Israel: Mass protests against far-right, ultra-nationalist government

A recent protest against the new far right government in Israel

The new, far-right, ultra-nationalist Israeli government was sworn in in December 2022. It has already provoked unprecedented protests in Israel. On 14 January 80,000 took to the streets, despite threats from the internal security minister to deploy water cannons against the demonstrators. The following week the number of demonstrators rose to 130,000. On 27 January, nine Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army in Jenin in the West Bank, and nine Israelis were killed in a subsequent terrorist attack in Jerusalem. In the past, such a situation would have led to the cancellation of protest rallies. Nevertheless, 170,000 still went ahead and demonstrated on 28 January.

The Netanyahu administration is the most right-wing government in Israeli history. Netanyahu is actually on the more ‘moderate’ wing of the ruling coalition, which includes ultra-nationalist, openly racist, and homophobic zealots. His main coalition partner is the Religious Zionist Party headed by messianic, right-wing, religious settlers Bezalel Smotrich and Ittamar Ben Gvir. Ben Gvir, who has now been appointed internal security minister, used to have a photo on his wall of Baruch Goldstein – a Jewish terrorist who massacred 29 Muslims while they were praying in Hebron. Smotrich, who has been appointed finance minister, is a neoliberal and promises to ban the right to strike in many sectors.

Capitalists fear destabilisation

Capitalists, both in Israel and internationally, are terrified by the rise of this government. This is not because of any democratic sensibilities on their part, but rather their fear that this government is out of their control, and that its provocative actions will pour gas onto the flaming embers of the national conflict, destabilising the situation in Israel, and the region, and harming their profits.

Surprisingly, the government plan which has provoked the widest opposition in the media is its proposed reforms to the judiciary, limiting the independence of the Supreme Court and making it subservient to the government, and allowing its rulings to be overruled by a majority vote in the Knesset (Israeli parliament).

Judicial reforms – Netanyahu’s ‘get out of jail card’

The Supreme Court judges do play a prominent role in Israeli capitalism, as a check for the excesses of elected governments and a supposedly independent arbiter of conflicts. The vast majority of the time, the Supreme Court rules in favour of the government. But occasionally it makes a concession on a secondary issue. The judiciary acts in the interests of the broader capitalist ruling class by, for example, acting to limit the corruption of politicians. A former president, along with a former prime minister, has ended up serving jail terms. The ‘judicial reforms’ are intended to prevent the courts from convicting Netanyhu of corruption and banning him from office, and these are supported by the right-wing settlers who want a faster process for wholesale expropriation of Palestinian land.

Despite not being deemed by the Israeli state as citizens, Palestinians from the West Bank have the right to appeal against actions of the Israeli state to the Supreme Court. It rules in the state’s favour the majority of the time but occasionally rules against the more provocative actions of the army. It serves to legitimise the acts of repression and expropriation carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which can claim it is merely upholding law and order. There are enormous illusions in the Supreme Court among the left, and many social struggles end with the deliberations of the Supreme Court. The court serves as a safe conduit for social conflicts, where these are decided by judges and lawyers, with the masses reduced to the role of onlookers.

Massive demonstrations

Despite the intentions of the official organisers of the demonstrations, the judicial reforms were not the key element that propelled 170,000 demonstrators to protest against the government. It was revulsion against the racist and homophobic pronouncements of government ministers along with the fear that the government will defund education and social services in order to channel money to the Ultra-Orthodox communities, turning Israel into a theocratic dictatorship. Most of all, demonstrators feared that the government’s provocations against the Palestinians could fan the flames of the national conflict, exploding the region into a new war.

There have been demonstrations of 13,000 in Haifa, 4,000 in Herzlia, 3,000 in Netanya, and smaller demonstrations in other areas. However, the biggest by far has been the 100,000-strong demonstrations in Tel Aviv.

The speakers at the demonstrations were dominated by members of the establishment. These included former prime minister Yair Lapid, a former general and defence minister Moshe Yaalon (who pioneered the use of targeted assassinations by the IDF), Yuval Diskin (former head of the Israel Security Agency) who published an article in Ynet calling for a civil strike to be organised to stop the government. But, these pillars of the establishment merely aim to provoke a return to office of the people and policies of the previous government – a government that combined more sustainable and restrained repression of the Palestinians with occasional talk of peace. It supports the defence of the Supreme Court’s ‘independence’ so that it can continue to act as a pressure valve for society while providing a legal stamp of approval for continued exploitation and oppression by capitalists. They put forward no alternative other than the Bennet/Lapid government which ruled Israel in 2021-2022, and the failure of which to improve the lives of workers, and continued national repression, led to its rapid demise, and the return of Netanyahu.

The demonstrators are right to fear that the new government will trigger an explosion of national conflict. This is already beginning to happen, with Israeli armed forces raiding Jenin in the West Bank killing nine Palestinians and wounding scores of others.

Hamas responded by firing missiles into Israel from Gaza, to which the Israeli Air Force responded by bombing Gaza. Consequentially, the Palestinian Authority suspended cooperation with the IDF.

On 27 January a Palestinian terrorist killed nine Israelis in Jerusalem, and the following day, a 13-year-old shot and wounded two Israelis in Jerusalem. Reports on Israeli television showed Jerusalem as a ghost town with the streets empty, and the journalist’s report was punctuated by thugs shouting “death to the Arabs!” in the background. There are reports of dozens of attacks over last weekend by settlers on Palestinians in the occupied territories. Ethnic violence can escalate and open the way to wider conflicts.

The government has announced that the home of the 13-year-old will be destroyed, a long-standing policy applied to Palestinian families, the family home of the Jewish murderer of prime minister Rabin was not touched. It also will make it easier for Jewish Israelis to arm themselves. Two army divisions will be sent into Jerusalem, and there are plans to change laws to enable workers to be dismissed without a disciplinary hearing if they are deemed to “support terror”.

The ascent of the new ultra-nationalist government represents a very serious development in Palestine, Israel, and internationally. In order to defeat the government, the protests need to provide an independent working-class alternative that can start to undermine the far right’s support. The movement cannot be subservient to capitalist politicians who fear that the new government will harm their profits. It has to put forward an alternative to Netanyahu/Ben Gvir, and this alternative cannot be a return to discredited capitalist parties which were in power last year, and whose failure led to the return of Netanyahu. This requires the establishment of a party that unites the working class, Jewish and Arab, secular and religious, by means of socialist policies, based on their common interests to end the national oppression of the Palestinians, along with the continual assaults on the living conditions of the Israeli working class. The movement needs to reach out beyond the middle-class, secular Tel Aviv centre and build in the working-class areas, and in the development towns.

No section of the capitalists have an alternative to the current ultra-nationalist government. Only the working class, organised in its own independent party, can show a way out of the developing nightmare.

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January 2023