Tony Greenstein | 14 April 2020 | Post Views:

Unprincipled to the Last – Israeli Voters Administers the Last Rites to Labour Zionism

The Zionist ‘Left’ has always preferred Colonisation to Class Struggle, Segregation to Solidarity, Racism to Workers’ Unity

In Israel’s first Election in 1949, the two Labour Zionist parties – Mapai and Mapam achieved a majority of seats (65/120) and vote (50.4%). With minor changes, this situation pertained until 1973.

There were numerous splits and combinations and name changes such as Zionist Union in 2015 or when Mapai joined with Ahdut and Rafi to form the Israeli Labor Party in 1968 and merged with Mapam in 1969, a merger which lasted till 1988.

As the charts show there has been a cataclysmic decline in their share of the vote and seats. Mapam (Meretz) was theoretically to the left of Mapai and in 1949 and 1951 David Ben Gurion, leader of Mapai, preferred to form a coalition government with the religious parties rather than Mapam.

In July 2017 Labor members had the bright idea that if they voted for a leader as right-wing as Netanyahu then voters might vote for them. Avi Gabbay, a former Minister in Netanyahu’s government was elected leader. He declared that all settlements in the West Bank were sacrosanct and gave fulsome support to Netanyahu’s attempt to deport 40,000 Black African asylum seekers for the crime of not being Jewish (or White).

Not unsurprisingly Israeli electors preferred the genuine article and voted for Likud. In the April 2019 elections, having dispensed with Tsipi Livni’s Hatnuah live on television, the ILP went from 18 to 6 seats. Mapam’s decline has also been precipitous and in 1992 it merged with Shinui and Ratz, to form Meretz.

Orly Levy-Abekasis holds hands with Labour leader Amir Peretz

It was because of the threat that they would not be represented in the Knesset at all that the two parties united to fight the 2020 election. They stood with Orly Levy-Abekasis of Gesherwho had been a Knesset member for the far-Right Yisrael Beteinu, led by the far-Right thug, former Defence Minister Avigdor Liebermann.

No sooner had Abekasis regained her old seat than she refused to support a government dependent on the Arab Joint List! It is an unwritten Zionist rule that no government should include Arab parties or rest on their support. As Justice Minister Amir Ohana explained: “The Arab voice is equal to a Jew’s when it comes to the Knesset elections, but not the government.” This is what a Jewish Democratic state means.

Aymen Odeh – leader of the Joint List

As Jonathan Offir noted when Netanyahu commented on the election bloc results, he didn’t even count the Joint List. “The nation’s decision is clear58 mandates to the Zionist-right camp and 47 mandates to the Zionist-leftist camp” The Arabs are outside the national camp. This is the society that calls itself ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’Former Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg complained: “Orly Levy’s attitude toward the elected representatives of the Arab public is shameful and racist.’ Which is true but it was Meretz which welcomed Abekasis into its electoral alliance! As one right-wing activist declared, a government dependent on the support of Arabs ‘was the end of Zionism.’

Miriam Maikin, one of a growing number of Israeli Jews voting for the Jewish-Arab Joint List

Aviv Hochbaum is one of an estimated 20,000 Israeli Jews who voted for the Joint List at the last elections

One welcome result of this is that a small, but growing proportion of Israel’s Jewish population, now vote for the Joint List, which contains one Jewish MK, Offer Kassif. It is estimated that 20,000 ‘refugees from the Zionist left’ voted for the Joint List in February 2020, up from 9,000 in the previous election, accounting for over half a seat. In Klil, a Western Galilee Jewish community, the Joint List received 12.21%.

Benny Gantz, the leader of Blue and White has reached a tentative agreement with Netanyahu about forming a coalition. The ILP demonstrated that its differences with Likud were not so great as to prevent its leader, Amir Peretz, agreeing to join Netanyahu in government. This caused Meretz with 3 seats to split off, taking one ILP member, Merav Michaeli, with them. It is therefore a distinct possibility that Labour Zionism could cease to exist entirely at the next elections.

Labour Zionist Prime Ministers Ben Gurion and Golda Meir

Why has Labour Zionism declined to almost nothing?

Zionism is based on the creation of an exclusivist Jewish state. This meant not only the expulsion of ¾ million Palestinians in 1947-8 it meant the creation of a state whose guiding principle is a permanent Jewish majority. There are professors of demographics, such as Sergio Della Pergola whose job is to warn of a population ‘time bomb’ ticking underneath them, namely the Arab birthrate.

As Labour’s former leader, Isaac Hertzog explained, in a speech to the 15th Herzliya National Security Conference in June 2015:

In about a decade, the Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will be a majority and the Jews a minority…. We will be again, for the first time since 1948, a Jewish minority in an Arab state. I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel. I don’t want them to change my flag and my national anthem. (my emphasis)

All smiles – Nitan Horowitz of Meretz, Amir Peretz of Israeli Labor and Abekasis of Gesher

The desire for segregation and ethnic purity has been enshrined in the Jewish Nation State Law, a constitutional law. Both the Zionist ‘left’ and right support an ethno-nationalist Jewish state. One of the main reasons for the Zionist left supporting 2 states, in practice a Bantustan, has been a fear of an Arab majority. Likud however propose to take all the land and still deny the Palestinians a state.

This racist mentality inevitably leads to segregation between Arabs and Jews in Israel itself. For example in 2011 the Knesset passed the Admissions Committee Law which allows hundreds of Jewish communities to bar Arabs from membership.

Tamar Zanderberg – former leader of Meretz

Separation is fundamental to all wings of Zionism. The Kibbutzim were all-Jewish institutions. Arabs could not become members.

It was the all-Jewish Histadrut, ‘a great colonising agencyaccording to Golda Meir, that campaigned in the 1920s and 1930s for Jewish Labour i.e. a Boycott of Arab Labour.

Labour Zionism always rejected socialism. As Israel’s second President, Yitzhak ben Zvi explained,

‘whenever we come across a contradiction between national and socialist principles, the contradiction should be resolved by relinquishing the socialist principle in favour of the national activity.

Zionism, which in the West is seen as an expression of Jewish identity, is an ideology of Jewish supremacy. That is why when Israeli politicians advocate racist laws they appeal to the ideals of Zionism.

When Netanyahu sought to deport Israel’s Black African refugees he phrased it in Zionist terms warning that “illegal infiltrators flooding the country” were threatening the security and identity of Israel:

“If we don’t stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state,

Why has Labour Zionism Become an Endangered Species?

The Labour Zionist economy which dominated Israel up to the 1990s has been dismantled. In 1985 Shimon Peres implemented the free market Economic Stabilisation Programme in response to hyper inflation and a massive budged deficit. No longer would bankrupt Histadrut enterprises be bailed out. Over the next 6 years the Histadrut economy was privatised.

Yair Lapid, the racist head of the ‘centrist’ i.e. right-wing Yesh Atid

When the colonisation of Palestine began it was carried out collectively out of necessity. This was the context in which Labour Zionism became the main political force in Jewish Palestine. In its initial phases colonisation is not profitable. The development of the land, security against the indigenous population and building the infrastructure are costly.

It was in this context that Labour Zionism and its institutions such as Histadrut and the Kibbutzim came into existence. As Arthur Ruppin, Director of the Palestine Office from 1907 onwards explained at the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna, September 1913:

‘those enterprises in Palestine which are most profit bearing for the businessman are almost the least profitable for the national effort and per contra many enterprises, which are least profitable for the businessman are of high national value.’ [Ruppin; Building Israel, September 1965]

All settler-colonial societies in their initial phases are collective efforts. As Noah Lucas noted, the Kvutzah (Kibbutzim) were

‘an alliance between the embryonic labour movement and the Zionist financial institutions.. the pragmatism of the more radical socialists among the pioneers was revealed in their readiness to enter such an alliance with the Jewish bourgeoisie abroad…. the Kvutzah did not originate as a deliberate social experiment. Its forms were elaborated by accretion in the school of circumstances. [A Modern History of Israel]

Ruppin, who supported the institutions of Labour Zionism was no socialist. On the contrary he was a believer in the racial sciences and eugenics. He held friendly talks with Himmler’s ideological mentor, the racial scientist, Professor Hans Guenther in 1933.

Labour Zionism dominated the institutions of the Yishuv, the pre-state community in Palestine. Ben Gurion coined the slogan ‘From Class to Nation’. The class politics of socialism were transformed into the national struggle – against the Arabs. Matt Plen wrote

“From class to nation,” saw the interests of workers and the Jewish people as a whole as the same. The role of the Histadrut, as he saw it, was to build a Jewish economy under the leadership of the Jewish working class.

Today Labour Zionism has outlived its usefulness. Moshe Ben Atar observed that ‘its glorious victories of the past became its errors of the future.’ Israel has one of the most unequal economies in the Western world. The collectivist economy has gone. Histadrut’s health service Kupat Holim, which attracted most of Histadrut’s members, has been taken over by the state. Labour Zionism is a relic of an age gone by. As Chemi Shalev noted, having gained 6 seats in the most recent elections, ‘The next and last stop is six feet under.’

There was a time when the Kibbutzim provided the majority of senior officers in the armed forces. Today it is the settlements in the West Bank who have taken over that function.

Because Israel is a settler-colonial state, its politics are aggressively nationalist and where even the word ‘leftist’ is a term of abuse. Ideology and practice have come into alignment. For its first 30 years Israel was a racist, expansionist society with a collectivist ideology. The racism remains, the collectivism has gone.

The result is the virtual disappearance of Labour Zionism. It has no role to play inside Israel. In Britain, the Jewish Labour Movement is proud to proclaim that the ILP is its sister party. The main burden of defending Netanyahu’s Israel abroad today falls on Labour Zionism! When the JLM attack its opponents as ‘anti-Semites’ we should remember on whose behalf they are operating.

Tony Greenstein

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Tony Greenstein

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