SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 126 - March 2009

Israel’s election: another unstable government guaranteed

LESS THAN a month after the end of the latest bloody onslaught on Gaza the West Bank was put under a military closure as the election for Israel’s 120-seat Knesset (assembly) began. Many Israelis went to vote reluctantly and many abstained. The results were not only the expected nightmare for the working-class, but also a headache for the Israeli elite.

The Gaza Strip massacre was conducted on purpose during the run-up to the election. The results, however, show that the ruling parties did not gain from it. The ruling party Kadima (Forward) kept its position as the biggest party, but only because a certain lesser-evil vote allowed it to grab votes from other establishment parties. This even caused a slight increase in the turnout, from 63.5% in 2006 to 64.7%. The turnout among Israeli-Palestinians and youth seems to be relatively low, although no official figures are available yet. Nevertheless, Kadima dropped from 29 to 28 seats, a bad share for the biggest party – second only to the 26 of Ehud Barak’s then coalition list, One Israel (extended ‘Labour’ party), in 1999.

The secondary ruling party, Avoda (Labour – led once again by Barak) suffered its worst ever result, down from 19 seats to 13. Its little cousin party, Meretz (Vigour), plunged to its own all-time low of three seats, after it attempted to reshape itself as more mainstream. This is a further crumbling in the support base of the Israeli ruling class’s traditional parties.

The more right-wing, conservative Likud (Solidification), which in 2006 achieved its worst ever electoral result – 12 seats – has now got 27. Likud’s support in 2006 was hit by the response to its hated neo-liberal agenda, combined with the establishment of Kadima, which was meant to be a more stable governing tool for the ruling elite. It failed, and Likud won many of Kadima’s former voters, after some time out of the ruling coalition.

Another party strengthened is the autocratic, racist, right-wing party of Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beytenu (Israel Our Home), which waged a vicious anti-Arab campaign with the slogans: ‘Only Lieberman understands Arabic’, and ‘No loyalty, no citizenship’. The party increased from 11 to 15 seats, into third place. This is less than predicted by different polls, and is not comparable to its major jump in 2006, before which it had only three seats and was considered a right-wing, Israeli-Russian party.

Lieberman’s party is exploiting the political cracks and growing popular rejection of the traditional parties. It won votes from some highly despairing and disgusted sections of Jewish workers and poor. It has a core of support among Israeli-Russians but, generally speaking, the rise of such a party is not unique to Israel, it has been evident in recent years, in different forms, in some European countries as well.

Lieberman and his party tend to say loudly what the main establishment parties only imply. This is partly why Lieberman is not well liked among the ruling elite. He is presenting the real face of the brutal Israeli capitalist regime, as a self-titled ‘Thatcherite’ with an autocratic, racist agenda.

Like many leading politicians, Lieberman has been involved in infamous corruption scandals (under investigation) and thuggery, including an alleged short period of activity in the outlawed fascist-Kahanist group Kakh. But at root, it is also a party of chair-chasers, a member of each of the last three governments, going in and out of them over various nationalist pretexts. In the outgoing government Lieberman served as deputy prime minister and as minister for ‘strategic matters’, until his party quit in 2008.

The establishment parties ran desperate campaigns, with not a few imitations of Barack Obama’s US presidential campaign. The right-wing populist religious party, Shas, even had the slogan: ‘With the help of God, yes we can’, declaring it was aiming for 20 seats. It dropped from 12 to 11. This was despite using populist demands, for instance calling for a pension for every worker and an increased minimum wage.

So ignorant are the capitalist politicians and their professional advisors, that they interpreted Obama’s victory merely as a demagogic trick, ignoring the reasons behind the historical crumbling of the establishment parties in Israel. Dreaming of the degenerating US political system, Kadima leader, Tzipi Livni, said that people should not look for a party agenda, but for the personality they prefer. At the time of writing, it is unclear who the next prime minister will be.

Since the Israeli state was established, only two governments out of 31 have survived a four-year term, and they did so under exceptional circumstances. The first was due to an extreme wave of reaction following the 1967 war, which resulted in the biggest ever electoral support for a ruling party in Israel. The second followed the changeover of 1977, when the ruling elite parties were taken down after three decades in power, via a ballot-box revolt that was exploited by Likud. It is highly unlikely that the new government will be the third.

Speaking of historic records, December 2008 saw an all-time high number of redundancies in the Israeli economy. The central bank has set its interest rate to a record low of 1%, and had to update its prognosis for economic growth in 2009 to minus 0.2%. The price index has been negative since November. While not yet formally confirmed, economic recession is already here and will impact on politics.

The next government, whether it is headed by Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, or by Livni, will be faced with an unstable division in parliament alongside growing social unrest, especially as Jewish and Arab workers engage in inevitable struggles. There have already been many workers’ disputes in recent years, including slowdowns, strikes, protests and factory blockades.

The recession will have a particularly devastating effect on the occupied Palestinian territories, and this can be expected to be paralleled with increased military oppression.

Whether Obama’s US administration gets more or less collaboration from the coming Israeli government, even if another short-term ceasefire is signed, the Israeli ruling class will continue its national oppression by any means it finds necessary, including against Palestinian citizens of Israel, with the backing of US imperialism. The present constellation of parties in parliament also means that the Golan Heights cannot be de-annexed currently. New bloody military adventures are possible for the sake of rehabilitating the prestige of the Israeli army and deflecting attention from the political and economic crises. An attack on Iran is not immediately on the agenda of the Israeli elite, but cannot be completely ruled out, particularly if Obama’s diplomatic efforts carry no results.

Hadash (the Communist Party front) achieved its best relative electoral result in 20 years, increasing from three seats to four. Resting mainly on a core of Israeli-Palestinian workers supplemented with a few thousand Jewish votes, mostly middle-class, it is a testimony to the fact that the current crises could potentially lead people towards genuine left-wing and socialist organisations that have a working-class orientation. Hadash’s historic policies on various questions have prevented it from becoming a more important reference point for Jewish workers.

Hadash is calling for ‘building a new left’, and is looking to win voters from former liberal nationalist ‘left’ parties, particularly young layers. These efforts, along with its new self-labelling as a ‘socialist movement’, are welcome. But to achieve real social change, Hadash must seriously put socialism on its agenda, and make a clear class appeal, instead of speaking with contradictory messages to the different sides of the national divide. While building its organisation, the questions must be posed: What should it aim to do, outside of parliamentary legislation? How will it help build a mass struggle to change society? Unfortunately, Hadash has a three-decade history of disastrous policies that cannot be expected to change dramatically in the short term. Otherwise, it could play a positive role in pushing forward a serious organised opposition inside the General Histadrut (main trade union federation), and promoting the idea of setting up a broader genuine workers’ party.

The current global crisis and the threats posed by right-wing capitalist parties could emphasise to many workers the urgent need for independent working-class organisation. In Israel’s history, there has never been a genuine major workers’ party or a big political left camp. The so-called ‘left’ parties were the most loyal guardians of the development of Israeli capitalism, with its nationalism and militarism, right from their inception. They were never built by a workers’ movement through struggle, nor for the sake of workers’ struggle. Today’s Israeli working class will have to start to take up this task.

Shahar Ben-Khorin

Maavak Sozialisti (CWI Israel)


Home About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page