Israel: Thousands attend “general strike” protest against ultra right, nationalist government

Israel protest against far-right government. Photo: Uzi D

An estimated 100,000 Israelis demonstrated outside the Knesset on Monday 13 February, against the legal reforms of the new ultra-right-wing nationalist government. Thousands of workers took part in what was described as a “general strike” and hundreds of buses transported demonstrators to the largest protest ever seen outside the Knesset.

But this “general strike” was extremely contradictory and of a multi-class character, including sections of the capitalist class and employers. The Histradrut, the official trade union federation, did not take part in it.  Three hundred tech firms, law firms and university departments allowed and encouraged their staff to take the day off work to attend the strike. This employer-sanctioned strike, led and organised by the leaders of the establishment and sections of the ruling class, was aimed against Netanyahu’s plan to curtail the independence of the Supreme Court, and its role as a check against the excesses of elected governments.

This was, in effect, a mobilisation of the middle class and sections of workers by the capitalists who are terrified that Netanyahu’s ultra-right government will destabilise the region and ultimately threaten their profits. This section of the ruling class has lost control of the ruling political regime. They see the Supreme Court as their last defence which can restrain the craziest and most dangerous initiatives of the new right-wing authoritarian government. This has been led by capitalist politicians, like Lapid, and former generals and security chiefs, and tech billionaires and lawyers.

Each day brings new denouncements of the government by a different section of the establishment. The US Secretary of State and head of the CIA visited Israel in recent weeks to try to press the new Israeli government not to ignite a new turbocharged wave of conflict by provocative actions. Tech companies are threatening a strike of capital and are moving their funds outside of Israel, with NIS4 billion having already been moved abroad in recent weeks. This has prompted Netanyahu supporters to accuse the opposition of trying to use economic blackmail to reverse the results of the elections. With an incredible lack of irony, Netanyahu’s Likud party has filed a police complaint against Tel Aviv Mayor, Ron Huldai, accusing him of inciting violence and civil disobedience. The police chiefs and army generals have clashed with their political superiors – the new ministers. The Chief of the Police forces has refused his minister’s orders to accelerate the pace of demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.

Some journalists are comparing Netanyahu’s government to Liz Truss’ short-lived government in Britain, which was brought down within weeks by opposition by the bond dealers. But Truss had no support in society, whereas Netanyahu has a popular base amongst some of the more oppressed sections of the Jewish working class. Events are escalating out of the control of both the capitalists and Netanyahu. He is attempting to balance between the settler zealots in his coalition and the capitalist class. His Likud party won only 23% of the vote, and just over a quarter of the Members of the Knesset – MKs – so he needs coalition partners – making his natural allies, the far-right settlers, into king-makers.

Plight of Palestinians

The Israeli capitalist class are not particularly concerned with the rights of the Palestinians, but they do not want Israel to be engulfed in new wars and exploding national conflict which will risk their investment. At the same time, the far right’s programme is one of the maximum provocations and brutal repression against the Palestinians. Only last week, National Security minister, Ben Gvir, announced a list of measures to worsen the already brutally harsh conditions of Palestinian prisoners, limiting their showers to only 4 minutes per day, and cutting off prison water supplies for 23 hours each day. So Netanyahu’s coalition has dynamite embedded in its foundations.

An explosive situation is developing as a result of the increased repression of the Palestinian people. The far-right, semi-fascistic elements in the government, like Ben Gvir, are attempting to impose ethnic cleansing. This has already resulted in a series of armed clashes and attacks. A third more brutal Intifada can develop in the coming period.

Netanyahu needs Judicial Reform to give him the power to cancel the bribery and corruption trials against him. The far-right settlers want to pack the Supreme Court with right-wing judges who will rubber-stamp wholesale land expropriations, and will not impede the ramping up of repression against the Palestinians. The anti-Netanyahu movement has become a movement in defence of the Supreme Court. But the judiciary is part of the repressive machinery of the capitalist state. This is especially true in Israel, where (after the appearance of careful deliberations) they give their legal seal of approval to the vast majority of repressive actions of the state. They sometimes delay expropriations with their deliberations. They occasionally rule in favour of the Palestinians on secondary issues. This has won them an undeserved degree of credibility amongst liberals but also won them the opposition of the far right who see them as a fetter to the ramping up of repression.

The capitalist press has denounced these reforms as Israel’s “Weimar moment” and a “dictatorial coup” where the guard rails and checks and balances of Israeli society are dismantled turning it into a “theocratic garrison regime”. Haaretz journalist, Yossi Verter, describes Israel as being on a “short road to Fascism”. And Netanyahu’s government does indeed include semi-fascistic elements.  But the protest movement and its leadership have no alternative to Netanyahu. The sole alternative they are raising is a resurrection of the previous short-lived Bennet/Lapid capitalist government; an anti-Netanyahu government of continual crisis which paved the path for the rapid return of Netanyahu together with his semi-fascistic coalition partners.

The protesters are dominated by Tel Aviv residents – the secular liberal economic capital of Israel, where one in ten residents is a US$ millionaire. High-tech workers have been very prominent in the demonstrations, often being given time off by their employers to take part in the protests. The tech bubble has had a massive effect on Israel in the last few years, with tech start-ups raising $25.6 billion in 2021. Some of the money has filtered down to tech workers whose salaries are often double those earned in other sectors. This money has made Tel Aviv the most expensive city in the world, with workers increasingly priced out. Many Israeli workers see Tel Aviv residents and tech workers, in particular, as a privileged aristocracy. And the slogans shouted by some of the demonstrators, such as “If there is no democracy, there will be no Hi-tech”; do not resonate with workers who are priced out of Tel-Aviv by highly paid tech employees.

The demonstrations have been characterised by a sea of Israeli flags. But these flags represent oppression to the Palestinians and their presence will repel Palestinians who are suffering the most from Netanyahu’s new government, and who should be the natural allies of the demonstrators.

Israeli society in deep crisis

Israeli society is deep in crisis. The capitalist class is terrified of the new government that is in turmoil and deeply divided. It is currently providing the leadership for the protests, mobilising predominantly the middle-class layers. It has no alternative political programme other than that which failed in the short-lived previous Bennet/Lapid government. This is because the crisis in Israeli society is fundamentally a crisis of the capitalist system which cannot provide decent living standards for more than a narrow section of Israeli society and cannot solve the national conflict.

In order to succeed, the protest movement needs to eject its capitalist leadership and needs to forge a working-class leadership and programme.

The Histradruth did not take part in Monday’s ‘general strike’. The Histadruth trade union general secretary issued a statement on the previous Thursday calling for national unity. He said that he refuses to get embroiled in the political debate which divides workers, and instead calls for dialogue and compromise along the lines set out by President Herzog. But what is needed is not abstinence by the Histradrut leadership, but independent action by the working class. This means opposing both the ultra-right government and the capitalist establishment leadership of the opposition. What is needed is a political alternative to Netanyahu and to the capitalist opposition – a workers’ party uniting all workers, including Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, with a socialist alternative to the developing nightmare.

A struggle is needed to oppose the government and build an independent party and movement of the working class that opposes the capitalist Israeli regimes. A party of the working class that defends the rights of all peoples of the area is essential. We stand for the democratic rights of the Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli peoples and oppose the oppression of all peoples. We support a struggle against the brutal repression of the Palestinian people and defence of their right to self-determination to establish an independent Palestinian state and also the defence of the rights of the peoples of Israel to their own state. To achieve this, a united struggle to establish a democratic voluntary socialist confederation of the region is necessary. Only through such a struggle can the democratic rights and living standards of all the people of the area be achieved.


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February 2023