New Israeli Labour leader under pressure from Left and Right

The election of the new leader of the Israeli Labour Party, Amir Peretz, has been described as a political earthquake, which indeed it is. Peretz has a reputation of being a left, militant trade union leader. Now he is coming under immense pressure from both the left and the right, which reflects the growing class conflict within Israeli society.

After Amir Peretz's election to chairman of the Labour party many Israeli workers and left-wing people in general were very excited. Soon after, many people began making grandiose speeches about a radical change and, as one Peretz supporter put it, "not merely a change - a revolution". Endless statements about a social revolution, socialism, trade-union militancy, a coming peace with the Palestinian people – in other words a real socialist paradise on earth was the prospect should Peretz become Prime Minister – were given on radio and television.

The right wing too – including the right wing of the Labour party – agreed that Peretz is a militant socialist, a “Bolshevik” even, only they added that because of this he is “dangerous”, which just shows how limited the understanding of these people is. Thus the most serious political struggle in the history of the Zionist state was prepared.

What all this reflects is not so much fear of the man himself. Unfortunately, Peretz is not a consistent socialist, much less a militant one. He is more of a social democrat, aiming to reconcile the needs of the working class with the limits of capitalism. However, his coming to the head of the Labour party, which had up to this point always done exactly what the Israeli bourgeoisie told it to do, is enough to give most of the bourgeois and right-wing middle class a good fright. What Peretz reflects is the radicalisation that is taking place within a significant layer of the Israeli working class and poor. This is what really frightens the Israeli ruling class.

The Israeli Marxists gave critical support to Peretz since the very first day that he stated that he would run for chairman of Labour. We have done this for two reasons: first of all, Peretz was the only left-winger among the candidates, and second, he is (was) the chairman of the Histadrut, the largest trade-union federation of Israel. His election to chairman of the party creates a powerful bond between the largest workers' party in Israel and this federation. However, we do not give Peretz a blank cheque. Critical support means that we support everything that Amir Peretz does which betters the lives of Israeli and Palestinian workers and poor, and criticise him whenever he gives in to the right wing.

However, simply because he comes from the Histadrut is not in itself a guarantee that he will consistently and systematically defend the rights of workers. For instance, were Peretz a revolutionary, had he greater courage in fighting for the interests of the working class, he would not ask to keep Labour right-wing elements as “advisors” (one might ask oneself: advisors on what matters, on the manner in which he could give in to the ruling class?). Such things in and of themselves are no surprise. They are standard practice.

After Peretz demanded that his party and its ministers leave the government immediately, he seemed to be moving to the left. But his last speech at the Labour party centre convention is an illuminating one. It was clear that he was facing pressure from both left and right, some involving his own consciousness. This is not surprising either. The workers want someone who will defend their jobs, pensions, wages, healthcare and so on, someone who will work for peace. The Israeli ruling class needs a Labour leader who will use his authority to hold the workers back and cooperate with Sharon at a later stage in guaranteeing some kind of “stable government”. The decisive question is this: not being a revolutionary, not having a worked out socialist programme, he feels the pressure of the right-wing reformists and through them the pressures of the ruling class and the bourgeois state.

First of all, in his speech, Peretz expressed his support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement. We have always explained that this plan is merely a change of tactics on the part of the Israeli ruling class, and that it could never promote genuine peace, that it can only continue the bloodletting and the oppression of the Palestinian people. Peretz has effectively shown that, much like his right-wing fellow Labourites, he cannot resist the pressure of the ruling class, and could do nothing but fully and uncritically support the disengagement. Of course, the Israeli Stalinists, despite their rhetoric, had also supported this plan in an indirect manner by refusing to cast a vote either supporting or opposing it. The support for the disengagement is another stain on the already well-stained Israeli left.

Peretz continued this line in a part of his speech directed at Sharon, saying that, "history shall forgive you [Sharon] a little, thanks to the disengagement. However, the sum of your debts doesn't allow us to pass a favourable judgement on you. I would wish very much to make an effort and forgive you. And sometimes I say to myself, you know what, let's forgive him. Let's forgive him for Lebanon, for the balcony in Zion square. But that's when I find myself filled with anger and resentment towards you, because I remember how you, Arik, hero of Israel, king of Israel, that everybody loved, stood aside and watched as Bibi [Benyamin Netanyahu, high-ranking member of the Likud, Israeli MP, and former minister of finance] mercilessly beat your supporters, made the elderly and the poor go to the trash cans, didn't even blink when Bibi humiliated the unemployed and called them bums, didn't make any time when Bibi hurt the new [Zionist] immigrants and gave them a feeling that maybe again Israel doesn't know how to treat them and hurts their respect".

By making this appeal to Sharon, a mix of enthusiastic support for the disengagement and a condemnation of Sharon's economic policy, Peretz reveals the pressure he faces from both right and left, from the big bourgeoisie and from the working class. No doubt his attack on Sharon for what he has done to the Israeli workers and poor will have struck a chord with a layer of Israeli society. But in the rest of his speech Peretz also said that he is in favour of a united Jerusalem as "Israel's eternal capital city" and that he is against the right of return. He also said that, "the war on terror shall be uncompromising". So much for the prospect of peace!

Marx explained that any people that oppresses another people can never itself be free. So long as the Israeli labour movemenet supports de facto the oppression of the Palestinians then the workers of Israel can never really be free. For the oppression of the Palestinians goes hand in hand with the anti-working class measures of the Israeli capitalists. If you support the bourgeoisie of your own country against another people then you will end up having to support their economic and social policies at home.

When these men speak of terrorism, they don't mean the terrible and reactionary terrorism which is aimed at innocent people, they also mean any struggle against the Israeli occupation forces! In other words, Peretz is trying to show the Israeli ruling class that he too can be “tough”. He also dares to say that Palestinian terrorism– not the settlers and the occupation – is the number one enemy of peace.

Israeli Marxists have always said that no state can remain isolated from the rest of the world. When there is a generalised crisis of capitalism and a reawakening of the working class everywhere, the whole world feels that revolutionary change is possible everywhere. Israel is no exception and the recent radical changes have proven this. However, because of the complicated national question, which confuses class issues, the change has taken place in a manner which befits a country where working class politics has been so backward for a long time.

The class struggle is not dead. Peretz's election as leader of the Labour Party, in spite of the limitations we have listed above, is only the very early beginnings of a reawakening of the Israeli working class. We Marxists shall continue to critically support Peretz and the left wing of Labour, as part of our struggle to build a real socialist movement in Israel, that can end the class and national oppression that the great majority of Israelis and Palestinians face and that serves the small and corrupt financial elite, whose main representatives are Sharon and Netanyahu and whose most despicable servants on the “left” are Peres and the rest of the right wing of the workers' parties.

Split in Likud reflects deep crisis in ruling class

A golden opportunity is being presented to the Israeli Labour movement with the present crisis and split in the Likud. On November 21, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that he was leaving the Likud, the main party of the Israeli bourgeoisie. It seems that in the end, there is no one who does not welcome, or at least finds positive, Sharon's leaving. The wing which supports him in the Likud is joining his new party, and the opposing wing is pleased that Sharon has allowed them to transform what remains of the Likud into an extreme right-wing party. The treacherous right wing of Labour has already announced that it will join Sharon's party, while the left wing of Labour sees this as an opportunity to make gains due to this split, a position which from a tactical point of view is obviously correct.

It is obvious that Sharon's new party, “Forward”, is a right-wing party, that will simply continue with the same policies he has pursued up to now: cuts in welfare and the implementation of all sorts of plans that allow Israel to continue oppressing the Palestinian people. Workers have nothing to gain from such a party, which does not even try to pretend to represent anything progressive. It must be condemned as much as the Likud as a capitalist party which workers cannot support.

In the end, the creation of this new party will profit the Israeli labour movement immensely. It is no coincidence that Sharon split from the Likud at the same time that Peretz was elected to head of Labour. Society is beginning to reflect the growing crisis of Israeli and global capitalism. Consciousness is beginning to catch up with reality. The crisis within the ruling class, which is reflected in its party, often anticipates a crisis in the whole of society, with a great increase in the level of the class struggle. More than that, it often paralyses the ruling class. When this happens so close to election time (scheduled for March 28), it could even bring about the victory of the Labour party.

Such a victory would be guaranteed if Peretz were to break completely with the Zionist ruling class, and if he campaigned systematically on working class issues and adopted a genuine socialist programme. Labour’s programme in these elections should be for a socialist government, without the Likud or “Forward”, together with the other left parties.

The only way forward is a government of the left parties on a socialist programme, which would include the nationalisation of industry and the immediate pulling out of the Israeli army and settlers from the occupied territories, with no compromise whatsoever. Amir Peretz is, for now, far from such a programme, but such a programme would represent a severe blow against the bourgeoisie and would be a great step forward in the struggle for socialism. We say it again: it is the task of Labour’s working class rank and file– of the workers' and the poor, the only hope for the real left in Israel and everywhere – to demand of Peretz that he take up this programme and transform Labour into a party worthy of its name.

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