Israel/Palestine: Record participation at ‘Socialism Conference’

Growing discontent in society generates interest in socialist ideas

A record number of more than 160 participants took part in the recent ‘Socialism Conference’, which was organized by the Socialist Struggle Movement (SSM – CWI) for the sixth year. This was the biggest conference, so far, bringing together Israeli and Palestinian activists, trade unionists and socialists from different fields of struggle. The size of the participation at this event, is just one of the many indications to the growing layer in society that is looking for an alternative to the racist and neo-liberal policies of the right wing Netanyahu-led government. This, in turn, paves the way for growing interest in socialist ideas.

The conference, held towards the end of 2013, lasted for two days and included more than 10 different sessions on the struggles against austerity and high cost of living; the going on expropriation of the Palestinian masses and the struggle for a just and equal solution; the revolutionary process in the Middle East; the fight-back against sexism; the global crisis of capitalism and the case for socialist alternative.



One of the unique features of each conference is the chance to hear speakers from the front line of struggle. This year, the event hosted Israeli and Palestinian activists from six different unions, from the struggle against the racist Prawer plan, from a residents’ struggle against house evictions, from social movements, and from initiatives to combat sexism and ‘rape-culture’. Tamar Gozhansky, a well-known former left-wing MP for Hadash/AlJaba (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) and Daphni Leaf, the leading figure of the social protest movement during 2011, also spoke at the conference. The which-hunted leader of the rail workers, Gilla Edrai, sent greetings.

No to evictions, no to ‘divide and rule’ policies

The conference kicked off with two parallel discussions: on the fight-back against sexism and on struggle for decent housing. The second was introduced by Neta Most from SSM, and covered both the struggle for public housing and against profit-driven evictions and the struggle against the racist expropriation of Arab-Bedouins living in Negev/Naqab. One of the speakers at the session, Amir Abu-Qvidar, a resident of the so-called “unrecognized” Bedouin village in the south, explained the racist logic behind the Prawer plan that threatens to evict somewhere between 30-40,000 Arab citizens of the Israel state from their houses and lands (for more on the Prawer Plan see: Rozin Basharat, who also takes part in the struggle against Prawer plan, spoke from her experience about the leading role of Palestinian women in struggle, and their place in the wider struggle against expropriation and national oppression.

Yosi Cohen, the spokesperson of residents of one of neighborhoods in Tel Aviv threatened with evictions, also spoke in this session. In his case, the eviction is initiated by one of the biggest tycoons in Israel, Itzhak Tshuva, who wants to build luxury housing on the very expensive land. The discussion developed on two different but not separate struggles for housing and dignity in existence, which emphasized the challenges but also the possibility and necessity to link up struggles and to overcome the divide and rule policies of the Israeli capitalist elite.



Wave of unionization

Later during the day, trade unionists from different work places gathered to discuss the unprecedented development of unionization struggle in the recent year that comes in parallel with attacks of the government on the organized labor. Among the speakers was Shlomi Sheked-Almozalino, a leading trade unionist at ‘Pelephone’, the telecom company. Shlomi told how the workers at Pelephone won victories after a hard battle for union recognition and their first-ever collective agreement that covers the 3,000 employees in the company. The struggle and the victory of Pelephone workers became one of the symbols of the current wave of unionization – mass phenomena with more than 25,000 workers getting organized in 2013, alone.

Yasser Abu Arish from the workers action committee in “Leumi-Card” credit company that employees 1200 workers, spoke about the current struggle for the first ever collective agreement in his workplaces and also about how unionization can combat racist discrimination against Arab-Palestinians in the Israeli labor market which he personally experience.

Other speakers in this session were Naor Kapulnik, a SSM activist, who also takes part in the unionization struggle at a credit company, Anat Heyman, a leader of a unionization struggle in HaKameri, the biggest theatre in Tel-Aviv, and Hadas Zuqrat from the secretariat of the social workers union.



One of the unique features of the discussion was that it brought together trade unionists from the rank of different unions, from the Histadrut to the ‘Power to the Workers’. This is unusual, given the lack of forums for discussion and coordination among trade unionist, even within the Histadrut. This, in itself, is a by-product of the right wing policies of the Histadrut leadership. Therefore one of the proposals of SSM for the discussion was the establishment of such a forum from below, with the aim to coordinate and expand the struggles and to put pressure on the trade unions, as whole, to resist the offensive of the bosses and the government. This idea received wide support from the trade unionists speaking from the platform and also those who in the audience, like the head of the ‘Maariv’ journalists’ union, and Ami Vatury from the leadership of Power to the Workers.

The conference continued with a session on the struggle against austerity and the high cost of living, under the title “Where’s the money?” And a session on the struggle against the occupation and for a socialist solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, under the title “Where’s the peace?”

The second session was attended by many young people and included an introduction by Shahar Ben-Khorin, from SSM, who spoke about the inability of the current negotiations to answer any of the national or social aspirations of the Palestinian masses or to bring lasting peace. He drove home some conclusions from the failure of the Oslo accords, the mass Palestinian uprisings – the Intifadas – and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Shahar spoke about the need develop class-based forces with a socialist programme, on both sides of the national divide, to lead the struggle for equal rights and for self-determination, as part of the struggle for a socialist transformation of the war-torn and poverty-ridden region.



Call for a new socialist front

The closing session of the conference, on the next day, focused on building a political alternative to the establishment pro-capitalist parties, with the background of the social protest movement of 2011 and looming new battles against the government. The speakers on the platform were Or-ly Barlev, a social movement activist and organizer, Shelly Dvir, a newly-elected councilor from Tel Aviv, Inbal Hermony, a leading trade unionist in the social workers’ union, Tamar Gozhansky, a former MP for Hadash/AlJaba and the Communist Party, and Eyal Atsei Pri from Socialist Struggle Movement.

The session started with screening of a video of Kshama Sawant’s amazing election victory in Seattle, in the US. Afterwards, Yasha Marmer, who introduced the discussion, asked the speakers on the platform: “Why not here”? and presented the call of SSM for a the lunch of new socialist front to bring together workers and youth from both sides of the national divide, many of whom are now moving into struggle. While the burning national question poses challenges for a movement that is striving to unite Jews and Arabs in struggle for a socialist alternative, SSM activists and other speakers emphasized the big potential that exists in society for such a movement to be built given the background of regional and international developments.

Gozhansky expressed her support for a front of socialist forces and proposed discussions in the next period with SSM and also involving also other forces. Other speakers referred to the need of building of a wide movement fighting for a revolutionary change. The session was as an excellent start, between different forces, to further discussions on the development of the socialist left in Israel, with the aim to unite working class people from all backgrounds in the struggle to change society.

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January 2014