The Israeli political system is at an impasse, with the leading politicians, Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu, both unable to form a government. As the country heads towards a third election in less than a year, the deadlock exposes the reactionary nature of the Israeli state and the need for Palestinian liberation.
Benny Gantz (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu (right) share a moment. Long-time partners in crime, they are now competing against each other in the Israeli elections.
Recently, the Zionist state of Israel has been mired in political crisis. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not only facing numerous charges of corruption, but has been unable to rally his base to win the elections in the past year. After a decade of ruling as Prime Minister, his political career is now balanced on a knife’s edge. Israel has a parliamentary political system in which a coalition government between several political parties must be formed by a party leader nominated by the President (usually the leader of the party that won the most seats). If that coalition passes a vote in the Knesset (the name for Israel’s parliament) then that party leader becomes the Prime Minister.
The elections this past spring elections resulted in a deadlock between Netanyahu’s incumbent Likud Party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White coalition and when no government could be formed. As a result, new elections were called for September which have only resulted in another deadlock. Now, for a second time this year, both Netanyahu and Gantz have failed to form a government. The probability of a third election in Israel is extremely high. By the time these elections are conducted, this whole process will have gone on for almost an entire year. In this political circus, it is important we see that the elections in Israel are not a way forward for the people of Palestine. In fact, this sort of political deadlock among the reactionaries is a good thing for the people—the more the enemy fights among themselves, the easier it is to organize for liberation.
In order to win reelection Netanyahu has advocated increasingly fascist and imperialist policies in his efforts to win support especially among the religious right. These efforts include allying with the extremist Jewish Power Party, calling for war with Iran, and calling for the annexation of the West Bank, which would not only be a violation of international law, but would signal a rapid acceleration of the settler-colonial project and genocide of the Palestinian people. Netanyahu has a long record of extreme aggression towards Palestinians. In 2014, he oversaw the brutal war against Gaza which left thousands of people, mostly civilians, dead. He promoted and justified the expansion of settlements and settler violence against Palestinians throughout his tenure.
In much of the U.S. media, Gantz has been portrayed as a more “liberal” choice in these elections. He regularly lambasts Netanyahu for his collection of corruption charges, for which the latter has been under investigation for since 2016. Gantz supports secularizing some aspects of Israeli society, which is extremely religious.
For example, public transportation in many Israeli cities is closed on the Sabbath (Saturday). Gantz would end this, and allow for public transit to operate on the Sabbath. However, these milquetoast reforms are not meant to serve the people, nor do they put Gantz on the “left.” What these reforms would do is to make Israel a more secular fascist colonial state, instead of a religious fascist colonial state. More than that, promotion of these reforms is a smokescreen to the real reactionary nature of the Israeli political system and society.
This becomes abundantly clear when one digs beneath the surface. For example, Gantz claims to be more “open to dialogue” with the Palestinian Authority and the Joint List (the Arab Parties in Israel), but this does not mean he is a “pro-Palestine” or “peace” candidate. In fact he is rabidly anti-Palestinian himself. Netanyahu and Gantz have called for much of the same policies and share the same vision of a “strong” apartheid state. Gantz even said that he was glad that Netanyahu “came around” on the idea of annexing the West Bank, thus implying Gantz was the one who first came up with the plan.
In some areas Gantz appears to be even more militaristic and oppressive than Netanyahu. For example he advocates for increased military operations against Palestinians in Gaza. In fact, a major part of his campaign has been to claim that Netanyahu is not “tough enough” on the Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries. Other rivals of Netanyahu have made this claim a major point in the elections, such as former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned in 2018 after Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza. Lieberman said that this ceasefire amounted to “surrendering to terror.” Knowing that Netanyahu has carried out genocidal wars against Palestine, this raises big fears about what his rivals would do to be “tougher.”
Genocide is a possibility, not a far fetched reality. Gantz was a high-up general of the IDF during the 2014 war on Gaza, and played a huge role in orchestrating, green-lighting, and planning the slaughter of Palestinians during this war. In fact, on election day, preliminary arguments were being made against Gantz at the Hague in the Netherlands for war crimes that he committed in Gaza in 2014. At least 2,251 people were killed in this war according to the UN, and two-thirds of those killed were civilians. The war was characterized by IDF targeting of civilians, mosques, schools, hospitals, and more. During the campaign Gantz even bragged about these war crimes, boasting about sending Gaza “back to the Stone Age.”
Even though the Joint List views any change in political leadership as a positive for Palestine, the reality is that they are a political pawn and are consistently denied any sort of real power within the Knesset. The recent Israeli elections, like all the previous ones, are competitions between different sections of racist Zionists, with the majority of people denied any real power.
Palestinians make up 21% of the Israeli population and around 42% of the population of Israel and the Palestinian Territories combined. This does not include the over 6 million Palestinian refugees denied the right to return to their homeland. While Palestinian citizens of Israel (aka Israeli-Arabs) are granted the right to vote, those in the West Bank and Gaza are denied any say whatsoever in the Israeli political system (despite the fact that their lives are largely under the colonial control of Israel). Many Palestinians felt the outcome of the recent elections would be the same regardless of the results, that Netanyahu and Gantz are two sides of the same racist coin.
In the last election, the Joint List ended up being the third largest group in the Knesset, in spite of real anger and mistrust of the Israeli government by Israeli-Arabs. This contradiction is apparent in the fact that the April elections saw an Israeli-Arab voter turnout of 49%, the lowest in Israeli history. In the September elections this rebounded to 60%, but was still well below the 2015 voter turnout of 64%.
However, the Joint List are not viewed as legitimate parties by Netanyahu and Gantz. The Joint List will not be invited to join a coalition government, despite the fact that they threw their support behind Gantz in an effort to dethrone Netanyahu. The Zionist movement constantly strives to paint Arabs as internal enemies, or even—in the words of Lieberman—a “fifth column” (in reference to the underground Nazi organizations in Poland and other countries that facilitated the German invasions during World War II).
This racist fearmongering is part of a larger project to impose fascist restrictions on the Arab Palestinian population. For example, in the recent elections, the Likud Party set up cameras in the voting stations in order to monitor Arab voters, an open attempt at intimidation. In the desperation of the different Palestinian parties to support anyone but Netanyahu, they seem to have forgotten that the Israeli ruling class views the existence of Palestine and its people as antithetical to Israel.
It’s important to mention that Israeli-Arabs are still denied equal rights in Israel even though they are allowed the right to vote. For example, it is illegal in Israel for people of different religions to marry. In addition, the Jewish National Fund (which controls all of Israel’s land) prohibits Israeli land from being transferred to or purchased by non-Jews. There are a whole series of other laws which serve to discriminate against Israeli-Arabs, and often separate legal codes are applied to Jews and non-Jews. This apartheid system shows that the claim of Israel being a “democracy” is little more than a twisted lie meant to justify the oppression of Palestinians.
Israel has increasingly worked to disenfranchise and isolate the non-Jewish population. In 2018 for example, Israel passed the Jewish Nation State Law, which made Hebrew the sole official language (where previously both Hebrew and Arabic were official) and stated that self-determination was a right reserved only for the Jewish population of Israel. The law effectively consolidated what had already been true for decades—that the Israeli state relies on a form of Jewish supremacy which has relegated non-Jews to second-class citizen status.
This is underlined by the fact that the night of the September election, Netanyahu stated that “There can’t be a government that relies on the Arab parties. Parties that negate the very existence of the state of Israel”. Netanyahu has made even more inflammatory and racist statements, such as before the September election when he claimed that “Arabs want to annihilate us all.” But these racist remarks do not just come from Netanyahu and his Likud Party. Many other leaders, either conveniently forget the existence of Palestinians, or openly state support for an apartheid ethno-state, such as the statement of Moshe Ya’alon (former Chief of Staff of the IDF and member of Gantz’s Blue and White Party) that “We claim that Israel should have been Jewish and democratic”.
Israel is often called the “only democracy in the Middle East” by the capitalist media, but in reality, it is an apartheid state built on the colonialist and racist ideology of Zionism. “Democracy” only exists for the ruling class in Israel, not for the Palestinians and not even for the majority of poor and working-class Israelis. It is a capitalist democracy for the Jewish Israeli population, but acts in a brutally fascist manner towards Palestinians. The Israeli government has never and will never stand for the rights and the well-being of the people of Palestine and will continue to use them as pawns as the Israeli state continues the genocide of the Palestinian people.
Many Palestinians have long been aware of the fact that the outcomes of the Israeli elections have little bearing on their daily situation: all Israeli governments have pursued war, imprisonment, abuse, murder, rape, and economic strangulation towards them. This is a result of the genocidal and racist logic inherent in Zionism itself. From the start, the project of Zionism was one of dispossessing a people of their land, a colonial theft that had to be justified by labeling the victims as lesser—less civilized, less intelligent, etc. Zionism, being an ideology of colonialism, relies on racism to divide the people and justify the exploitation and ethnic cleansing of minority populations and Palestinians.
The apartheid system and promotion of Zionism by the Israeli state has also served to convince even poor and working-class Israelis that their enemies are the Palestinians and not the fascist ruling elite in Israel. A 2018 report by the National Insurance Institute in Israel reported that over 21% of Israelis live below the poverty line, and the rate is more than twice as high among Israeli-Arab (Palestinian citizens of Israel) and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.
The Israeli state not only oppresses Palestinians, but also has many Jews living in extreme poverty.
It’s important to emphasize that the Zionist ruling class is not just racist against Palestinians and Arabs, but also against African migrants and even other Jews, especially those from Ethiopia, Morocco, or Algeria who make up 15% of the Israeli population. These groups of people are often forced into some of the lowest-paying and dangerous jobs and they live poorest communities. They are exploited and oppressed by both the Israeli state and capitalist system, as well as the racist ideology of Zionism.
As it stands, there is a basis for poor and oppressed Israelis to join with Palestinians in the fight against Zionism and for the creation of a democratic, secular, and even socialist future in Palestine. However, the ideological chains of Zionism remain strong within Israel, and the stratified nature of the apartheid society convinces many—even Palestinian citizens of Israel—that they have nothing to complain about since they are better off than the people below them.
All of this does not mean the differences between the politicians in Israel are unimportant. In fact, they are quite important in order to understand the deep contradictions that exist in Israeli society. However, in understanding their differences it is important to see that Netanyahu, Gantz, and others are united in supporting apartheid and the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people. While the ruling class is united on these questions, and expanding Israeli influence in the region, the divisions in the Israeli political system have nevertheless created serious problems for the ability of the state to pursue these goals.
In this context, there is a possibility for people’s movements in both Palestine and Israel to grow and challenge the oppressive policies of the state of Israel towards both the Palestinian people and oppressed groups in Israeli society. The Palestinian liberation movement—long disorganized and misled by opportunist forces like Hamas and Fatah—could see a major revitalization and make great advances. The threat of annexing West Bank territories could also lead to a big resurgence in organized anti-colonial and anti-Zionist struggles. This in turn can serve as the basis for a popular challenge towards Zionism within Israel itself.
However, there are also many difficulties facing the people which hinder the development of this possibility, not the least of which is the lack of a principled, pro-people, and revolutionary force in either Israel or Palestine. It is important to remember that these divisions and difficulties did not emerge out of nowhere. Much like the divisions internal to the ruling class, they have a history of development, have been influenced and changed by people’s movements, and thus can be changed in the future.
After the initial dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people in 1948 (the Nakba, or “catastrophe” in Arabic), hundreds of thousands of refugees entered the West Bank and Gaza, then under the control of Jordan and Egypt, respectively. They were barred from returning to their homes by Israel and those who remained were systematically deprived of their rights. After the 1967 war, these territories and other parts of Palestine were put under the control of Israel, and the Palestinian population was subjected to a brutal military occupation that continues to this day.
African migrants in Israel protest racism, police brutality, and deportations. Many undocumented migrants and refugees come from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, and other countries to find work in Israel, and are brutally oppressed and exploited there.
The armed resistance led by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which aimed to free all of Palestine, including the lands stolen in 1948, grew to be a serious threat to Israel after the occupation began. While they posed a threat to Israel for a while, and inspired Palestinian people, the PLO was not ultimately successful. The PLO began to lose strength after the Black September massacre in 1970, and due to an inability to handle internal issues and differences (in addition to brutal repression and military attacks) gradually lost touch with the daily struggle of the people. By the 1980s, they began to negotiate with Israel to end the liberation struggle.
After the First Intifada—a mass uprising in 1987 that erupted without the leadership of the PLO—Israel became increasingly concerned about the possibility of revolution in the Palestinian territories, and worked to carve up the West Bank to maintain the occupation and eventually complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestine to create a single Jewish state. In order to do so, Israel entered into negotiations with the leadership of the PLO to turn it into a puppet government for Israel, the Palestinian Authority. These negotiations eventually resulted in the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995.
With the Oslo Accords, the West Bank was carved into three “areas”—Area A controlled by the newly created Palestinian Authority (PA), Area B jointly controlled by the PA and Israel, and Area C controlled by Israel. This new division was widely publicized as a “step forward” in the creation of a Palestinian state, but in fact it was a huge step backwards. It was the codification of an apartheid system that greatly restricted people’s rights. Not only was Israel still directly in control of the majority of the territory in the West Bank (Area C accounts for about 61% of the land), but the Palestinian Authority and the ex-revolutionary parties like Fatah were turned into pawns of Israel—agents of Zionism with an Arab face.
The Palestinian Authority has since cooperated with Israel on many levels. Most notoriously, the PA collaborates and shares police intelligence with the IDF in order to track down, imprison, and even assassinate political activists in the West Bank. With the “official” Palestinian leadership coopted, the Israeli state has been more able to pursue the construction of Jewish-only settle-ments across in the West Bank.
These settlements not only expand Israel’s settler-colonial project but systematically restrict the Palestinian people’s ability to farm, access water, and even travel freely between Palestinian villages. Despite being illegal under international law, the number of settlements and the population in them have increased tremendously. The construction of settlements is part of the ongoing the theft of Palestinian land, and also leads to the construction of roads and highways “for settlers only” and new checkpoints and military personnel to police and oppress the Palestinians. All of this has been part of a concerted Israeli effort to chop up the Palestinian territories and disconnect them from each other. The people are starved out, deprived of jobs and medical care, their homes destroyed, and many are even outright killed in this process of slow genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Not only is Israel carrying out a slow genocide of the Palestinian people, it is also looking to expand its territory and imperialist interests by means of regional wars. Israeli invaded Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, annexed the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in 1967 (although the latter was eventually returned), and has recently carried out a series of military actions in Syria.
Israeli occupation forces systematically arrest, imprison, abuse, and torture Palestinian children.
Israel’s imperialist interests are not just military and territorial, but economic and political. For example, in 2017 Netanyahu stated that the strengthening of ties between Israel and Africa—including allowing Israeli companies to buy and operate businesses in mining, agriculture, and energy on the continent—was a “priority” of Israeli foreign policy. What’s more, Israel has long played an important role in the world imperialist system as a developer and exporter of military technology and weaponry. Repressive regimes around the world, from South Sudan to the Philippines and India are huge clients of the Israeli arms industry. By fostering economic, political, and military ties with regimes around the world, Israel is expanding its influence as an imperialist power.
Since the Oslo Accords, Israeli politics have become more openly right-wing and fascist. Their growth as an imperialist country and intensification of illegal settlements has fostered ideologies of fascism among the Israeli people and strengthened militaristic tendencies of the Israeli state. And of course, this has resulted in a harsher reality for the people of Palestine. Due to a 12 year-long blockade and frequent aerial bombardments, the Gaza Strip has gone from a center of Palestinian life and culture to an open-air prison with conditions deemed “uninhabitable” by the United Nations. The settlements in the West Bank have massively increased in size and number. This has not only created daily difficulties for the Palestinian residents, but has also emboldened the IDF and right-wing Israeli settlers to attack and terrorize them.
So as the political turmoil and inability to form a government continues in Israel, revolutionaries around the world should seize on this opportunity to expose the true reactionary nature of Israel. The disagreements and debates between Zionists like Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Avigdor Lieberman, and others are not between “left” and “right” as commonly described. They are debates over how to best carry out a project of settler colonialism and genocide against the Palestinian people and make Israel a powerful imperialist country capable of exploiting oppressed nations and people all around the world. In order for real progress to be made in the liberation of Palestine and the creation of a single, secular, and democratic state, the ideology of Zionism must be seen for what it is—a racist, fascist, and settler-colonial ideology.