After the Israeli Election
The results of the elections to the Israeli parliament held on November 1 are momentous and I think we are heading for a crisis that will go beyond the confines of Israel-Palestine.
The coalition that is going to form the government is made up of four components – of which one is further subdivided into three parts. This results from the electoral system: it is based on proportional representation – except that there is a threshold, which means that a list of candidates which receives less than 3.25% of the valid votes does not get any seats and its votes are simply discarded. This acts as an incentive for very small parties to form blocs and run together on a single list.
The main winner (not numerically, but politically) in these latest elections is the bloc called Religious Zionism, comprising three parties, which after the elections split back into its component parts. But if this bloc had not been formed, one of the three parties would probably not have won any seats at all. The fact that these factions ran together also helped to increase their total vote – it is a well-known phenomenon that voters prefer to back what are seen as major parties rather than risk wasting their vote on a tiny group.
The main political winner of the elections was, as I said, Religious Zionism, which won 14 out of the 120 seats. Obviously, in order to form a government a majority of at least 61 seats is required and the coalition that is going to form a government has actually got a fairly comfortable majority with 64 seats.
The biggest party remains Likud, led, of course, by Binyamin Netanyahu, which won 32 seats, followed by the centrist Yesh Atid (24) and then Religious Zionism. Yesh Atid was the biggest bloc in the outgoing government and will now be the biggest bloc in opposition. Then there were the two religious parties – sometimes described as ultra-orthodox – which are traditional partners of Likud, having been part of a Likud-led coalition for many years. One of them, Shas, which won 11 seats, appeals mainly to religious Jews who originated from Muslim countries, while the second Jewish-orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, supported by mainly Ashkenazi Jews, got seven seats. By the way, these two orthodox parties are the only Jewish parties in the Knesset which are not committed to Zionism, according to their programmes. However, because of the general shift of Jewish public opinion in Israel towards more extreme Zionism – younger voters in particular are leading the trend in this direction – these two parties are also now more sympathetic to it.
The government coalition will be made up of four blocs and, if you look at their numerical size, you will see that each is an essential component. In other words, if any one of the four blocs defects from the coalition, then it will no longer have a majority in parliament. Since each component can threaten to bring down the coalition by defecting, this provides each of the four blocs with considerable bargaining power.
But let us look first at the three factions of Religious Zionism. Their common ground is a commitment to a fanatic messianic brand of Zionism, whose influence has been rising since 1967. I have explained and analysed this process in my article, ‘Israel and the Messiah’s ass’, which provides a useful background to more recent events discussed below.Weekly Worker June 1 2017: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1157/israel-and-the-messiahs-a
So what are these three components of Religious Zionism? The main one, which holds seven out of the 14 seats of the bloc, is led by Bezalel Smotrich, who has been described by an Israeli historian of genocide as “the Israeli lawmaker heralding genocide against Palestinians”.D Blatman, ‘The Israeli lawmaker heralding genocide against Palestinians’ Ha’aretz May 23 2017: www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.791115 Smotrich is a smooth talker who says extreme things, but in a superficially moderate and polite way. He is an avowed enemy of human rights organisations active in Israel; he recently made a speech in which he described them as an ‘existential threat’ and proposed fighting them by various means, including financial and ‘security’ measures – in other words, threatening strong-arm action, as well as using legal measures to prevent them raising funds.
It is now more or less clear that in the new government Smotrich is going to be in charge of the ‘civil administration’ in the occupied territories. The ‘civil administration’ is at present not a civilian body, but an arm of the Israeli army of occupation in the West Bank – a branch which deals with political and administrative matters affecting the lives of the Palestinian population rather than the direct use of force.
When such force is deemed necessary in the occupied territories, then, of course, it is carried out by military units, but when it is a question of civilian matters – in other words, deciding whether a given piece of land should be robbed from its Palestinian owners and so on – this is a matter for the civilian administration. So this arch-enemy of civil rights will be assigned the role of ruler over all Palestinian civilian matters in the occupied territories – he will have authority over the apartheid regime in those territories. A bit like appointing a wolf as chief shepherd or a fox as guardian of a chicken coop.
Next comes the second faction in Religious Zionism, which is called Jewish Power (‘power’ in the sense of ‘strength’ in the Hebrew name of Otzma Yehudit). Its leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, unlike smooth-talking Smotrich, is a crude, rabble-rousing demagogue, whose followers you will find in every pogrom led by thugs in various parts of Israel and the occupied territories, shouting and waving their weapons.
Spurring the thugs to go further and further, Ben-Gvir is an admirer of the mass-murderer, Baruch Goldstein, and a follower of that racist, Meir Kahane – who was officially described as a terrorist in the US and in Israel itself, where the party he led was banned because it supported terrorism and advocated racism. In fact Ben-Gvir was once considered so extreme that the Israeli army refused to accept him as a recruit – even though military service is compulsory for all Jews, he was disqualified on grounds of ‘extremism’. Well, now this man is going to be head of the ministry of national security. He is going to have control over the Israeli police and all other law-enforcement bodies: not merely overall political responsibility, but operational control. He will, for example, control the border guards, which, although in Israel itself operate under police authority, are in fact a military formation. In the occupied territories, however, they operate under the command of the army, but now they will be handed over to the control of the ministry of national security headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir. This will give him, in effect, command of a private army. Moreover, in international law, transferring the civil administration and the border guards in the occupied territories from the authority of the Israeli military to that of civilian government ministers amounts to these territories being politically annexed to Israel. This is, of course, one of the main aims of Religious Zionism.
With Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power getting six seats out of Religious Zionism’s 14, this leaves one seat, taken by rabbi Avigdor Maoz of the fraction known as Noam, which translates as ‘Pleasantness’. Well, how pleasant is a party with a platform that stresses ‘family values’ and ‘normalcy’! These are in fact euphemisms for Noam’s undisguised misogyny and homophobia. (By the way, Noam’s founder, who is still its spiritual leader, is rabbi Zvi Thau, against whom the Israeli police have opened an investigation over accusations of sexual assault – a woman complained that he had repeatedly assaulted her, the first time 30 years ago, when she was still a minor). Rabbi Maoz will be a deputy minister and run a ‘Jewish identity’ authority, charged with promoting and boosting the Jewishness of the Jewish state.
Although Religious Zionism has only 14 seats in the coalition, it has in fact much greater bargaining power than the arithmetical figure indicates. This is because the Likud leader, former and designate prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, is in fact a captive to his partners – he needs them much more than they need him: he needs immunity (or some kind of ‘Get out of jail’ card) in relation to the trial in which he is currently defending himself on counts of corruption, bribery and breach of trust. Indeed, the reason for calling the series of five elections that Israel has been going through in less than four years was Netanyahu’s wish to avoid imprisonment on the charges for which he is standing trial.
It is a well-known fact that the leaders of Religious Zionism despise Netanyahu: they think he is much too soft on the Palestinians, and he is certainly less extreme in his attitude to Zionism and colonisation than they are. Now he finds himself in the unusual position of being the most ‘moderate’ major figure in the coalition he is about to lead. Other coalition partners are harder than him in relation to annexation, apartheid policies, social values, and so on. In fact, he is quite a cautious politician, contrary to what you might believe – everything is relative, of course, and in relative terms he has been less prone to apply force or take extreme measures. But many in the new coalition will despise him and would be very happy to get rid of him if possible: in other words, if the new government falls for one reason or another and yet another election is called, the leaders of Religious Zionism may expect to increase their political representation at the expense of Likud.
Let us turn now to other parties. The main opposition party is Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, which won 24 seats out of 120. This is a party that appeals mostly to middle class Jews – and it is committed to Zionism like all the Jewish parties in Israel except the ultra-orthodox.
Yesh Atid means ‘There is a future’ – a bland name, which is virtually meaningless, and this tells you a lot about the kind of ideas purveyed by this party. It uses slogans meant to appeal to ‘liberal Israelis’ (in reality they are far to the right, but in Israeli terms they are considered ‘liberal’). Then there is the National Unity party (once again the name is almost meaningless), led by a former general, Benny Gantz, who prides himself on having killed a lot of Arabs when he was head of the Israeli army. With its 12 seats, it appeals to more or less the same kind of voters as Yesh Atid, except it is somewhat more to the right.
Next is Yisrael Beiteinu (‘Israel Our Home’), led by Avigdor Lieberman, with six seats. While it is a rightwing party, it is also anti-clericalist. It is rightwing in socio-economic terms and the apartheid policies it promotes – eg, annexations and the use of force against the Palestinians – but it is not keen on religion. This is because its main constituency, those who vote for this party, are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, or their descendants, many of whom are not, strictly speaking, Jews. They arrived in Israel as part of the provisions of the Law of Return, which allows Jewish people to immigrate without restriction, bringing with them spouses, children and grandchildren, many of whom are not Jewish. Mixed marriages were quite common in the former Soviet Union, so obviously these people are not very happy with the domination of religion in an Israeli government. By the way, it is Lieberman we have to thank for the original fall in 2019 of the Netanyahu government, which led to the five elections. He has a personal grudge against Netanyahu, and defected from the coalition he led.
The next two blocs have five seats each – the first being the United Arab List or Ra’am, loosely affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood and led by Mansour Abbas – who was in fact quite happy to be included in the outgoing government coalition, led by Zionist parties, in exchange for some economic benefits for his constituency. And then there is a bloc, also with five seats, Hadash-Ta’al (formerly Joint List), led by the Israeli Communist Party, mainly supported by Arab voters – although one of its five representatives is a Jewish CP member.
Finally, the smallest bloc with just four seats is Israel’s Labor Party, formerly the mightiest party in Israel, which led every government until 1977 (and one or two afterwards), but has since declined out of all recognition. The Israeli Labor Party is now a minor force, with fewer seats than the bloc led by the Communist Party. The smaller, slightly more leftist Zionist party, Meretz, did not reach the threshold needed to gain any seats.
That is the situation at the parliamentary level. But on the ground there is a dialectic of oppression and resistance, which most readers may not be familiar with – most will not be fully aware of how horrible things are in the daily life of the Palestinian population, especially in the occupied territories, but also inside pre-1967 Israel. This is not properly covered in the mainstream British media.
There is a series of almost daily pogroms taking place, particularly in the occupied territories, in towns such as Hebron, in townships and villages, where gangs of young religious hoodlums go on the rampage, destroy Palestinian property, invade homes and attack residents.
And there is something similar that happens on a daily basis in the countryside. Religious settler hoodlums known as the Hilltop Youth – typically teenagers or men in their early 20s – armed with clubs and firearms, go on raids, uproot olive trees and trash pastures, assault Palestinian farmers and shepherds and perpetrate pogroms. When those under attack call the police – the border guards – these guardians of legality say, ‘Ah, we see that there is an altercation here. There are two sides quarrelling, so we have to separate them’ – and invariably they take the side of the attackers! Often they actually arrest the Palestinian victims and charge them with assault on the perpetrators.
This is quite typically going on in Palestinian areas. In the northern part of the West Bank Israeli military forces invade towns and refugee camps on a regular basis, looking for ‘suspects’ and killing them, along with totally innocent bystanders. Of course, what is happening is a dialectic of oppression and resistance. In response to such attacks, Palestinian resistance has escalated. The mainstream British media often report when a Jew is attacked in Israel or in the occupied territories. But you do not hear about the regular pogroms to which these attacks are a response.
The greater the oppression, the more desperate the resistance. There has been something new about it in the last year or two: it is no longer mainly organised by known Palestinian movements like Fatah or Hamas; it is a form of grassroots organisation of young men who may be supporters of different Palestinian political groups. But they come together operationally simply because things have become so unbearable, and they give in to their frustration and feelings of hopelessness by taking action at enormous risks to themselves – sometimes against Israeli military personnel and sometimes against civilians. The Israeli media makes no distinction between acts aimed at the Israeli military and those directed at civilians – both are labelled ‘murder’ and ‘terror’. When an Israeli soldier is killed, it is described in this way – not as a soldier falling on duty, but as a blameless Israeli who is ‘murdered’. Similarly, the Israeli public – like the public in Britain, by the way – is mostly unaware of the operations of the Israeli settlers and military in the occupied territories, so things are perceived as Israelis being attacked for no reason at all by these ‘terrorists’.
Obviously, the response of the Israeli public is: ‘We must take stronger measures. We are victims of terror, and suppressing that terror means applying harsher, more extreme, repressive measures.’ So you can see here what is driving the escalation that is spiralling week to week, month to month. And with the appointment of Smotrich to administer the West Bank and Ben-Gvir to police it, things are absolutely certain to escalate spirally – and they will surely end in a major conflagration.
Well, this is the situation, but what about the underlying historical process that has led to all this? We must remember that none of this is an accident and none of it was unpredicted.
We cannot make sense of the past and present goings-on in Israel-Palestine and we cannot try to project the future without reference to Zionism. Zionism is not just an empty word; it is a living project.
As I have pointed out, the great majority of Jews in Israel vote for parties that describe themselves as committed to Zionism. So what is Zionism all about? It is not merely an ideology: it is a project of colonisation. Quite openly from the beginning, Zionists described their goal as the colonisation of Palestine as the ‘land of Israel’ in order to achieve a Jewish state.
The territory to be colonised was defined generally as Palestine under the mandate given to Britain by the League of Nations after World War I. Originally the Zionists aimed to include the entire territory between the River Jordan and the sea, plus what is now the kingdom of Jordan. In 1923 Winston Churchill – then colonial secretary in the British government – separated territory to the east of the Jordan river from Palestine and instituted it as an emirate under the Hashemite dynasty. Most people accepted that the territory to be taken over by Zionist colonisation would include what became part of the British mandate after 1923 – the exception being the revisionist wing of Zionism, which for a long time claimed that the territory to be colonised was not just that between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, but also Transjordan, east of the river. That claim has been quietly dropped since then, but certainly all the major Zionist parties agreed that Zionist colonisation should include the whole territory west of the river.
What was meant by ‘Jewish state’? At the very least it meant a state with a stable and secure Jewish majority, but for many Zionists it meant and still means more than that: it means Jewish supremacy, in the sense that non-Jewish residents of this territory would have lesser individual rights than Jews; but for the vast majority of Zionists it meant at the very least a secure and stable Jewish majority. That is the project that has been unfolding since the beginning of the 20th century – certainly more intensively after World War I.
It has gone through three stages: the beginning of Zionist colonisation up to 1948-49; then the empowerment of the state of Israel from 1949 to 1967; and finally the period we are still in. The 1948-49 war, known in Israel as the ‘war of independence’ and to its Palestinian victims as the Nakba (catastrophe), resulted in a Jewish state that secured about 72% of the target territory, with a Jewish majority, achieved through the ethnic cleansing of most of its Palestinian inhabitants. It produced a Jewish majority that was fairly secure in numerical terms.
But what happened after 1967, when the Israeli military conquered the remaining part of Palestine? The question was what to do with it. Some cautious Zionists advised, ‘Let’s keep what we have and not try to bite more than we can swallow.’ What should be done with the Palestinian population of the territories conquered in 1967? Well, there was a simple answer. The Golan Heights that Israel conquered from Syria were ethnically cleansed, so this presented no problem for Israel to annex. It did not affect the position of the Jewish majority, because most of the Syrian Arabs were driven out. But, as the prime minister of Israel in 1968 put it, what are we to do with all these other Arabs, in Palestine?
Some Israeli leaders proposed returning most of the newly occupied Palestinian territories, except for Jerusalem. Interestingly enough, among those advocating such caution was David Ben-Gurion, who had led the major ethnic cleansing of 1948-49. But his more hawkish disciples were in control of Israel by 1967. The argument that won out was that ‘What we got in 1948 was only part of our homeland’ – ie, the territory that Zionism claims as the homeland of the Jewish people. When the opportunity arose, the temptation to keep hold of that territory was too great.For further details see my article, ‘Israel and the Messiah’s ass’ (op cit)
This created the situation that we are faced with now. The Zionist project is in a unique position in the annals of colonisation (or at least colonisation in modern times), where the settlers and the indigenous people are more or less of equal numbers. If you look at the colonisation of, let us say, Africa, there was a totally different model, where the settlers depended on the labour-power of the indigenous people, while the colonisers were a small minority. In the second half of the 20th century there was a whole series of acts of decolonisation and the settlers who had made up a sort of quasi-class of exploiters were in some cases expelled. In some cases they were allowed to remain, but lost their position of exclusive dominance. However, in places like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the settlers did not base their political economy on the labour-power of the indigenous people: they were themselves the direct producers, while the indigenous people were either exterminated, as in Tasmania, or marginalised and became a minority in their own country.
Zionist colonisation followed this model of not relying economically on the labour-power of the indigenous people. But the situation created in 1967 resulted in a numerical parity between the Jewish settlers’ nation and the indigenous Palestinian people. This produced the current unstable situation and lies behind the phenomena that I have described. In fact the Zionist colonisation project is still a work in progress: it has not been completed and it is still faced with the problem of what to do with the millions of Palestinians under its control.
It is this situation that is now threatening an explosion. There have been plans to ethnically cleanse millions of Palestinians from the West Bank and send them over the river to the kingdom of Jordan – which will become, as it were, the new Palestinian state. The Palestinians can have a state of their own – but not in Palestine! It is known that Netanyahu supported this idea, but it is not exactly simple to achieve. It would require overthrowing the existing regime in Jordan, which is an ally of the United States, so it would mean gaining the acquiescence of the ‘big boss’. It would also only be possible to achieve in a situation where there is a major regional conflagration. But Israel is not in a position now to start a major war – not mainly because of Iran, but because Hezbollah is well armed in Lebanon. Its missiles and rockets could cause major damage and the Israeli public is not used to sustaining a large number of casualties. Simple rockets fired by Hamas have resulted in few casualties, but caused near panic.
Hezbollah is much more serious than Hamas in terms of its strategy and its arsenal – and, by the way, is the only military force that has ever defeated the Israeli army. Let us keep that in mind, following the confrontation with Hezbollah, Israel had to withdraw from Lebanon in the year 2000, having occupied the south of the country since 1982. Similarly, in further incursions into Lebanon Israel has not exactly done very well. Of course, its army can cause a lot of damage, but Israel faces a serious enemy in the shape of Hezbollah.
However, we should not overlook the prospect of a major conflagration in the Middle East, leading to an Israeli attempt to ethnically cleanse millions of Palestinians both from Israel itself and from the 1967 occupied territories. By the way, in reality the annexation of the West Bank to Israel is an accomplished fact. If you buy a map of the region in Israel, many show the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights as part of what is called Israel – there is no line indicating the difference between them and the official state. In other words, in one sense annexation is already a fact. But the reason why such annexation is not official is obviously because you cannot fully integrate the West Bank into Israel without deciding what to do with the Palestinian population.
Taking all this into account, the prospects are rather worrying as regards what is going to happen in the foreseeable future in that part of the world.
This article is based on the talk Moshé Machover gave to the November 27 Online Communist Forum. See: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eKmyWpfUkI
Published in Weekly Worker number 1421 December 1, 2022
Feature image caption: If they want to launch a war they will have to get permission from the big boss
|↑1||Weekly Worker June 1 2017: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1157/israel-and-the-messiahs-a|
|↑2||D Blatman, ‘The Israeli lawmaker heralding genocide against Palestinians’ Ha’aretz May 23 2017: www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.791115|
|↑3||For further details see my article, ‘Israel and the Messiah’s ass’ (op cit|