Israel's Elections - The Death of 2 States and the Zionist
Israeli politics cannot be compared with those in western
capitalist democracies like Britain. The terms ‘left’ and ‘right’
are not the same in Israeli politics as elsewhere. In the West they
bear some relationship to class, New Labour notwithstanding. The
left has represented, in however distorted a fashion, the interests
of the working class and relies on them for voting support. The
right bases its appeal on private capital and appeals to the middle
and bourgeois classes.
In Israel ‘left’ and ‘right’ applies to one’s position on whether
to support peace with the Palestinians or a Greater Israel. Hence
Ratz, the Citizen’s Rights Party, which merged into Meretz, in the
1988 Knesset, was the most liberal of Israeli parties when it came
to its attitude to the Palestinians, with founder Shulamit Aloni,
who became Education Minister, supporting the Refuseniks (soldiers
who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories) and adopting a
non-Zionist position of opposition to the racism of a Jewish State.
But economically it was a free-market position which merged with
Mapam, a traditional party which originally described itself as
‘Marxist’ (in fact Stalinist).
In fact it is the Israeli working class, in particular
Mizrahi/Oriental Jews, who have voted for the right in Israeli
politics. Begin came to power in 1977 directly as a result of the
vote of the working class. Israeli Labour was historically the
enemy of the Oriental Jews and was rightly seen as their
The Israeli Labour Party, which is erroneously seen as a party of
peace, has always contained a pro-settlement wing, of which Yigal
Allon and Israel Galili, of the left Ahdut Ha'avodah faction, were
the most conspicuous representatives. It should never be forgot
that it was Israeli Labour NOT Likud who established the first
settlements and it was the Allon Plan which outlined the strategy
followed to this day that the Jordan valley be colonised in order
that any Palestinian state be surrounded by Jewish settlements on
The traditional parties of the Zionist Left, based on the kibbutzim
and the ‘trade union’ Histadrut have been reduced to electoral
insignificance. In 1949 Labour and Mapam had an absolute majority
in the Knesset. Indeed David Ben Gurion, leader of Mapai, opposed
building a coalition only based on the Zionist left parties and
reached out to the United Religious Front and the Progressives as
partners, excluding Mapam in the process.
Israeli Labour also accepted the Zionist rules of the game. No
government coalition must ever depend on the votes of Arab parties.
After all this is a Jewish state!
Until the 1977 elections that brought Menachem Begin of Likud to
power, the Zionist left parties had never gained fewer than 54
seats and even as late as 1992, with the fateful election of
Yitzhak Rabin, later to be assassinated, the Zionist left parties
gained 56 seats as Meretz, which by now included Ratz, Mapam and
the centre party Shinui, gained 12 seats.
But since the 1999 election the decline has been rapid. From 36 to
25 to 24 to 16 and now 13 seats, the traditional parties of the
Zionist left have become irrelevant as former Chief of Staff Ehud
Barak, leader of the Israeli Labour Alignment, sought to prove his
macho credentials with the genocidal attack on Gaza. The
explanation for the dramatic decline in Labour Zionism and the
equally rapid rise of the openly racist and semi-fascist Right is
As Zeev Sternhall shows in his excellent book, The Founding Myths
of Israel, the Zionist left parties were never based on class
struggle. How could they since their main goal was to build a
Jewish state in conjunction with Zionist and Jewish capitalists.
They could hardly promise to accept such money on the basis that
they were going to overthrow capitalism! Instead the Palestinians
and Arab Labour were defined as the class enemy, hence the Boycott
of Arab Labour campaigns of Histadrut in the 1920s and 1930s.
Colonialism in its formative and early years often takes on a
co-operative form, which western social democrats mistake for
socialism. Hence the Kibbutzim were on the surface egalitarian, but
they operated within a colonial conquest; they were stockade and
watchtower settlements. There was never a time when they were
profitable and it is little wonder that as they developed
industries they began to employ cheap Oriental Jewish and Arab
labour. In short they became collective capitalists. And of course
Kibbutzim, including those of the ‘left’ Mapam Hashomer Hatzair
kibbutz federation, always excluded Arabs from membership. In other
words they were thoroughly racist institutions, established on the
confiscated land of the expelled Arabs.
The late Noah Lucas, a prominent but critical Zionist, described
how the Kvutzah (forerunners of the Kibbutzim) were a result
‘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.’
As Professor Franz Oppenheimer, who was closely involved in
settling the land explained:
'The Kvutza did not originate as a deliberate social experiment.
Its forms were elaborated by accretion in the school of
circumstances.' [Noah Lucas, Modern History of Israel, p.56.]
Arthur Ruppin, the father of land settlement in Israel and a
fervent believer in eugenics and the racial sciences, summed it up
‘I can say with absolute certainty: 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, New York 1949 pp.
47, September 1965]
Indeed the most vicious anti-Arab militia, the Palmach shock troops
of the 1947-8 war, were based on the ‘Marxist’ Mapam and Ahdut
Ha'avodah. It was they, under Yitzhak Rabin and Yigal Allon, who in
1948 expelled 50,000 Arabs from Lyddah and Ramleh and massacred
thousands of others.
But today, when Israel is an openly capitalist society, aligning
itself internationally with the most right-wing authoritarian
police states, there is no room left for co-operative capitalism.
Hence Histadrut’s industries were privatised in the early 1990s.
Put simply, the social base of labour Zionism has all but
The other reason that the socialist Zionist parties have declined
is that their ‘peace’ proposals were based on naked racism – the
need to preserve the Jewish nature of the Israeli state. In other
words, there were too many Arabs. That was the basis of their
support for 2 States, in reality one state, Israel, and a
Palestinian Reservation. Every racist aspect of Israeli society was
pioneered by Israeli labour. It was not for nothing that the
settlers in the West Bank could say that their right to settle in
Ariel and Kiryat Arba was the same as the original settlement of
Tel Aviv. Except whereas today’s settlers base their claims on the
fact that god gave them the land, the ‘left’ Zionists claimed their
right to settle was based on the bible, the existence of whose god
The settler-right represent the logical culmination of Zionism and
no one represents it better than the leader of Yisrael Beteinu,
Avigdor Liebermann, a former member of the Jewish Nazi party Kach.
YB openly questions the right of Israeli Arabs to be citizens of
the Jewish State, demanding a McCarthyite ‘loyalty oath’. It wants
to hive them off to a Palestinian Reservation in the West Bank.
Like the revanchist nationalist myth of the ‘stab in the back’ that
lost Germany the 1st world war, Liebermann openly describes
Israel’s Palestinian citizens as a fifth column.
It is therefore a mark of just how far and how fast Israel has
moved to the openly racist, expansionary right that Liebermann’s YB
obtained 15 seats, only one less than the combined total of Israeli
Labour and Meretz.
Socialists and genuine anti-racists should not be disappointed at
the outcome of Israel’s elections. On the contrary, the
disappearance of the hypocritical ‘shoot and cry’ brigade of ‘left’
Zionists and the ascendancy of the openly racist right is a welcome
clarification of the political situation. Of course this will be
blamed on Arab intransigence, but this was always the explanation
of settlers – from Algeria to South Africa – of why they had to
engage in yet more bloody reprisals and repression. It was Israeli
Labour under Barak who led the recent attack on Gaza, just as Amir
Peretz, ex-Histadrut Chairman and Defence Minister launched the
attack on Lebanon in 2006.
One thing is certain. The 2 State Solution is Now Dead as a