Israel: Building joint resistance to the far-right government

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First published at Workers' Liberty.

Dani Filc is an activist in Omdim be’Yachad-Naqef Ma’an (Standing Together), a left-wing social movement which mobilises both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. He spoke to Daniel Randall about the situation in Israel following the election of the new government, and Standing Together’s struggles against it.

DR: What have been the main focuses of Standing Together’s activity since the election of the new government?

DF: The government is leading an extreme-right offensive in three main areas: the deepening of repression and expansion of the settlements in the Occupied Territories; in the socio-economic area, the privatisation of the public media and restrictions on the right to strike; and at the institutional level, reforms that will allow the government a freer hand to pursue its exclusionary policies.

Standing Together’s activities are focused on opposing the radicalisation of the policies against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and on opposing the privatisation programme and attacks against organised labour. We also try to attack the government in ways that will increase the tensions between the different social groups that support the present coalition. For example, by continuing our campaign to increase the minimum wage, or demanding that Netanyahu fulfills his promise of free public education from birth (currently the public education system begins at three years of age).

Some argue that the new government represents a radical political break or turning point; others argue that its policy of Jewish supremacy merely makes explicit what was an unspoken reality for previous governments. What’s your analysis of this?

I think this is a dialectical process. While it can be considered as a further step in a process of increasing the exclusion of Palestinian citizens, making exclusion more explicit, it is a step that implies a qualitative change towards exclusion. Under Netanyahu’s leadership, Likud has become a radical-right populist party. But this government represents a coalition between radical-right populists, ultra-conservative neo-liberals, and fascist elements.

How “deep” is Netanyahu and the right’s support base among the Israeli Jewish working class, in your view?

In terms of the social groups that support the coalition, they are mainly the Jewish popular classes. This includes sections of the middle class, characterised by their subalternity to capital (either working in the welfare sectors of the state, self-employed, or in non-managerial white collar occupations); a diminishing traditional working class; and sectors of the precariat (although most of the precariat is non-Jewish). Among this social base, the poorest element is that of the ultra-orthodox, who are in general terms very right-wing and very loyal to their political leadership.

On the other hand, Likud supporters could modify their vote if the security and economic conditions change — as an example, polls show that half of Likud voters oppose the judicial reform the government proposed.

There are clear tensions within the anti-government protests between those who want to focus on the government’s domestic agenda and its plans for constitutional reform, and those who want to emphasise the issue of the occupation and Palestinian rights. How do you analyse these tensions? Can the protest movement, or a significant section of it, be won to a programme that includes the fight for equality as a central facet?

The anti-government protests include an alliance between “liberal neoliberals”, what Nancy Fraser calls “progressive neoliberalism”; progressive liberals; moderate right-wingers; anti-occupation movements; LGBTQ collectives; and feminist collectives. Currently the protests’ main message is a liberal one. But we do think that, with a good strategy, sections of the protesters can be part of the construction of a popular left movement that understands democracy as equality, thus combining the struggle against the occupation and for a just peace with the struggle for radical democracy and for a different socio-economic model.

What is the attitude of the trade union movement towards the new government? Is it likely there’ll be workers’ struggles against its policies?

The biggest trade union, Histadrut, has not joined the protests against the judicial reform, but has made very clear that they will not tolerate restrictions on the right to strike, or any erosions of workers’ rights. They are also supporting the struggle against the closure of the public radio and TV.

[Smaller and more radical trade union centre] Koah L’Ovdim (Power to Workers) has decided to fight the anti-worker elements of the new government’s policies, drawing links between these and the government’s general approach, but their weight in the Israeli economy is much less than the Histadrut.

Longer term, what is the path to building a new cross-communal left that mobilises Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs around shared class interests, and also for an equal right to self-determination?

The path is a long and complex, but possible, one. It must be based in the construction of a popular Jewish-Arab left, grounded in the common interests of the popular classes as opposed to those of the two elites that currently steer Israeli policies: the wealthy neo-liberal elites, and the settler-colonialist elite. The aims are clear: social justice, radical democracy, and equal individual and collective rights for all, including the right to self-determination. We must be committed enough and patient enough to overcome the obstacles in building a broad popular left in the context of a protracted national conflict.

How do you conceive of the relationship between immediate economic issues, like low wages, and the question of national oppression (the occupation and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in general)? Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab workers have shared class interests, and therefore an interest in joint struggle, but their experience of class exploitation is also refracted through their differing positions relative to the infrastructure of the occupation and to racism. How does Standing Together aim to build a class-based coalition that is able to confront these issues?

As you write, the interaction between class issues and national oppression is complicated, and that makes the task of a socialist left challenging. We think that the only way is constantly combining the fight for social justice with the fight against national oppression of the Palestinians, stressing that the combination of neoliberalism, ongoing occupation and exclusion of Israeli-Palestinians is in the interests of what the sociologist Shlomo Swirski defined as the two Israeli elites: the elite of big capital and the settler elite.