Israeli protests against Netanyahu’s judicial reforms have been going on for weeks. Tom O’Connor looks at the nature of the protests and what they might mean for the Apartheid State of Israel.
Should we support the anti-Government protests in Israel? The short answer is no. The protests are impressive, not least in their persistence, even after Prime Minister Netanyahu was forced to put the proposed changes on ice, probably until mid-May. He was forced into this because the air force army elite had joined the protests, and because the changes represent a significant rightward shift by Netanyhu’s Government.
But the protests are not a challenge to the Apartheid State of Israel – rather, they represent a disagreement between the two wings of Zionism over how to run the Apartheid State.
What is at the root of the protests?
On 1 November 2022 Israel elected its most extreme right wing government. Netanyahu, leader of Likud which used to be a secular right wing party willingly formed a coalition which includes fascistic Zionists. Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism Party, is now not only the Minister for Finance but also in charge of defence of settlers in the West Bank. Recently he claimed there are no such ethnic people as Palestinians – a claim made many years ago by the Labour Party PM, Golda Meir – and called for the Palestinian town of Huwara – which had already been torched by settlers – to be wiped off the map. He says he is a proud homophobe. Ben-Gvir, leader of Jewish Power, similarly calls for Palestinians to be ejected from the West Bank. Laughably he was not accepted into the army because of his convictions for terrorism. He was charged with crimes over 50 times. He was a member of the now banned fascist Kach Party. Now he is in charge of ALL the security forces, and has done a deal to create his own national guard, which will no doubt be the killers of many Palestinians in the months/years to come.
Netanyahu is only too delighted to align with the fascist parties because they all want to end the independence of the judiciary, effectively allowing parliament – the 120 member Knesset – to overturn court decisions and to allow the Government to appoint most judges. Netanyahu is in court facing corruption charges. So, guess which decision will be one of the first to be reversed.
The move to control the courts is another aspect of the Israeli Government’s ongoing shift to the far-right, and comes alongside attacks on critical media and opposition politicians. Echoes here of Trump.
Apartheid Courts for an Apartheid State
You could argue that it’s a good thing that Israeli people are protecting their courts. But the courts are nothing to be proud of. These are the very courts which confirm the destruction of Palestinian property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They confirm the arrest of children by the military for stone throwing. The children are held incommunicado and face military courts held in Hebrew with no guaranteed translation. At least three of the Supreme Court judges are settlers themselves.
When the protesters talk about “protecting democracy”, this isn’t real democracy – it is called “Israeli democracy” or occasionally “Jewish democracy in the Israeli media. This is even more so the case since the passing of the ‘Nation-State Law’ in 2018, which cemented apartheid against the Palestinians into the system. I’m reluctant to write ‘Jewish Democracy’ because this has nothing to do with the religion of Judaism. The more accurate term would be “Zionist Democracy”, but the Israeli media and politicians don’t use that term – it is a given.
No Challenge to the Apartheid State
Much has been made of the use of tear gas and the arrest of Israeli protesters by police. Palestinian journalist Odeh Bisharat made the point in Haaretz that at the end of one day of nationwide Israeli protest, where roads were closed and the country was brought to a halt “108 protesters had been arrested, of whom 100 were released that same day and the remainder the next day.”
He compared this to the nationwide protests of May 2021, which were mainly by Palestinian citizens of Israel. These were met with savage resistance from the State:
“3660 Arabs [Palestinians] were arrested and 350 were indicted. The sentences were monstrous — months and sometimes even many years in jail. Even those lucky enough not to be charged sat in jail for weeks and sometimes months before they were released.”
This is because the majority of the protesters and the Israeli State agree on the fundamentals: They support a Zionist State that upholds an Apartheid system and represses the Palestinians. The protests are full of thousands of Israeli flags. There are almost never any Palestinian flags and the few that have been raised are quickly dragged down. As Gideon Levy, a brave journalist in Haaretz newspaper has said, to seriously bring Palestine into the question of democracy would mean bringing an end to the State of Israel.
Moreover, the previous Government only differed from the current one in accepting the independence of the judiciary. They oversaw the killing of 238 Palestinians in 2022, 60% of whom were not combatants and included 41 children. So far this year the killings by the IDF – or the IOF (Israeli Occupation Force), as the Palestinians more appropriately put it – have averaged nearly one Palestinian killed in the West Bank or Gaza each day. If this continues, 2023 will be the worst death toll since the Second Intifada.
The Israeli State’s Rightward March
The state of Israel was created by the influx of a large number of Ashkenazi Jews from Europe before but particularly immediately after WW2, aided and abetted by British imperialism. Most, not all, were Zionists who believed that Jews would only be safe in a state created for Jews. After the Holocaust, there was a lot of sympathy for this view.
Their claim of a ‘land without people for a people without land’ was a clever catch phrase. But it ignored the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) which refers to the violent expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and homeland, as well as another 15,000 killed by Zionist militias and the new Israeli army during the state of Israel’s establishment (1947-49).
75 years on (watch for protests in Ireland on 15 May 2023), the majority of Jewish Israelis are Mizrahi, Sephardic and Ethiopian Jews. They are becoming aware that they are second class to the Ashkenazi elite. Not unusually, poorly educated people with poor prospects turn to religion. The Mizrahim are much more religious than the Ashkenazim, more of the ‘ultra-orthodox’ haredi are drawn from Mizrahim. The founders of the state cleverly conflated Jews and Israel, so much so that they, in a sense, created an ethnic group of Jews. But as has been said, the immigrants came over the years from many ethnicities. For a long time the Ashkenazim could quieten complaints from those below them by saying ‘we Jews have to stick together because we are surrounded by Arabs who want to kill us’, or words to that effect.
For a long time the Mizrahi people were represented by the Shas party but the initially secular Likud saw the emerging political awareness and began to reflect the stronger emphasis on religion of the Mizrahim, who in turn supported Likud, despite Netanyahu not being one of them.
This is bad news for Palestinians. Very religious Zionists view all of the West Bank as a legitimate – in religious terms – part of Israel. They refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria. And a majority of Mizrahim want to get rid of Palestinians. To take matters into their own hands, messianic Zionist settlers deliberately go into isolated places in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to establish a new settlement and thus get rid of Palestinians and widen the state of ‘Israel’. State subsidised housing and tax reliefs for settlers in the West Bank also serve to strengthen the annexation of Palestinian land.
Since the Netanyahu Government became established in late December the Settlers have felt emboldened enough to frequently attack the Palestinians in the West Bank.
The IOF too are getting much more violent. In February they went into Nablus, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, to take on Palestinian militants. Eleven people were killed, 6 of whom were militants. Over 100 were injured.
Unlike previous raids, this took place in the middle of the morning when the streets were full of people in the old city. In reaction, two Israeli settlers were killed two days later in Huwara. Two days later busloads of settlers were organized to descend on the town, and they torched it. The IOF turned a blind eye to the conflict and Palestinians claim the IOF prevented ambulances arriving to the aid of injured Palestinians. Haaretz has claimed that a significant proportion of soldiers on duty in the northern West Bank support the fascist parties. And now we await the creating and hand-picking of Ben-Gvir’s national guard.
What’s the hope for a real democracy and for Palestinian liberation?
No general election has taken place in the Occupied Territories since 2006 when Hamas won the majority in Parliament. Western imperialism could not tolerate a working democracy and the EU and USA promptly declared they would not recognise “terrorists” taking control of the Palestinian Authority.
The Oslo Accords were designed to give the PA over to the most Quisling collaborationist party, in Palestine, Fatah. (Rather like Fianna Fáil harping on about a united Ireland and doing nothing, Fatah harps on about an independent state, but takes no serious action.) They have lost the trust of any Palestinians I talked to.
So, there is little hope that can be placed in the official Palestinian leadership. And there is no hope that the Israeli State might reform itself to include the Palestinians. These protests are essentially about the two wings of Zionism going up against one another and clashing over how the Apartheid State is to be managed.
The hope, therefore, lies with ordinary Palestinians, including Palestinian workers, along with the Arab working class and the international solidarity movement. Despite the sellout of people like Mahmoud Abbas, ordinary Palestinians all over Palestine continue to resist occupation, annexation, displacement and ethnic cleansing. Protest movements and workers’ strikes that have exploded at different times over the past few years give an idea of what is possible if Palestinians get organised on a grass roots basis.
Of course, Israel is backed by the world’s biggest imperialist power in the United States, as well as the EU. Many of the Arab dictatorships also turn a blind eye. There is a huge amount of power backing this Apartheid State. Palestinian resistance must therefore go hand in hand with the building of a massive international solidarity movements that can pressure the imperialist powers into withdrawing their support for Israel – movements such as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – BDS and the Irish Anti-Apartheid Campaign for Palestine in Ireland. This can help to lay the basis for Palestinians to build their fight for freedom at home, as happened in Apartheid South Africa. Only with a single state with equal rights for everyone who lives there and where the Palestinian right of return is respected, can we hope for the end of Apartheid and the building of a real democracy.