Tue Jul 16, 2024
July 16, 2024

Demonstrations in Israel against Netanyahu’s judicial reform

Last week more than 200,000 people mobilized in several Israeli cities against the judicial reform proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the same day it was voted and approved in the Knesset (Parliament). This reform limits the powers of the Supreme Court to question government actions.[1] An Israeli historian and political analyst has characterized this judicial reform as representing a change in the Israeli political regime [2].

By Alejandro Iturbe

The wave of mobilizations against the Israeli government began last February when Netanyahu presented this bill to the Knesset. At that time, we published an article on the IWL website analyzing what economic, social, and political processes were at the basis of this confrontation occurring among the Jewish population of Israel [3].

In the article, we begin with the characterization developed by our Morenoist current since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. We argue that it is a military enclave established at the service of imperialism and against the Arab peoples; it was built on the basis of the usurpation of historical Palestinian territory and the expulsion of a large part of its people from their legitimate lands. A Jewish population, first from Europe and then from other parts of the world, moved and settled in this enclave.

This essence of Israel is what determines the character of its society and its political dynamics. It only maintains its “unity” in the “fight against danger” and the threat that surrounds it. In other words, its cohesion is based on confronting the resistance of the Palestinian people and, more generally, the struggle of Arab peoples. That is why Israeli political organizations and the ruling coalitions (like the current one with Netanhayu at its head) have been moving farther to the right. And, at the same time, Israeli governments have always tried to get out of their crises by instigating new aggressions against the Palestinians, like the one recently carried out at the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank [4].

Internal Contradictions

However, as we analyzed in the article cited above, even for the “occupying” population who are united against the “Palestinian enemy,” there are economic, social, and political processes that generate internal contradictions and confrontations.

In the last few decades, there has been a change in the social structure of the Jewish population of Israel and, as a result, its political dynamics. The immigrant population of Ashkenazim [5] origin who came from Europe and other parts of the world were the ones who “put their bodies on the line” in the construction and “defense” of Israel (and provided the best political, military, and scientific cadres) in the first decades of its existence. Now, this group is much more “petty bourgeois” and much less committed to Israel. It does not question its existence and the need for its defense, yet it’s perspective has changed.  

As the current reality becomes increasingly dangerous, many have grown tired of this atmosphere of “permanent war,” and the number of Israeli citizens leaving the country has grown. Many of those from the intellectual and professional elite have sought an “individual solution” by emigrating to the US and Europe (without renouncing Israeli citizenship). Non-explicit desertion is also on the rise. There has been an increase in the departure of young people of military age who are trying to avoid the fronts and service in Palestinian or Lebanese territories.

The “militant base” for the “defense of Israel” and aggression against Palestinians has been transferred to new immigrants, especially Jews coming from Russia, whose immigration was encouraged after the fall of the former USSR (it is estimated that they already number close to one million). It is a sector that receives many privileges, including free housing and many subsidies from the State, in exchange for aiding in Israel’s objective of taking full control of Jerusalem and advancing in the occupation of territories in the West Bank. For this reason,  they are the most radicalized group that shows the most aggression against Palestinians, and they tend to be the most willing to fight for “the defense of Israel”.

At the same time, an ultra-religious minority has become the base of the Hamafdal (National Religious Party in Hebrew). The party’s adherents do not work or do military service; instead they dedicate themselves to studying the Torah. They have succeeded in getting the state and governments to pay them a minimum wage. The Hamafdal used its electoral and parliamentary weight to negotiate its support for the formation of Netanyahu’s government in exchange for maintaining these benefits.

A change in the model of capitalist accumulation

For several decades, this imperialist enclave’s economy was developed, driven, and controlled directly by the State. Foreign “aid” was important, including what was sent by US imperialism for military purposes, and what was supplied by the international Zionist movement based on contributions from Jews living in other countries (especially in the US). Food was partially supplied by kibbutz (collective farms linked to the State), and public services, such as the supply of energy and drinking water, were guaranteed by state companies. The administration of these companies was in the hands of the Histadrut, the “trade union center” of Israeli Jewish workers, which was linked the party of the “Zionist left” Mapai, from which emerged the main “founding” cadres of Israel including its first president Ben Gurion.

The Israeli arms industry developed in this context, and while at first it only supplied the Israeli army, it later began to export abroad. In the 21st century, Israel ranked among the ten largest arms exporters in the world [6]. Initially, it manufactured small arms and ammunition, but then gradually began building combat vehicles and small aircraft. Eventually, it became increasingly specialized in the development of technology for military purposes and in the development of security and surveillance software and systems.

This nationalized Israeli economy began to be dismantled and privatized in the 1980s during the “neo-liberal” wave that swept the globe. Some of these state-owned companies were transformed into joint ventures and others were sold off directly [7]. New private companies began to be developed on the basis of the new “neoliberal” model, especially in the security technology and software and systems sectors. There were also new companies that emerged in other areas such as pharmaceuticals and food and beverages, although to a much lesser extent. Currently, Israeli exports exceed 150 billion dollars, or 30% of the country’s GDP [8].

A new “classic” private bourgeoisie has thus emerged. It has established links to international markets, both in exports and in investments by Israeli bourgeois abroad, and there have been investments from abroad in the Israeli private sector [9]. For example, the richest person in Israel is a woman named Miriam Adelson, who has dual US citizenship and is married to an American; she owns businesses in the gambling and casino sector [10].

This new bourgeoisie is in conflict with Netanyahu over his policy of “permanent war,” especially since Israel has become increasingly criticized and discredited. It is also perturbed by the way the BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) have affected the exports of Israeli products and possible investments by the West in Israel. The bourgeoisie would like “peace” in order to be able to further develop its business interests. It is also wary of the “legal insecurity” that the current judicial reform represents. It is no coincidence then that among those calling for and supporting the mobilizations against the reform are businessmen and economists.

A new sector of specialized and professional workers has also emerged, whose personal and economic development are linked to this new economy. An important number of workers in these fields are made up of the Azhkenazim sector and its youth, who want “peace.” They aspire to live in a “modern, developed, and democratic” Israel in the style of the European imperialist countries [11].

As a capitalist economy, Israel has also suffered the impact of the international economic crisis that began in 2007/2008. State revenues have not been sufficient to cover its total expenses (because of its very high military budget) and it has had to choose which sector of the Jewish population it benefits. This sector of the Azhkenazi youth feels harmed and a sense of indignation at the privileges Netanyahu has given to the settlers of Russian origin in the West Bank. This is also true of the ultra-religious who are paid a salary without working and who do not have to do military service. This sense of dissatisfaction was already made manifest in the “social justice movement” which produced a wave of mobilizations in 2011 [12].

This sector of youth, the skilled workers, and the professional Azhkenazim, make up the majority of the current mobilizations against Netanyahu. It is necessary to make a clarification here: this sector does not question the existence of Israel as an enclave, nor the usurpation on which the state was born. But it wants “peace with Palestinians,” the opening of negotiations with them, and the implementation of the “two state solution” that they believe would allow both Jews and Palestinians to coexist “peacefully” side by side.

In several articles we have polemicized with this proposal and expressed that it is a “false solution,” because it legalizes the usurpation on which Israel was born, in addition to the fact that it is unfeasible for the Palestinians. We defend the position that the only possible solution is a “united, secular, and democratic Palestine, from the Jordan River to the sea” [13]. However, the truth is that those who support this position clash very harshly with the Netanyahu government and its allies.

Some additional elements

Israeli politics has always been characterized by the existence of numerous (and often changing) organizations that achieve parliamentary representation and, therefore, the formation of government coalitions (such as that of Netanyahu and his ultra-religious allies), and opposition blocs. At present, the government coalition has 64 deputies and the opposition 56 (who left the Knesset during the vote on the judicial reform).

The main opposition party (with 24 deputies) is Yesh Atid. Its leader, Yair Lapid, when founding the party in 2012, said that he “sought to represent the center of Israeli society: the secular middle class.” This party’s program proposes an end to exemption from military service for the ultra-religious, the reopening of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and a halt to the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Now, while calling for mobilizations against the judicial reform, Yesh Atid has at the same time defended the current Israeli political regime and tried to ensure that these mobilizations do not lead to an overthrow of the Netanyahu government in the streets. For this reason, it is promoting a petition to the Supreme Court to declare the new judicial reform law illegal.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel (MQG), which is not a political party but rather a “human rights organization,” also called for a mobilization. It was founded in 1990, but has gained importance since the “social justice movement,” and it reports having about 100,000 members. The movement’s goal is also to present a petition to the Supreme Court [14].

Another important element in the call for mobilizations has been Histadrut. Although the union has lost significance as an administrator of state enterprises, it is still the largest union organization in the country with almost one million members. Its leader, Arnon Bar-David, stated that “it may call for a general strike in response to the vote and will begin consulting union leaders as a first step” in that direction.

Other parties calling for mobilization were those that receive the vote of Palestinian Arabs living in Israeli territory as citizens, such as the United Arab List (5 MPs) and Jadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), which is the most left-wing of those with parliamentary representation (3 MPs). Most of its leaders and voters are Arabs, but it also has sectors coming from the Israeli Black Panthers, an organization founded in the 1970s by Mizrahis, the Jewish descendants of those who lived in Palestine (or in other neighboring Arab countries before the creation of Israel) and who were discriminated against by the Azhkenazim.

In addition, it is worth noting a complementary but very important fact, that “more than 11,000 reservists announced that they will cease their military service in protest of [Netanyahu’s] initiative.” Reservists are those who did their military service at the age of 18 and until the age of 40 remain available to be called up by the army if necessary. Their attitude is akin to saying, “I will not defend ‘this’ Israel.”

The crisis of the political regime and international Zionism

Because of these social contradictions, we are witnessing a political regime in crisis, which is being expressed in the fluctuation and alternation of governments that fail to consolidate. The current Netanyahu government took office last December and, since then, has faced mobilizations against it.

This crisis is also evident in the international Zionist movement, which is based on Jewish communities in other countries, especially in the US, which has the largest Jewish community outside Israel. More and more sectors (especially young people) are disgusted by Israel’s crimes, sympathize with the suffering of the Palestinians, and feel the “need” for a “peaceful solution” that “recognizes” the Palestinians and begins to negotiate with them [15]. Many, for example, support BDS.

This national and international political crisis of Zionism is a positive development. Because the Palestinian struggle against the State of Israel (and all the solidarity we seek to build with that struggle through the BDS campaign) is not facing a solid and seamless bloc, but rather an enemy that is increasingly weakened by internal divisions.

This means there is a need to deepen our support and solidarity, by looking for ways to demand every country break diplomatic relations with Israel, as was done against the South African apartheid regime. In the case of Brazil, for example, we must denounce and fight against the many arms and technology purchase agreements that Lula and the PT governments have made and maintained.

Notes

[1] Israel: more than 200,000 demonstrators demand a halt to the judicial reform (diariopopular.com.ar)

[2] Yoel Schvartz, Israeli historian talks about the judicial reform in Israel – Best Country in the World – YouTube

[3] A growing political crisis of the State of Israel and of Zionism – International Workers League (litci.org)

[4] The new massacre in Jenin and Palestine that does not give up – International Workers League (litci.org)

[5] The word “Ashkenazi” outside of Israel has a different definition, referring to the Jewish people of Central and Eastern Europe and their style of prayer. In this article we use the Israeli meaning because of its importance in the social divisions in Palestine

[6] The 10 largest world arms exporters and the geopolitics of iron and fire – Jornal Opção (jornalopcao.com.br)

[7] Israel accumulates 98 privatized companies – Opportimes

[8] Israel’s exports could reach $165 billion (israelnoticias.com)

[9] Lista das principais empresas de Israel com valor de mercado – Capital Times

[10] List of Israelis by net worth – Wikipedia

[11] In this regard, it is interesting to listen to the report in reference 2.

[12] https://elpais.com/internacional/2011/07/21/actualidad/1311199207_850215.html

[13] Palestine : On the false “two state” solution. – International Workers’ League (litci.org)

[14] The Movement for Quality Government in Israel (mqgisrael.org)

[15] See, for example https://mondiplo.com/israel-se-aleja-de-los-judios-estadounidenses

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