Polarisation continues to grow

Tony Greenstein thinks that the chances of a Labour-led coalition are slim

The Israeli Labour Party, running with Tsipi Livni’s Hatnuah, has high hopes of forming the next government. It is likely to be disappointed.

Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset two years early as a result of the refusal of Livni and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid to agree to proposals to entrench, as a basic (constitutional) law, the definition of Israel as a Jewish state. Arabic would have been removed as the second official language in Israel and there would have been a failure to even pay lip-service to the equality of all Israeli citizens, regardless of national/religious affiliation, in law.

There have, of course, never been any disagreements within the Zionist parties about Israel being a Jewish state. What the disagreement focused on is the wisdom of putting this into law and thus making it clear that Israeli Palestinians are the equivalent of Gastarbeiter (guest workers), tolerated strangers at best, within this state.

The context for this has been a raft of legislation specifically targeting Israel’s Palestinian minority. Teachers are banned from dealing with the Nakba, the expulsion of Palestinians in 1947-48. Discrimination against Palestinians in terms of the right to lease ‘national land’ has been reinstated after a decision of the high court in 2000.

To emphasise its Zionist credentials, the Israeli Labour Party is standing as the Zionist Union for the purpose of the elections. It wishes to make it clear that it is not ‘soft’ when it comes to the Arabs. Unlike the right, the Zionist ‘left’ has always hidden behind the formulation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, but, as the Jewish Nazi MK, Rabbi Meir Kahanem put it, you can have a Jewish state or a democratic state, but you cannot have both.

As is normal in Israel, parties suddenly spring up for no other reason than there is an election. This time we have Kulanu, a ‘centrist’ party (in Israeli terms), but hard-line on security, and Yachad, formed by the former leader of the ultra-orthodox Sephardic Shas party, Eli Yishai, which is on the Zionist right. This rapid formation and disappearance of political parties, usually based around a single individual, is a by-product of Israeli settler-colonialism and its distorted class politics.

If the Israeli Labour Party were even the equivalent of a European social democratic party and Israel was a normal bourgeois democracy, it would be romping home. Whilst the cost of housing continues to soar (provoking the tent protests three years ago), and poverty and low wages affect even the Jewish sector of the population, billions of shekels are spent on the settlements. Coupled with this there are now revelations that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, spent public money on takeaways, cleaners and even the transfer of garden furniture from the prime ministerial residence to their own private home. Netanyahu is a good example of the marriage of racism and corruption, yet Israeli Labour cannot land a blow.

Another Likud coalition seems the likeliest outcome. However, if Likud and the Zionist right do lose a number of seats and the Zionist centre gains a few, then the second most likely outcome is a repeat of the 2009 general election, when Labour went into a coalition with Likud and virtually destroyed itself. There is, after all, no difference of principle between Likud and Labour. Isaac Hertzog, the new Labour leader, made that clear when Israeli Labour representatives on the Central Elections Committee voted along with Likud and the Zionist right to ban Haneen Zoabi of Balad from standing in the election (Ms Zoabi successfully challenged this in the supreme court).

It probably did not occur to Labour that it might be more appropriate to bar existing racist members of the Knesset, such as Ayelet Shaked, who advocated the murder of all Palestinian mothers, because they will only give birth to Palestinian ‘terrorists’ or ‘snakes’, in her description. Racism and Israeli Labour have always gone hand in hand and that is why, whatever the mathematical outcome, Israel’s general elections will herald no change.

The last time the Israeli Labour Party won a convincing majority was in 1992. Yitzhak Rabin’s victory was primarily on account of the freezing by George Bush of export credits by the United States. Despite recent differences, there is no sign that Obama is thinking of similar moves.