Debate & Discussion: Social revolution in Israel?

Submitted by AWL on 21 July, 2005 - 12:13

I believe David Merhav (letters, Solidarity 3/75) when he says that victory for Amir Peretz in the contest for leader of the Israeli Labour Party would be better than victory for Shimon Peres.

However, David’s claim that Peretz’s leadership “can become a true source for social revolution in Israel... socialist transformation of Israeli society” seems way out to me.

In the past we have regarded the Israeli Labour Party as not even a bourgeois workers’ party on the model of the old Labour Party in Britain, because it was the chosen party of the majority of the Israeli upper class, and the Histadrut, linked to the Labour Party, was a very large employer as well as having a trade union department.

Maybe that view is outdated. The Histadrut has been stripped down to being a more or less “ordinary” trade union organisation. Still, even if the Israeli Labour Party can be considered a “bourgeois workers’ party”, it is one with very strong links to the upper class.

That doesn’t exclude radical stirrings in Labour’s rank and file. But at present such stirrings are not even sufficient to stop Labour being a junior coalition partner for Ariel Sharon.

Peretz has been described to me by a comrade long active in left-Zionist politics as “something like a Harold Wilson” politically. Better than Peres, maybe. But hardly someone who will lead a socialist revolution.

David also argues that social questions are the sole axis here, since “there is an agreement [among Israelis] concerning the political solution which should be arranged in order to finish the conflict with the Palestinians”.

It is true that there is now a large majority in Israel which, in principle, favours a “two states” settlement, an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. But Ariel Sharon is prime minister, and that “two states” settlement is currently being pushed further and further away, not becoming closer. Sharon’s policies in the West Bank - now carried through with Labour’s consent in coalition — are designed to pauperise, atomise, and cantonise Palestinian society so much that a real independent Palestinian state will become impossible.

There is no guarantee that Sharon will fail — and, given Israeli Labour’s record over more than half a century, no guarantee that a Labour government, even under Peretz, would decisively reverse the damage done by Sharon. And, as Karl Marx put it, no nation that oppresses another can itself be free. A social revolution in Israel is not imaginable without a democratic settlement with the Palestinians.

Colin Foster

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