As we go to press, both of Israel’s main centre-right parties — Likud and Kadimah — were claiming victory in the general election. Most exit polls gave 30 seats to Kadimah and 29 to Likud. Neither have enough seats to win outright, meaning the huge gains made by Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu party place this grotesque far-right formation in a position of enormous influence and power when it comes to forming a government. Ehud Barak’s Labour Party — right-wing social democrats on social issues and hawkish on the national question – have been relegated to fourth place.
As placards on Israeli demonstrations against the recent assault on Gaza put it, “in the election campaign, the graveyards won.”
It took a Supreme Court ruling to overturn a ban, vociferously argued for by Lieberman, on the participation of the two main Israeli-Arab parties in the election.
Lieberman is an Israeli-Jewish chauvinist who has openly called for population transfers of Palestinian Arabs; Israeli socialists have labelled him “a fascist”.
For those on the British left who deny the legitimacy of any Israeli-Jewish presence in the region, and insist that Israeli-Jews are a colonial settler caste akin to the South African Boers, Lieberman’s rise will be further evidence that all Israeli-Jews are bloodthirsty racists.
Those leftists for whom hatred of Israel, rather than solidarity with the Palestinians, is the point of departure may well rub their hands in glee at these results, claiming that they vindicate their perspectives. Those of us who take a different view — and maintain a belief in the national rights of Israeli-Jews and, though the questions are separate, in the revolutionary potential of the Israeli-Jewish working-class — assess this growth of Israel’s reactionary right differently.
As socialists in the UK, who face the likely victory of a Tory government at the next election as well as growing working-class support for the fascist BNP, we should know better than to use these elections to write off the Israeli people (or the Israeli working-class).
Israeli workers are suffering economically from years of neo-liberal government policy. Furthermore, they are fed on a diet of propaganda, from media and state, that constantly reminds them of the threats to their personal and national security, and emphasises the need for an uncompromising military response.
The top-to-bottom militarisation of society through national service normalises the place of guns, soldiers and war in everyday life. The mainstream bourgeois parties ratcheted up this propaganda offensive to build support for their assault on Gaza, but Lieberman — not Netanyahu, Livni or Barak — has benefited.
The results for leftist parties offer some glimmers of hope; most exit polls have Meretz, a politically inconsistent but broadly leftish social-democratic party (which ran as part of a new left-wing coalition) losing only one of its 5 MKs, with Hadash (a Jewish-Arab party with its origins in the Stalinist Israeli Communist Party) increasing its number of MKs to 4 or 5.
More widely, the continuing existence of a radical peace movement — led by organisations such as Gush Shalom and Anarchists Against The Wall and backed up by a growing movement of Israelis facing jail for refusing to serve in the IDF – should help us maintain our faith in the role of the Israeli people in carving out a solution to the conflict that sidelines the likes of Lieberman for good.
As Israeli peace activist Adam Keller says, if Lieberman in 2009 reflects what Israel sees in the mirror, “it is not enough to smash [it] – it is necessary to change thoroughly what this mirror reflects!” By making practical solidarity with the anti-war movements, the refusers and all working-class resistance to neo-liberalism, we can help Israelis begin to do that.