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Why the Israeli Labor is about to fail?

David Merhav | 13.03.2006 10:04 | Workers' Movements

The elections in Israel are about to come and the Israeli Labor launched a campaign in which it started to discuss the possibility of allying to the Kadima (Forward) party. A few weeks ago, Labor chairperson, Amir Peretz MP, promised to win the elections or to serve as militant opposition to Olmert

The elections in Israel are about to come and the Israeli Labor launched a campaign in which it started to discuss the possibility of allying to the Kadima (Forward) party, founded by Ariel Sharon and now led by Acting Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. A few weeks ago, the Labor chairperson, Amir Peretz MP, promised to win the elections or to serve as militant opposition to Olmert.

Olmert, an enthusiastic supporter of the right wing neo-capitalist policies carried out by Binyamin Netanyahu (now chairman of the Likud party, actually the remnants of the historic Likud whose members left the party in order to build Kadima), has already declared his intentions. For instance, Kadima will raise the tuition fees in Israeli universities and encourage sciences instead of Humanities, along carrying forward the Wisconsin plan (another neo-liberal plan imported from the U.S.).

Peretz, who committed serious errors in his campaign and shifted to the right due to the pressure of the right wing within his party, brought the Labor to a terrible condition. He lost many Labor voters within four months and was attacked by former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who followed Sharon by joining the Kadima party. Many Israeli socialists, who left the traditional Left parties (the post-Stalinist Hadash led by the Communist Party and the pseudo-“social-democratic” Meretz), were disappointed of his zigzag.

Although the Mizrahi origins of Peretz did play a role in the decision of many voters not to support him, and albeit the true claims about racism when it comes to Mizrahi workers’ leader who wasn’t a general in the IDF but emerged from the civil realm of fighting for the rights of the poor and the oppressed, the disappointment from Peretz cannot be exhausted only in the argument that “Israelis are racists”.

Zigzag from Left to the Right as Dead-End

The truth is that although Peretz brought many to the rank-and-file membership and supporters of Israeli Labor, he brought many others to leave as neither his supporters nor his friends to the Labor’s leadership were able to uphold a clear socialist agenda with true outlines for social change.

Thus Peretz promised to raise the minimum wage in Israel, which is low in regard to capitalist states in the West, but refused to explain the way for doing so. He could have argue for the taxation of the capital instead of taxing the labor, but did not do so because of his fear to loose the old Labor elite that has strong ties with the Israeli ruling class. He was able to stand for the fact that higher salaries improve the capacity of consumers to buy more products, and thus enable genuine economic growth. He knew that explaining that organized labor is the key for defending workers rights is the path for true social shift in the economy, an a way out of economy creates hardship and misery (as more than 50 percent of Israeli workers earn minimum wage, and many poor are working men and women).

Nevertheless, Peretz preferred an alliance of socialists and liberals which proposes “light” and “soft” reforms like raising minimum wage in five years, or keeping “free market” whilst taxation will not be executed in regard to big capital. In fact, Peretz thought that a program based on preserving the existing social order with slight changes is the way to bring new voters to vote Labor. He told that his model is the chauvinistic Tony Blair or Bill Clinton, the two big disappointments of British and American workers. It is striking that a few days ago, the ultra-capitalist economic editor of Haaretz daily, Nehemiah Shtresler, expressed his sympathy towards Peretz by claiming that the latter was transformed into a “true leader” who “comprehends the value of free market and the difference between being a workers’ leader and Prime Minister candidate”.

The Labor’s spoken program bypassed the socialist agenda posed by Peretz at the beginning of the campaign, and went through serious changes within the last weeks. No one can tell strictly what is the agenda of the Labor as it passed so many changes. Peretz was able to promise dramatic changes and new economic direction, but kept preaching for preserving the current social order when he stood in front of capitalists, businessmen and companies’ owners. Nothing was said about workers’ rights when Peretz delivered his bombastic and over-dramatized speeches to an audience affiliated with the privileged ruling elite; everything was said about democratic socialism as he talked to leftists and Labor members; mixed and confused slogans were given to “ordinary people”, workers, pensioners and students. The ambiguity served Peretz’s enemies and created a serious decline of the Labor in the recent surveys: the Labor is about to get less than 25 percent of the seats in the parliament.

Furthermore, when it comes to the local and international agenda, Peretz proposes a bizarre version of Kadima-Likud program: he declared that the Labor will not negotiate with the leading Hamas government but only with the Abu-Mazen regime, supported by the U.S.; he promised that a more tolerable approach will be taken in relation to the settlers and that the Geneva Accords are not the way for peace (i.e., big NO to tow states-tow capitals solution); he insisted that only Palestinian State is the key for valuable peace, but vowed not to divide Jerusalem. Something new can come up tomorrow. No one actually understands to which direction the Labor is being led. Peretz preferred an ongoing policy of maneuvers instead of political clarity.

The recent announcement of Peretz, which adheres to de-legitimizing the fascistic party headed by Avigdor Liberman (former racist MP who was director-general of the Prime Minister office during Netanyahu’s term, and now his Our Homeland Israel party is about to win 10 percent of the seats in the Knesset) as future partner to coalition with Olmert, is another despised trick: Peretz wants people to vote for him as he wishes to be the senior partner of the coming-to be-born Olmert government. By disqualifying, justly, the fanatic fascism, he gives Kosher certificate to a government of Kadima-Labor, a cross-class collaborationist rule which favors the capitalist elite and marginalizes the oppressed majority.

What Is To Be Done?

I must confess that until recently I considered positively a possibility of voting Labor, hoping that a Leftist wing will emerge after the expected defeat. I hoped that there would be a bitter struggle in the race for leadership after the victory of Kadima and the announcement of date that will be set for primaries in the Labor (due to the party’s constitution which obligates candidates who lost the elections to run once again for chairmanship). I truly wished to witness an opposition party, principled one, which is going to fight Olmert government and build itself as lively alternative with affirmative policies for new social order. However, once Labor announced that it would join the coalition with the U.S. puppet government led by Olmert, with economic policies dictated by the World Trade Organization and the World Bank, I have arrived to the conclusion that voting Labor means legitimizing the coming ultra-capitalist regime of the corrupted Olmert and Co., manipulated by the Sharon family – the two sons of the father Ariel, one of them convicted in the court, and the former Likud mafia which stands at the core of Kadima’s Central Committee.

The way forward is embodied in the possibility of building a socialist party in Israel, which is based on trade unionists, militants and trained activists who faced the disappointment from Kadima. This party can emerge from a split in the Labor and as an alliance with so many poor and oppressed workers, pensioners, students and youth who refuse to vote or about to vote as despair is guiding them in their hope that the Labor will serve as true opposition.

An Israeli socialist alliance is not a sweet dream but a challenge. Thus, true revolutionaries will be able to fight for principles which are tied to the revolutionary agenda like direct workers’ control and direct democracy, along broad autonomy of active, vigorous and dynamic politics, based on free discussion and direct legislation in each town and city. Values of environmental justice, freedom from slavery to international corporations, true democracy, equality based on citizenship rather than on national orientation, all of these traditional leftist values are about to be part of the struggle for building the needed organization for true change in Israel.

David Merhav
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