[Marxism] On the Current Conjuncture in Israe

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 15 07:30:50 MDT 2011


On the Current Conjuncture in Israel
Aug 15 2011 by Matan Kaminer

Many progressives around the world have been wondering out loud 
what exactly has been going here for the last month. Who are the 
unprecedented crowds which have taken to the streets in the name 
of "the people" (ha'am), demanding "social justice" (tzedek 
hevrati), and what exactly do they want? Is there any connection 
to the ongoing occupation and oppression of the Palestinians? And 
if not – can the protests be at all justified?

In order to achieve true "social justice" – that is, to defeat 
exploitation in all its forms – it is necessary to defeat the 
particular kinds of exploitation inherent in the situation, even 
if these appear as something else, for example colonial 
oppression. In these cases, where one could speak of the struggle 
between exploiters and exploited being deflected onto other 
channels, the battle against exploitation is twofold. It is a 
battle against the particular (colonial) form of exploitation, and 
a battle to return from the deflection to the real issue at hand. 
One must keep guard, then, against false returns that seek 
shortcuts. In a situation where class exploitation has taken the 
form of colonial oppression, a "class struggle" that ignores the 
colonial context is no class struggle at all; it is destined to 
either dissipate or change into something altogether different.

Zionism is a colonial movement, which has over its history shifted 
from expropriation of the native Palestinians (roughly 1917-1967) 
to their exploitation as a cheap labor force (1967-1993) to their 
exclusion and marginalization (1993 to the present day). Any class 
struggle in Israel, which ignored this oppressive relationship 
would be, inevitably, a false one.

This does not make it meaningless to speak of classes within the 
Israeli socio-economic structure, which today forcibly excludes 
the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories (OT), but not those 
with Israeli citizenship. Indeed, to understand the current 
situation in Israel such a class analysis is necessary. It is not 
my intention to carry it out here, only to point out the change in 
the structure, which has brought about the current uprising. 
Israel has, for several decades now, been climbing steadily up the 
scales of the Gini index. The rich have gotten fewer and 
super-richer, while the poor have become more and more numerous. 
However, it has only been in the last few years that precarity has 
reached the younger generation of the middle class.

Many have correctly pointed out that the standard of living 
demanded by the Israeli protesters would be considered high above 
middling in most Arab countries. This ignores the fact that the 
middle class in Israel did enjoy this standard until recently and 
that older generation continues to enjoy it. Those critics who 
imply that these demands come at the expense of the Palestinians 
also miss another crucial point. The official programme of 
rapacious upwards redistribution which is now attacking the middle 
classes has been carried out  precisely in order to finance the 
occupation and indemnify the Israeli capitalist class for the loss 
of the "peace dividend" which it so covetously pursued during the 
Oslo era.

Another point easily overlooked is that the current crisis is also 
a crisis of colonization. Many in Israel, on both the right and 
the left, are quick to point out that the Israeli welfare state is 
alive and well – in the settlements, where housing (the flashpoint 
of the rebellion), education, transportation and other amenities 
are heavily subsidized. Ample funds and ideological supports are 
also available for young people willing to assist in the 
colonization ("Judaization") of the Galilee/Jalil and Negev/Naqab. 
The young generation, who are demanding affordable housing and 
gainful employment in the urbanized coastal strip around Tel Aviv, 
have roundly rejected these solutions.

While not hostile to the Palestinians, the movement may therefore 
appear as a "wheel within a wheel", an internal Israeli struggle 
neutral with respect to the colonial background. This is certainly 
the picture that the leaders of the movement, who are apparently 
"privately" against the occupation, wish to broadcast. However, 
even in the medium term this is untenable. The "wheel within" must 
either dissipate or mesh its gears with "the wheel without," 
either through reincorporation into ethnocratic, even fascist 
politics, or through the emergence of a bi-national movement and a 
re-imagination of "the people,"

The second of these options currently seems unlikely. At first, 
the reigning right tried to ignore the protests; when this failed, 
it attempted a two-pronged strategy to jump on the bandwagon on 
the one hand and to discredit the movement as an anti-Zionist plot 
on the other. Both these approaches have so far met with total 
failure. The explicitly racist "hilltop youth" earned the dubious 
honor of being the first group ejected from the largest tent camp, 
on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. And public opinion – which 
has certainly not become anti-Zionist itself over the past few 
weeks – remains steadfastly and overwhelmingly supportive of the 
rebellion. Support rates for it fluctuate around eight-five 
percent. When asked why they have not participated in the protests 
so far, over sixty percent of respondents in a recent poll cited 
technical reasons. Only 7.9 percent have taken up the right's 
rhetoric that "political interests" (i.e. the left) are behind the 
protests, fewer even than the still-apathetic 9.8 percent who 
believe that "protest can't change anything."

The first possibility, of the rebellion just going away, perhaps 
satisfying itself with crumbs from the table, is the one currently 
being actively pursed by the Israeli establishment. This certainly 
includes the military establishment, which cannot publicly come 
out against the movement. As blogger Idan Landau has pointed out, 
over the last few years the Finance Ministry has been 
systematically bilking social ministries (Education, Welfare, 
Health etc.) in order to transfer funds to the Ministry of 
Defense. Even the most limited response to the protesters' demands 
will necessitate greater social expenditures, imposing a cap on 
the military's endless thirst for cash. The same is true for the 
better-hidden expenditures on the settlements.

While tensions are already visible between the young, middle-class 
and unelected leadership and the multi-class and multi-ethnic 
grassroots base of the movement, morale is high and the movement 
is busy preparing itself for the long haul. Moreover, both 
sympathetic commentators and voices within the movement have 
already pointed out the greatest danger to its continuity: a 
conveniently timed war (say, against Syria, whose regime obviously 
has parallel interests). While the movement is still far from 
articulating an anti-war position, the public mood – expressed in 
the media's sudden disinterest in and disrespect for the 
pronouncements of usually revered "security sources" – bodes 
relatively well for an anti-war turn in its discourse.

The third option – the articulation of the current movement with 
the Palestinian movement for liberation – is certainly difficult 
to imagine. But it is unnecessary to point out how many of the 
events of the past year in the Middle East were completely 
unimaginable a year ago. It may be less obvious that the events in 
Israel are, at least at the level of discourse, deeply inspired by 
those of the Arab Spring. The very idea of borrowing any 
progressive concept from an Arab country was unimaginable here 
until quite recently. When, carrying an Egyptian flag at a 
demonstration in Jaffa in January, I told a reporter that "we 
should learn from the Egyptian people how to rise up," I hardly 
believed myself. When, at the huge rally last Saturday, I saw a 
giant sign plastered with the Arabic irhal! (go!) and subtitled in 
Hebrew "Egypt is here" – I was hardly surprised. We should not 
overlook the profundity of this change because of its apparently 
rhetorical nature.

In addition, many forces are busy at work preparing the 
articulation of the Israeli uprising with Palestinian demands. 
Naturally, it is the Palestinian citizens of Israel, especially 
those active in the (sometimes dogmatically) anti-nationalist 
Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (al-Jabha/Hadash) who are 
heading this effort. They are doing this both by raising protest 
camps in mixed and Palestinian locales, and by challenging the 
central camp to engage with Palestinian demands through the 
provocative "Tent #1948" on Rothschild Boulevard. These efforts 
have already borne fruit, for example in the decision to have 
Palestinian-Israeli writer Odeh Bisharat open the rally last 
Saturday (perhaps the biggest in Israeli history). Bisharat spoke 
about the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and against 
land expropriations and home demolitions, and led the massive 
crowd in chanting, "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies." The leap 
over the green line to solidarity with Palestinians in the 
Occupied Territories has yet to be made. But it has been fascist 
Foreign Minister Lieberman's great achievement to have already 
erased the green line from the hearts and minds of most Israelis. 
In today's Israeli discourse there is – for better or worse – only 
a minor difference between the Arabs of 1967 and those of 1948.

So is this a false return, a pseudo-class struggle occluding and 
colluding with the oppression of the Palestinians? Or is it the 
beginning of a true return, uniting Arabs and Jews in an 
anti-colonial and anti-capitalist popular project? Can the sha'b 
in ash-sha'b yurid isqat an-nizam and the 'am in ha'am doresh 
tzedek hevrati become one and the same people, not only in 
Israel-Palestine but also across the region? While heavy 
skepticism would not be unjustified, there can be no analytical, 
objectivist answer to this question, as the current conjuncture is 
radically open. If the movement chooses the path of the false 
return, it may gain tactically, but it will remain fragile, 
inconsistent and vulnerable to dispersion through the call to 
arms. A mass movement heading in the direction of the true return 
may still seem unlikely – and certainly it will meet with brutal 
repression, if it does coalesce. But in these days of possibility, 
it would be wrong to rule it out, and irresponsible for radical 
Israelis not to do everything in our power to realize it.

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