identify with the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation.
With this perspective, we participate in the struggle first and foremost from the perspective of the most deprived and oppressed victims of this state – the Palestinians. Inside the movement, in addition to fighting for its demands for price controls on housing and other essentials of life, we raise the call for the defense of Palestinians’ lives and livelihoods, starting with the most basic demands:
Stop the Theft and Destruction of Palestinian Homes!
Stop the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, Jaffa, Al-Ludd and the Negev!
Stop the Settlements! Down with the Wall!
Down with Discrimination Against Palestinians in Housing, Employment and Social Services!
Down with the Blockade of Gaza!
After weeks of refusing to say anything about Palestinians, the Tent City leadership started to become embarrassed by the movement’s obvious racism. So at their August 6 rally the organizers allowed Uda Basharat of the Communist Party’s electoral front Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) to speak from its platform.
Basharat surprised many by daring to refer to the injustice of housing shortages and demolitions experienced by “Arabs.” At the same time, however, Basharat’s speech made a number of enormous concessions to the chauvinism of the crowd and of wider Israeli society. Perhaps most shocking was the fact that while Zionism has done its best to wipe Palestine off the map, Basharat never once said anything to correct that. Thus he studiously avoided ever referring to the territory of Palestine or its Palestinian people. His repeated reference to “Arabs,” and his failure to mention any place outside the Green Line surely gave many people the impression that he was only concerned with Palestinians inside Israel. Many Palestinians would not have been impressed by Basharat’s refusal to refer to the ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians in East Jerusalem, let alone to the plight of Palestinians in the broader Occupied Territories. Indeed Basharat made no mention of the settlements on the West Bank or the starvation blockade of Gaza or of the Wall that is dividing and trapping Palestinians.
By not challenging the broader Zionist oppression of Palestinians, Hadash has actually helped the Zionist leaders of the protest movement cover up their chauvinism, allowing them to better resist calls by the most left-wing Israeli protesters for stronger demands in defense of the Palestinians.
We have no illusion that any more than a small minority of today’s protest movement will support our demands in defense of the Palestinians. Indeed, it says a lot about the extent to which Zionist chauvinism and racism have saturated the consciousness of Israelis that even today’s protest movement, which is based on the minority of Israeli society that is already more secular, liberal and left-wing, cannot be expected to support such basic demands.
Certainly some of the Israeli activists who have been the movement’s driving force have some concern for the Palestinians. But their privileged position as Israeli citizens, receiving access to land and resources denied to Palestinians, has allowed them the luxury of putting off raising demands on the Palestinians’ behalf. Raising such demands, these activists have reasoned, would provoke a split from the existing movement by its large numbers of mainstream and right-wing Zionists, as well as a backlash from the rest of Israeli society. But if the protest movement against the capitalist attacks inside Israel is to move forward, a split of the pro-Palestinian minority from the pro-Zionist majority is exactly what is needed. The lesson of every working-class struggle and left-wing movement in Israeli history, from the seamen’s strikes of the 1950s and ’60s, through the Black Panther movement of the 1970s, to Peace Now’s rise in the 1980s, is that unless these movements break through the limits of Zionist chauvinism and turn to the Palestinian masses as allies, they will be swept aside as soon as Israel launches a new war or anti-Palestinian atrocity.
If this happens again with the current movement, much responsibility will lie with those organizations which appealed to the most radical protesters with socialist and even revolutionary rhetoric only to make their peace with Zionism. Perhaps the most appalling role has been played by Maavak Sozialisti, the Israeli section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI).
Maavak has capitulated to the movement’s dominant “social justice for Israelis” chauvinism, never once criticizing the movement’s failure to defend the Palestinians. Its statements on the struggle use vague calls for opposition to racist legislation to avoid taking a specific stand against any particular attack on Palestinians and their rights. Insultingly to Palestinians, whose expropriation is the foundation of the Israeli state, their paper buries opposition to racism amidst a list of other injustices it opposes, like discrimination against people with mental disabilities.
Indeed, while finding space in the special edition of its newspaper for a whole page of discussion about the protests concerning the high price Israelis must pay for cottage cheese, it found no room for a single article devoted to the concerns of Palestinians. Even worse, in their cottage protest articles, Maavak actually calls for protectionism of the Israeli dairy industry against Nethanyahu’s proposal to open the market to imports – showing that Maavak can muster up a defense of specific Israeli capitalists much more easily than it can make such an effort on the part of the Palestinians!
We are reminded of a bus ride back from a Nakba Day demonstration at which Maavak members had advocated their “socialist” two-state solution. On the way home, we almost felt sorry for the Maavak members as Palestinians took the opportunity to quite correctly condemn them as “apartheid socialists.” While we are certain that the Maavak members subjectively abhor apartheid and racism, their capitulation to Zionism, instead of helping them build a “united anti-racist struggle,” only isolates them from the Palestinian masses – the vanguard of any socialist revolution that could ever take place in this land.
The clearest confirmation of the fact that the current protest movement has failed to break with Zionist chauvinism, and a warning of how the movement could actually embolden Israel’s far-right, came when the notorious follower of the late Meir Kahane, fascist settler Baruch Marzel, brought a group of his supporters to join the tent city in Tel Aviv. “When it comes to social issues [for Jews],” Marzel declared, “I’m more Left than Left.” Such rhetoric should not be surprising. The promise of socialism to the members of a privileged oppressor people – “national socialism” – is a defining feature of fascism. The protest movement’s refusal to raise demands in defense of Palestinian interests while calling for justice for Israelis practically invited fascists like Marzel to participate. Some protest organizers actually welcomed the Kahanists’ and settlers’ participation. Many more protesters, however, have opposed their presence, though they cannot point to a single demand of the movement that has taken the side of the Palestinians against Zionist attack and thus precluded the right-wing Zionists’ participation.
If the struggles of workers and poor people in Israel are to grow to challenge the capitalists and their state, they must break with Zionism and side with the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation. The fact that some young Israelis have been positively influenced by the example of the Egyptian revolution and the broader uprising in the Arab world shows that there is reason to expect that growing numbers of Israelis will learn to reject Zionism completely.
Those among today’s protesters truly committed to a struggle against both capitalism’s worsening poverty and Zionism’s racist atrocities will have to come to recognize that the Israeli state in which today’s protesters hope to live with “social justice” is itself, by its very nature, an injustice to the Palestinians. The state of Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of 700-900,000 Palestinians from their homeland, and the denial of the rights of those who remained. It can only survive by means of continued apartheid, land theft and war. All Israel is Occupied Territory!
Karl Marx famously declared that the working class has nothing to lose but its chains. Because the working class has no fundamental interest in capitalist society, he expected that the workers would rise up against the states that keep them down. While this is true in general, it is not true in the case of Israeli workers who, by virtue of their citizenship, benefit every day from access to land and resources as a result of the Israeli state’s expropriation and oppression of Palestinians. Very many Israeli workers participate directly in this colonialism through regular military service. These experiences fuel Zionist chauvinism and underpin the Israeli working class’s deep sense of loyalty to the state.
At the same time, Israeli workers and poor people do have an interest in taking up the cause of Palestinians: of the powerful imperialist countries of the world, Israel has the greatest gap between rich and poor, with 20% of Israelis living below the official “poverty line.” The numbers of Israelis living in poverty has been allowed to rise to the extent that it has because the masses’ nationalist loyalty to the state has encouraged them to tolerate their ruling class’s profiteering and discouraged them from fighting back.
In the long run, Israel will become a death trap for its Jewish citizens as well. Imperialism’s support for Israel stems from the fact that its wars and oppression have served the imperialists’ need to keep the Arab masses down and its oil wealth safe for exploitation. For Israel to fulfill its role as the region’s imperialist policeman, its ruling class has turned the Israelis into oppressors on the one hand and cannon fodder on the other. They demand that Jews kill and be killed serving the interests of the big capitalists and the government. Any struggle against the Israeli capitalists can only be successful if it challenges capitalism and imperialist oppression in the region.
The only way for at least a class-conscious, internationalist minority of the Israeli working class to join the Arab revolution is by joining the Palestinian masses in their struggle to overthrow the Zionist state so that they may enjoy their right to return to their homeland and enjoy equal rights in it. Because that aim is inconceivable without the overthrow of imperialism throughout the region, that means fighting for a Palestinian workers’ state from the river to the sea, as part of a federation of workers’ states in the entire region. Israeli Jews, having surrendered any rights to property seized from Palestinians, will have the right to live in Palestine, without any racial privileges, but free of any form of ethnic or religious discrimination.
It is the duty of revolutionaries to work their hardest to make this perspective a reality. However, despite the fact that we would want to win both Jewish and Palestinian workers and poor people, we must realize that in all likelihood we will not be able to recruit the majority of Israeli Jews to actively support the revolution. Thus our perspective focuses on winning the Palestinian working class and poor, as well as those Jews willing to join with them, to the aim of making the socialist revolution, while at least securing the peaceful acceptance of the revolution from the largest possible number of the rest of the Jewish masses.
Fighting for the Palestinians’ basic rights means fighting for the right of all Palestinians who were expelled from their homeland, and the right of all their descendants as well, to return to it. If the Palestinians’ right of return is realized, they will be the overwhelming majority throughout the land. For this reason, there is no way to consistently advocate the rights of the Palestinians while defending the right of Israeli Jews to maintain a state of their own. Such a state could only survive by means of apartheid rule over the Palestinian population, or by another wave of brutal ethnic cleansing. The perspective of the regional socialist revolution offers a way out of this nightmarish alternative.
Recognizing that the Palestinian masses are not strong enough on their own to overthrow the imperialist-backed Zionist state, we have all along said that the revolutions by the Arab workers of the region would come to the support of the Palestinians and aid their coming to power. The revolutionary uprisings that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, and continue to challenge the region’s other strongmen, are just the beginning. Imperialist capitalism cannot support democracy in these countries. To secure the democratic freedoms the masses demand, the working class will have to lead the urban poor and peasants in overthrowing capitalism and building workers’ states on the road to socialism. This is the strategy of permanent revolution.
The workers’ state that would be formed out of the regional revolution would allow the return of the refugees, who also suffer from harsh problems in the field of housing, as they were driven off their lands by Israel. With the return of the refugees, the workers’ state would become Palestinian in its national character. However, Jews who join with the Palestinians in a revolutionary struggle, will also become a part of the ruling class – the workers and the poor, Palestinians and Jews alike.
But for all this to become a reality, the exploited and oppressed masses must find an international revolutionary working-class political party capable of leading the struggle to victory. The internationalist strategy outlined in this statement aims to unite the working class based on an uncompromising struggle for the interests of capitalism’s most exploited and oppressed people. It expresses the perspective of authentic working-class Trotskyism, the anti-Stalinist Marxism of our times. We believe the vanguard revolutionary party that workers need must aim to re-create the Fourth International, the Trotskyist World Party of Socialist Revolution.
We invite all those interested to contact us and join in the discussion of how to take the struggle forward.
Revolutionary socialists don’t wait for the ideal conditions before advocating a way forward for working-class struggle. Instead, we take as our starting point the current situation and support working-class and poor people defending themselves against the capitalists and state with whatever means are immediately available. Therefore, we advocate a struggle by members of the Histadrut to force the union federation to really mobilize its members for future protests and to call a general strike to win the protest movement’s demands for affordable housing and lower prices for other basic necessities like food and medicine, including an end to the Valued Added Tax.
At the same time, we maintain that the Histadrut is a racist organization that consistently refused to defend Palestinians from layoffs and racist attacks, as well as refusing to organize Palestinian workers both inside and outside of the Green Line. We support raising demands in defense of the Palestinians inside individual unions as part of a struggle to break them, in whole or in part, from the Histadrut so that they may join a movement of genuine unions, independent of the state, in which Palestinian and Jewish workers can fight side by side.