Turbocharging Zionist colonialism

Negotiations to form a far-right coalition are still ongoing, but there can be no hiding Netanyahu’s victory. Moshé Machover locates the drift to the right in the Zionist project itself

The political deadlock that dragged Israel through five general elections in less than four years was finally broken by the fifth one, held on November 1. The outcome is a majority for the most rightwing forces in Israel’s history.

‘Rightwing’ should be understood here in the Israeli sense. As I explained in a previous article,1 in Israeli politics ‘right’ signifies primarily a high commitment to militant Zionism: the far right is ultra-aggressive and ruthless in pursuance of Jewish colonisation of Palestinian land, ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian Arabs, and unmitigated Jewish supremacy.

At the time of writing, horse-trading to form a government is still ongoing. A likely outcome is the formation of a government led by Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s Likud, and including the ultra-right party of Religious Zionism, as well as two Orthodox religious parties, both old allies of Likud. I will refer to this as the ultra-right coalition (URC). But the formation of other ruling coalitions is still possible (see below).

The URC, beside being rightwing in the above sense, is also polluted with reactionary social values: racism (directed against all non-Jews), misogyny, homophobia and religious obscurantism, with a distinct streak of messianism. The most toxic partner in this coalition is its second largest component (and the third largest bloc in the newly elected Knesset), Religious Zionism, led by the slippery viper, Bezalel Smotrich, described by an Israeli historian as “the Israeli lawmaker heralding genocide against Palestinians”,2 and the crude rabble-rousing demagogue, Itamar Ben-Gvir, follower of racist terrorist rabbi Meir Kahane and mass murderer Baruch Goldstein.

Even some of the most faithful purveyors of Israeli propaganda have reacted with dismay. Here, for example, is Thomas L Friedman, a New York Times opinion columnist:

As that previously unthinkable reality takes hold, a fundamental question will roil synagogues in America and across the globe: ‘Do I support this Israel or not support it?’ It will haunt pro-Israel students on college campuses. It will challenge Arab allies of Israel in the Abraham Accords, who just wanted to trade with Israel and never signed up for defending a government there that is anti-Israeli Arab. It will stress those US diplomats who have reflexively defended Israel as a Jewish democracy that shares America’s values, and it will send friends of Israel in Congress fleeing from any reporter asking if America should continue sending billions of dollars in aid to such a religious-extremist-inspired government.3

His shock is all the greater because his view of Israel up to the recent turn is highly distorted by rose-tinted optics, and a habit of blaming the Palestinian victims of Zionist colonialism for their oppression.

Undoubtedly, under a URC, the colonisation of Palestinian land - and the violent brutality aimed at the Palestinian Arab people - will be turbocharged. Internal repression and muzzling of dissent within Israel will also intensify, targeting Arab citizens and their few Hebrew allies. The judiciary will also be shackled and subjected to rightwing political control.

Whatever government emerges, the result of the recent elections is not qualitatively new. It will, however, be a big quantitative step in the long-term rightward motion of Israeli society and politics.

This quantitative jump in fact seems even greater than it really is, because during the last three or four years the rightward trend has been partly obscured by a diversion: Netanyahu’s intricate manoeuvring to evade conviction on well-founded charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. This drove some rightwing politicians, who would normally ally with Netanyahu, but oppose him due to personal grudges or out of real disgust for his dishonesty, to join with centrist and left-of-centre parties in an ‘Anyone but Bibi’ coalition. During this period the Israeli right wing was split between Netanyahu’s supporters and his opponents. The latter now find themselves in opposition. As a result, not only will the composition of the new Israeli government be more rightwing than all previous ones, but the same will also apply to the opposition. The overall rightward shift is accentuated by the demise of Meretz, the last vestige of ‘left’ Zionism.

In a URC, Netanyahu would find himself in a novel position, unlike in all previous governments led by him: he would be, relatively, its most ‘moderate’ member. All his other prospective URC partners are more extreme than him on issues of society/religion, or on issues of colonisation/military aggression, or on both. This will deprive him of his accustomed manoeuvrability. In a sense, he will be held captive by the leaders of the Religious Zionism bloc.4 According to reliable leaks, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir really despise Netanyahu, and have only stuck with him during the last few years because he offered them a ladder into political office.


As Israeli politics shifts further to the right, and public opinion too flows from Likud further and further in the same direction, Ben-Gvir may try to dispense with the ladder. Now kingmaker, he may move to grab the crown. Netanyahu, a skilled political acrobat, must be alert to this danger. He may therefore try to lure a more centrist party - Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid or Benny Gantz’s HaMahane HaMamlakhti,5 or both - to form an alternative government to the URC. This would certainly please Israel’s friends in the west, who find Religious Zionism distasteful. But Lapid and Gantz will take some convincing, as they have been repeatedly cheated and lied to by Netanyahu.

The ongoing process of Israel’s move to the ultra-right is by no means accidental. Although it appears as the Israeli version of a worldwide rise of rightwing populism, this is only superficially the case. It has a profound historical structural cause: Zionism’s single great failure - so far.

The Zionist project has been, on the whole, phenomenally successful. A movement founded in 1897, with a programme that many regarded as a fantasy, political Zionism managed within 51 years to establish a modern state occupying nearly three quarters of Palestine, its coveted territory; and after another 19 years it completed the conquest of the remaining part, which it has annexed, albeit unofficially. Israel, the Zionist settlers’ state, has a thriving, modern, capitalist economy, with an advanced hi-tech industry; it is a regional superpower with formidable armed forces and a nuclear arsenal. This success is all the more astonishing, seeing that the Zionist settlers were not citizens of an imperialist metropole, sent by their mother country on a colonising mission. Rather, the Zionist movement and its state had to seek successive imperialist powers as foster-parents. This required great skill in cutting advantageous political and military deals with great powers.

Zionism deliberately avoided the type of colonisation whose political economy was based on exploiting the labour-power of the indigenous people, as was the rule in European colonies in Africa. There the settlers formed a minority, a quasi-class of exploiters. In the 20th century, anti-colonial struggle intensified, leading, in the second half of the century, to decolonisation. The settlers either left (willingly or otherwise) or remained as a minority stripped of absolute political power, although retaining economic advantages (as in South Africa). Zionism avoided such an outcome.

The model of colonisation it followed - imposed mainly under the leadership of ‘labour Zionism’ - was like that practised in Australia, New Zealand and much of North America, whose political economy excluded the indigenous people and depended on settlers being the main direct producers.6 In those British colonies the indigenous people were numerically overwhelmed by the settlers - in some cases totally exterminated (such as Tasmania) - but in all other cases eventually reduced to minorities unable to mount significant resistance that can only be suppressed by extensive use of force.

The Zionist colonisation of Palestine is an exception in modern colonial history: the Hebrew settlers and the indigenous Palestinian Arabs have reached a demographic stalemate. The settlers have not remained a small minority, as in the African colonies; but they were not able to overwhelm the indigenous people like their counterparts in Australia and North America. Zionism has achieved half of its aim: dominating and imposing Jewish supremacy over the whole of Palestine. But it has failed (so far) in attaining the other half: installing a stable and secure Jewish majority in its domain. At present there is in Palestine/Israel an approximate numerical parity between the two national groups: colonisers and colonised. The Palestinians have been defeated, but not utterly subdued. They have been able to mount various forms of resistance that tie up considerable Israeli repressive manpower and resources.

This exceptional failure of the Zionist project has several causes, which I have analysed in some detail in a previous article.7 Here I would like to consider the likely consequences.

The present situation is unstable. The Palestinians are powerless to prevent further colonisation of their land, but the new settlers and their growing number of militant supporters regard resistance as a challenge and react by escalating their aggression. Increasingly, this brutal violence is informed and justified by messianic religion - an ideology best suited for this role, as I have again explained in previous articles.8 But in turn the ongoing robbery of Palestinian land and vicious attacks by settlers’ gangs, in alliance with Israeli armed forces, call forth more resistance. So we are witnessing a dialectic escalation of oppression and resistance. Peaceful resolution is not on the cards in the present state of the world.9

The logic of the situation points towards an attempt by Israel to achieve a Jewish majority by ‘transferring’ masses of Palestinians out of Palestine/Israel - and plans for this have long existed.10 Implementation of such schemes for what will be a new nakba can only be attempted in exceptional circumstances, such as a regional conflagration. In this connection it may be of interest to note that Netanyahu’s prospective URC partners have been described as ‘pyromaniacs’.11

  1. ‘Moving to far right’ Weekly Worker April 22 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1344/moving-to-far-right.↩︎

  2. D Blatman, ‘The Israeli lawmaker heralding genocide against Palestinians’ Ha’aretz May 23 2017.↩︎

  3. ‘The Israel we knew is gone’ The New York Times November 4 2022.↩︎

  4. ‘Meron Rapoport: Israeli supremacist Ben-Gvir will be the real prime minister’ - Interview by Michele Giorgio in Il Manifesto global edition, November 6 2022: global.ilmanifesto.it/meron-rapoport-israeli-supremacist-ben-gvir-will-be-the-real-prime-minister.↩︎

  5. These are silly names, as befits their political vacuity: they mean ‘There is a future’ and ‘The state camp’, respectively.↩︎

  6. A third model, based on plantations using enslaved workers, was out of the question.↩︎

  7. ‘The decolonisation of Palestine’ Weekly Worker June 23 2016: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1112/the-decolonisation-of-palestine.↩︎

  8. ‘Israel and the Messiah’s ass’ Weekly Worker June 1 2017: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1157/israel-and-the-messiahs-ass; ‘Messianic colonialism’ Weekly Worker June 9 2022: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1398/messianic-colonialism.↩︎

  9. See my article, ‘Two impossibilities’ Weekly Worker May 12 2022: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1395/two-impossibilities.↩︎

  10. See, for example, M van Creveld, ‘Sharon’s plan is to drive Palestinians across the Jordan’ The Sunday Telegraph April 28 2002.↩︎

  11. A Harel, ‘Israel’s elections: With the West Bank on the brink, Netanyahu ushers in the pyromaniacs’ Ha’aretz November 4 2022.↩︎