"An ethos of equality is our only firewall"

Submitted by AWL on 28 April, 2020 - 11:55 Author: Hannah Pollin-Galay
Standing Together protest at Likud HQ

Hannah Pollin-Galay (above right, in the white t-shirt, on a protest she helped organise blocking the entrance to the headquarters of Netanyahu's Likud party) is a supporter of Omdim B'Yachad (Standing Together), a left-wing Arab-Jewish social movement in Israel. She spoke to Daniel Randall from Solidarity.

DR: The formation of a new coalition government is obviously a hugely worrying development in terms of the threat of annexation. What's your assessment of it?

HPG: Saying “I told you so!” or, “things are already so bad, they can only get better”, are not productive responses to this new coalition. Instead, I think we have to vigilantly remark the multiple layers of corruption and danger this agreement entails.

While it’s not surprising that Gantz entered into a coalition with Netanyahu. What is surprising and demoralising is the specific nature of their coalition “agreement.” This is classic shock doctrine. While everyone remained worried about the impact of Covid-19, Gantz and Netanyahu composed a private agreement that rewrites Israel’s system of governance. In order for the coalition agreement to hold, there are stipulations about how the Israeli parliament has to vote and behave. They’ve changed the way that judges will be appointed. Any “disobedience” to their preordained platform, and the Israeli public will be immediately punished with another election cycle.

The most obscene element of their coalition agreement is the annexation timeline. The agreement claims that the “emergency government” will propose laws relating to the Covid crisis, yet their first promised action is the annexation of unknown chunks of the West Bank. The very absurdity of the idea of annexation as a response to pandemic is the strategy: Its purpose is to exhaust, shock and awe. This is very much in keeping with Trump’s language and he is a major factor in emboldening this move.

Some people on the left argue that the threatened annexation is either meaningless, since it will merely formalise the military control that already exists, or even potentially positive, since it will remove false pretences. I disagree with these stances. Within the context of the current reality, annexation will remove more land from Palestinian ownership, displace more Palestinians from their homes, and increase military rule over daily life. Moreover, it will endanger many humans’ lives, both Israelis and Palestinians, since the likelihood of multi-front violence is very high.

Rather than falling for accelerationist fairy tales, in which worse is somehow better, I think we have to admit that a situation of immense injustice would get even worse with annexation, and work doubly hard from that sobering admission.

On the world stage, I believe that the most important international defence against annexation could come from Jordan. Most Israelis understand the value of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, and thus will pay attention if this comes under threat. If the international community is serious about stopping annexation, they should follow the details of Jordan’s response carefully and support concrete, nonviolent consequences to annexation.

DR: At one point it seemed like Gantz, with the support of the Joint List, might have been able to oust Netanyahu. What went wrong?

This was a truly positive possibility. The fact that we came so close to achieving a Jewish-Arab coalition government, even under these trying conditions, should remind us that history is contingent and we have the power to change reality in Israel. Much of the Israeli public is unsure what to think of Jewish-Arab partnership; They see it as a reality in hospitals and universities, but don’t have a new ethos through which to accept it on the level of governance. They look to public figures to give them cues, and that is where this particular deal was botched.

The first politician to block the Jewish-Arab government was a faux-feminist named Orly Levi-Abekasis who had actually been elected as part of a bloc with the left-wing party Meretz. She had clearly used the Meretz party cynically to get herself into parliament and then, once elected, switched over to Netanyahu’s bloc. Her excuse? Basically, she said that all Arab politicians are terrorists. Once her voice was heard, then Gantz and some of his people fell like dominoes. That’s the personality scandal.

But, there will always be bad, self-serving politicians out there. Our best offense against them is to create a public ethos that will confidently support Jewish-Arab partnership, that will not tolerate a public figure’s racism. An ethos of equality is our only firewall.

DR: What can those left-wing forces in Israel that advocate for Jewish-Arab unity on the basis of class politics do to regroup and mount a political challenge to annexation and occupation?

This is a challenging moment of “both, and.” That is, it would be unconscionable to ignore the million plus Israelis who are going to have a hard time eating and paying rent because of Covid-19. A whole generation of unemployed young Israelis would never forgive a left that looked past their pain and focused only on occupation. At the same time, we cannot ignore the looming possibility of more land theft and official apartheid in our name, and just look at our own class politics within Israel. To keep up the fire on both fronts, we need smart coalitions, and a lot of solidarity. You have recently spoke to Maisam and Asaf of Standing Together, who have a great vision of how this is done.

Beyond that, and in this I differ from some of my compatriots, I also believe we need new, bold even surprising moves, especially in partnership with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. This is complex, and for Gazans, dangerous. However, I wish more people could replicate the efforts of Aziz Abu Sarah, for example. He is from East Jerusalem, thus not an Israeli citizen, and in 2018 he ran for mayor of Jerusalem. He was taking the conversation in a new direction by saying to Israeli Jews: I’m here, living under your government and so I want to be a part of it. If you support a two-state solution, then act fast to free me. If you want one big state, then I’m going to be leading it alongside you. And he did all of this in the context of non-violence and Jewish-Arab equality. His campaign was repressed. But, his approach is good, because it was proactive and imaginative. Enough with reactive “damage control.” I would like to see more internal Israeli movements backing projects like this.

For other interviews with, and articles by, left-wing activists in Israel/Palestine, see:

  • “Against Israel's new coalition”, interview with Maisam Jaljuli and Asaf Yakir of Omdim B'Yachad, April 2020
  • “In Israel, the fight against annexation”, interview with Maisam Jaljuli, February 2020
  • “Beyond co-existence, to solidarity”, interview with Sally Abed and Alon-Lee Green of Omdim B'Yachad, December 2019
  • “Israel/Palestine: potential for a future”, comments by Alon-Lee Green of Omdim B'Yachad, November 2019
  • “Jews and Arabs standing together”, interview with Hannah Pollin-Galay, October 2018
  • “Uniting Jewish and Arab workers in Israel/Palestine”, interview with Assaf Adiv and Yacov Ben Efrat of WAC-Ma'an (Workers' Advice Centre, a radical trade union centre), September 2018
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