Israel’s general election held on 1 November 1st – the fifth election in three years – saw the return of the corrupt, right-wing former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to power. He is still facing trial on four corruption charges. The far-right, Religious Zionist party, whose deputy leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, calls for the expulsion of “disloyal” Arabs, as well as left-wing Jews, is now the third party in the Knesset, with 14 seats. Itamar Ben-Gvir is also an admirer of Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish terrorist, who in 1994 massacred 29 Muslim Palestinians while they were praying.
The anti-occupation Meretz party narrowly missed the electoral threshold of 3.25% and lost all its Knesset seats. The radical Palestinian party, Balad, which recently broke away from the communist-led ‘Joint List’, also failed to clear the threshold, thereby losing its one MK (member of parliament). And the once mighty Israeli Labour Party, which ruled Israel for three decades, barely scraped into the Knesset – winning only four seats – which is less than the joint list of the Hadash, the communist party, and Ta’al, a secular Palestinian nationalist party.
This election represents a crushing defeat for the Israeli “left” and shows their utter failure to offer a way out of the crisis in Israeli society.
Netanyahu returns to power just 16 months after he was ousted in the 2021 elections, and replaced by the ‘Government of Change’. That government, which had the backing of most of the Israeli capitalist class and was an unholy alliance, containing far-right settlers, the anti-occupation Meretz party, the Islamist United Arab List, the Israeli Labour Party, and Yair Lapid’s centre party – disparate parties united only by their opposition to Netanyahu.
Despite a large financial surplus, the outgoing government ended the covid stimulus payments which kept many families and small businesses afloat. The government also waged a bloody bombing campaign in Gaza and accelerated the building of settlements and the expropriation of Palestinian Land in the West Bank, as well as the eviction of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and their replacement by far-right settlers. All this was done by a government propped up by Meretz and the Labour Party, which were prepared to act as a fifth wheel in this repressive government, in the name of keeping Netanyahu out. When Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was assassinated by the IDF, and her funeral was brutally attacked by Israeli police, the minister responsible was Labour MK, Omer Bar Lev.
Metetz’s record in government
The Meretz party had always railed against the evils of the occupation while in opposition, but once in government their six MKs, time and again, voted to maintain the repressive laws which maintained the occupation regime. This was done in the name of holding the coalition together and preventing the return of Netanyahu. In order to keep Netanyahu out, Meretz propped up a government that continued the racist and repressive policies which had been Netanyahu’s hallmark, and now Netanyahu is once again Prime Minister.
After the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh, this contradiction became untenable, and Meretz’s sole Arab MK, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, briefly resigned from the coalition, depriving it of its majority, The subsequent denunciation of Rinawie Zoabi by the Meretz leadership made it clear that despite Meretz’s egalitarian programme, an Arab Meretz MK’s role was to serve as a decoration who was expected to do what they are told and vote for the continued oppression of the Palestinians. Their decline to zero MKs in this election is the inevitable result of Meretz’s utter spinelessness.
Netanyahu’s Likud party is once again the largest in the Knesset, with 32 seats. But this represents only a quarter of the Knesset seats. Likud has maintained Trump-like right-populist support from the more downtrodden layers of the working class, who are aware that he is opposed by the majority of the capitalist establishment. But its share of the vote is still significantly less than in the 1980s when at one point Likud had 48 seats.
Gains for the far right
Many people are dismayed by the rapid ascent of the ultra-right Religious Zionist party. Once a fringe party, it has doubled its vote and now is the third party in the Knesset, with 14 seats. Its programme is a programme of racist civil war and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, banning marriages between Jews and Muslims, and the expelling of Arabs who are “disloyal” (as well as “treacherous” left-wing Jews, as well as attacks on LGBT rights). Its gun-toting deputy leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, is a follower of the neo-fascist Meir Kahanah, was a youth leader for the now-banned Kach party and provides legal defence to Jewish terrorists who murder Palestinians.
Ben Gvir has been convicted for inciting racist hatred, and even the Israeli army (which is notorious in its racist oppression of Palestinians) refused to enlist him because of his extremist ideology. He has been prominent in the campaign to kick Palestinian families out of their homes in East Jerusalem and replace them with settler zealots.
His party won many votes from the mixed towns where elements of inter-communal civil war erupted in May 2021 – partially fermented by right-wing thugs from Ben Gvir’s party. These mixed towns remain a low-intensity war zone, and Ben Gvir capitalised on the fear amongst Jewish inhabitants of these neighbourhoods – offering the “simple” solution of expelling their Arab neighbours. The rise of this party, the political embodiment of distilled reaction, shows the enormous crisis in Israeli society and the desperation of large layers of the population who are disaffected with the failed Establishment parties and desperate for a way out of the crisis. These are the horrific dangers caused by the vacuum when there is no workers’ party offering a socialist solution to the crisis.
The Israeli press calculates that Netanyahu now has enough support in the Knesset to form a stable coalition with Ben Gvir. But forming such a coalition will be pouring petrol onto the already smouldering embers of the national conflict with the Palestinians, both inside and outside Israel proper, as well as with the surrounding Middle East. Therefore Netanyahu is likely to prefer a National Unity government with Yair Lapid or Benny Ganz’s centre parties, using the spectre of an ultra-right coalition with Ben Gvir to extract the maximum leverage.
After years of parliamentary stalemate, these elections give Netanyahu’s allies a clear five-seat majority – arithmetically enough to form a stable coalition. But Netanyahu’s Likud party, with 32 seats, would be a minority within such a coalition, and subject to continuous blackmail by deranged right-wing fanatics. His five-seat coalition majority will not be enough to insulate him from the chronic instability of Israeli society, and his coalition will stagger from crisis to crisis and ultimately be torn to shreds.
Need for a socialist alternative
Israeli capitalism is in crisis. Its parties have nothing to offer the Israeli working class except permanent war, insecurity and economic misery. These parties can only build support by stirring up the most reactionary ideas of racism, ultra-nationalism, homophobia, and hatred of migrant workers. There is no way out under capitalism, and all parties which cling to the capitalist system will stagger from crisis to crisis.
This new government will not solve the issues facing the Israeli working class and will probably mean even more repression for the Palestinian masses. There needs to be an independent voice of the Israeli working class that opposes right populism and the far right, standing for uniting with the Palestinian masses to build a non-sectarian alternative that defends the democratic and national rights of all. Such a movement would be the basis for the building of workers’ parties, that armed with a socialist programme, can unite the working class in action on the basis of its common interests, and in that way end the nightmare of oppression and capitalism.