[Marxism] Tony Greenstein on the Israeli protests

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 11 07:44:58 MDT 2011

Weekly Worker 878 Thursday August 11 2011
Support Israeli protest movement without illusions
Tony Greenstein argues that there is no such thing as the Israeli 
Jewish nation

Almost unreported in the British press, there have been mass 
protests in Israel against the housing crisis. Some parts of the 
left will undoubtedly see in these the harbinger of social 
revolution. Instead of Zionism, socialism will be ushered in 
through protests against economic and social conditions.

The problem with this is that these are confined primarily to the 
most privileged Jewish sector of Israel, with little Arab 
involvement. The other problem, as is brought out in many media 
interviews, is that the occupation of the territories is barely 
mentioned for fear of dividing the social movement. The settlers 
have established a tent base on the periphery of the movement - 
physically and metaphorically.

Nor is the revolt of a settler working class and its underclass 
anything new. The white South African working class was far more 
militant in its heyday - so much so that in the 1920s Jan Smuts 
bombed them from the air! The Australian and Canadian working 
classes, whilst demanding the exclusion of foreign and Chinese 
labour in particular, were extremely militant. Militancy in itself 
is not a sign of socialist or class awareness. It is the 
precondition for such an awareness, but political factors will 
determine whether or not the settler working class is capable of 
reaching out to the most oppressed sections.

The most remarkable fact of the protests is that they are 
occurring at all. That in itself is a sign of the deep political 
malaise and economic problems that have beset the Zionist state. 
The other remarkable fact is that the Arab spring has clearly had 
a marked influence on the Israeli psyche, despite the fact that 
all we have heard from Israeli commentators has been a fear of 
Muslim fundamentalism and the gripe that ‘At least Mubarak brought 
peace’. It is clear that this Zionist consensus and the continuous 
targeting of Israel’s Arabs has not been as effective as the 
racists and the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government hoped.

And this is important because the stock response from many 
‘socialists’ is that we are really in favour of the military 
conquest of Israel - presumably by all those pro-American Arab 
regimes! What this protest tells us is that Israel’s Jewish 
population, despite itself, is a part of the Middle East, not 
Europe. That its fate is bound up with the Palestinians, not apart 
from it. That a radical and far-reaching Arab revolution would 
have a very significant resonance inside Israel itself and this 
too is something the Zionist regime fears. We should not imagine 
that the Israeli Jews will always remain quiescent. Far from there 
being a separate Israeli Jewish nation, the Jews of Israel are 
very much a part of the region and the people they live amongst 
and have expelled, despite their own desires.

But in its present form, although this is one of the most 
significant protest movements among Israeli Jews since 1948, it is 
unlikely to challenge even the present Netanyahu regime. For that 
to happen the revolutions in the Arab states would have to go 
beyond a change of ruling personnel to overthrowing the state 
itself - in Egypt last week we saw the velvet glove being taken 
off the army’s mailed fist, as demonstrators were cleared out of 
Tahrir Square by thugs and the military.

There have, of course, been major protests before in Israel - the 
Black Panthers in the late 1960s, the Ashdod and seamen’s strikes 
of 1951 and 1969, the dockers’ struggles. The current protests 
have not broken with the pattern of protests within the Jewish 
community. These go back to the conflicts between David 
Ben-Gurion, later to become Israel’s first prime minister, and the 
Gdud-Avodah work brigades in the 1920s, when for the first and 
last time a revolt by major sections of the Jewish working class 
also raised the question of Zionism itself.

And this is why, despite its crudity at times, the position of the 
International Socialist League for the mass protest in Israel, as 
outlined in its leaflet, With the Arab masses, for a socialist 
revolution, is correct when it says that “The problem is that most 
of the Jewish working class in Israel is incapable of joining the 
struggle against Zionist oppression.”

It is significant that the head of the racist Histadrut ‘trade 
union’ - in reality a scab organisation that was founded with the 
purpose of sabotaging any unity between the Arab and Jewish 
working class - has come out against the protests. As Histadrut 
secretary general Ofer Eini has stated, if the aim of the strikes 
is to remove Netanyahu, then he opposes them. This reveals the 
utter bankruptcy of Histadrut and what is left of the Zionist 
labour movement, faced with Israel’s most overtly rightwing and 
racist government. Eini, who is an Israeli Labour Party MK, also 
reveals the bankruptcy of what is left of that party.

This protest is to be welcomed, but it would be dangerous to have 
any illusions in its potential. As long as it is incapable of 
challenging the state, which under Zionism is an object of awe and 
reverence, then it will be unable to challenge the fundamental 
features of Israeli society, not least the domination of Israel’s 
economy by an oligarchy, a handful of ultra-rich families.

Hamas and Fatah are, of course, incapable of any response, such is 
the limited and reactionary nature of their politics. To them 
Israel is one undifferentiated mass. However, the Arab masses, who 
have yet to complete their revolutions, have a duty to break from 
the nationalist and chauvinistic rhetoric of the Arab rulers, who 
proclaim their opposition to Zionism, whilst collaborating in 
practice. Instead they must reach out to their Israeli brothers 
and sisters to forge an alliance against imperialist domination of 
the region.

The Israeli Jewish masses have made it clear that the Arab spring 
has indeed given them hope and strength, but it has also revealed 
their weaknesses. On the Israeli Occupation Archive website Moshé 
Machover quotes uncritically from an Israeli journalist, who 
remarks: “At long last we have learnt something from the 
Arabs.”[1] In fact this racist statement betrays the fundamental 
weaknesses of this movement. Arabs have always had a great deal to 
teach Israel’s Jews. Unfortunately the latter have never listened 
to anyone bar themselves. This statement betrays the political 
backwardness of Israel’s protestors and its weaknesses.

But the fact is that possibly the biggest ever Israeli protest 
movement had to be inspired by the Arabs that Israeli Jews have 
long despised. That in itself is worth something.



More information about the Marxism mailing list