Alon-Lee Green and Sally Abed, activists involved in the Jewish-Arab socialist movement Standing Together in Israel, spoke to Daniel Randall from Solidarity.
What’s your assessment of the current political situation?
Alon-Lee: Our leadership committee will meet tonight [27 November], and will be discussing the strong likelihood of a third election. The political system in Israel is in deep crisis, a crisis of representation. Confidence in the capacity of the political system to deliver change is decreasing. We hear a lot of people saying they won’t vote in a third election. They’re saying they don’t want to play this game any more.
It’s beyond most people’s comprehension how our political system can be broken in this way while the problems of everyday life are getting worse. Housing costs have increased again, there’s a crisis in preschool funding, and crises in healthcare – not enough doctors, nurses, beds, or even hospitals themselves. All of these problems are getting worse, and yet for a full year the political establishment has only discussed itself, with itself. As a movement we want to emphasise that politics is what happens in life – in the street, in workplaces, in communities – not only in the parliament and its procedures.
Sally: Many people feel now that we have a conflict of the politicians against the people. They’re not fighting for us, they’re fighting amongst themselves.
Alon-Lee: There have been some recent positive developments that can be built on. The high turnout of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the second election was an amazing change. The growing prominence of Aymen Odeh, the left-wing leader of the Joint List, is also important. He has rightly demanded influence and legitimacy, and the Zionist left responded to this better than expected. That’s a source of some hope.
What are Standing Together’s current campaigns?
Sally: Our resources, human and monetary, were quite exhausted in the run up to the elections. We’re looking to regroup and plan for the new year. We’ve recently been running many campaigns focused on social issues, particularly in Arab communities, such as violence against women and gun violence.
We’ve mobilised people for protests and demonstrations around these issues. Recently we also organised protests in opposition to the bombing of Gaza and against the latest round of violence.
We aim to be pro-active, and are looking to expand our organisation particularly into mixed cities. These are places where Arabs and Jews coexist, but there’s no partnership.
We’re planning a positive, pro-active campaign around bilingualism. We started something like this already in Jerusalem, asking businesses and employers to sign pledges committing to treat Arab and Jewish employees and customers equally. We helped restaurants translate their menus into Arabic. 39 businesses signed up to the pledge so far. We want to expand this campaign to cities like Jaffa, Haifa, and Tel Aviv. We also want to develop our organisation in these places, and establish new local chapters.
Alon-Lee: The theory behind this is what we call “constructive resistance”. We don’t want to merely be reactive and oppositional, responding to attacks such as the Nation State Law and mobilising protests against them. We want to build positive organisation. There are many dangers in our society, but also many possibilities and opportunities.
Some of this is set out in the book What To Do Now?, by Dov Khenin and Dani Filk, which was published earlier this year and is the unofficial book of Standing Together. It talks about the movement in the last chapter, and aims to provide a new Marxist approach to the political and social reality in Israel. We sold 2,800 copies to raise money for the movement.
Despite Israeli society becoming superficially more integrated – more mixed cities, more Palestinians attending universities, etc. — cross-communal politics, prior to Standing Together, had declined almost to nothing. Why do you think this was, and how did Standing Together break through this?
Alon-Lee: What we’re developing that’s different from other kinds of politics in Israel is a politics that goes beyond coexistence. Jews and Arabs formally coexist; they meet each other, but fundamentally live separately. We’re also going beyond a politics of solidarity with “the other”, where separation is fundamentally maintained, towards a politics of solidarity via shared struggle. We don’t erase the need for solidarity with “the other”, that has its place, but ultimately that has less potential to develop a mass politics. What we need to win hegemony is a class politics which is genuinely popularly rooted, based on pushing forward shared interests.
Sally: There’s something particularly empowering for minorities and communities that face systemic oppression about mutual acknowledgement of struggles, and struggling together based on shared interests. It’s much easier for me, as a Palestinian, to work alongside Alon-Lee, as a Jewish man, via shared struggles, with him telling me his struggles and me telling him mine, than if he’s coming to me either to say, passively, “yes, I support you”. Extending the hand of partnership is more empowering than someone coming to say “I’m here to save you.”
Alon-Lee: We want to build a politics of shared struggle across divides within Jewish society, too. Jewish society is radically divided and segregated, including on the basis of ethnic subdivisions, which are often tied to particular political identities. For example Mizrahi Jews are overwhelmingly right-wing...
Sally: ...even though this is very much contrary to their class interests.
Alon-Lee: Within the Arab community, the more nationalist or sectarian forces would tell me that my role is simply to be a supporter of their struggle. But my answer is that there are class struggles within my society too.
Standing Together emphasises its position as a grassroots social movement; how do you see that intersecting with the need to reinvigorate the political left?
Alon-Lee: Whenever people ask this question, I refer them to the activism of people like Martin Luther King and Millicent Fawcett, and the movements they led. Not a lot of changes were born and grown exclusively in parliaments. The people will liberate themselves, or we won’t be liberated at all – to paraphrase Marx. It’s not about sending people into parliament to achieve our liberation for us.
Sally: Without creating a popular politics, based on social struggles, there’ll be no basis for electing politicians or a government who might represent those struggles. Part of what we’re doing is changing political discourse. Our fieldwork and ongoing campaigning over the year up to the last elections had a real impact.
We also believe that, once we have built true widespread partnership, and are able to mobilise people in large numbers, that will have an effect on the political process.