Israeli right moves to curb strikes

Submitted by AWL on 17 May, 2011 - 11:57

Israeli socialist Adam Keller, who is a spokesperson for the left-wing anti-occupation campaign Gush Shalom, spoke to us in a personal capacity about Israel’s repression of Palestinian protests and the class struggle inside Israel.

One very important factor is the struggles in the Arab world. The [15 May] Palestinian protests were to some extent inspired by them. Young Palestinians have already been organising through Facebook and so on in the same way as young Egyptians, and they’d already had a big success – an agreement between Fatah and Hamas was their central demand, and its achievement is in part due to their pressure. Now, the idea of a Nakba Day on which a big mass of people would come to Israel’s borders unarmed is a very old one which has circulated among Palestinians since the 1950s. However, until yesterday no one actually tried to do it. It must have taken some courage.

There were thousands there, although we don’t know the numbers for sure. Again, mainly young people. The external protests were mainly on the Lebanese and Jordanian borders; Egypt stopped people from even getting across the Suez canal. In the West Bank, the authorities tried to keep things at a low level because they want a big show in September when they declare a state. They do not want a flare up now. In any case, the Israeli army was caught by surprise.

In terms of the demonstrations on the Syrian borders, of course they fit with Syrian interests in distracting attention from repression against the protests there. That’s why they didn’t stop it happening. In terms of Syrian government propaganda, the IDF played its role perfectly. The other aspect is showing the United States what might happen if the Assad is overthrown. On the other hand, we should not assume the young people who went there support the regime. We don’t know where they stand on the struggle within Syria.

I think all the people killed by the IDF were Palestinians, but I don’t think anyone is certain about this. Last night we had a protest in Tel Aviv, organised in just a few hours, which was relatively successful, with hundreds of people. Another one is being held on 4 June, initiated by Hadash [a broad front linked to the Israeli Communist Party, and the main left force in Israel] and Meretz [left liberals], with its main slogan recognition of the Palestinian state when it is declared in September.

The Israeli government is taking a very tough line, not offering any compromise or opening. Foreign minister Lieberman has said Israel is not going to free settlement-building for three months or three weeks or three hours – it’s that kind of rhetoric. There’s a very right-wing majority in the Knesset [Israeli parliament] which is abusing its power to push through all kinds of anti-democratic and racist laws. These include a law, passed at the end of March, about demonstrating or commemorating the Nakba. The first draft was very draconian, mandating prison sentences, but in response many, and not just Arab Israelis, said they would happily go to prison. So now we have a – relatively! – milder law which cuts off funding from any organisation or body which commemorates the Nakba, or rather imposes punitive fines. What that means in practice is even more discrimination against Arab organisations, including local authorities in Arab areas. Municipalities rely heavily on funding from central government, and Arab ones are already poor and discriminated against. So if Jewish municipality wants to have a big celebration of Independence Day, great, but Arab ones who want to commemorate the Nakba will be starved of funds. And this is not just a concrete punitive act, but symbolic. Predictably it has made young Arabs in Israel more determined, which has also fed into the protests.

Two other laws have also been passed: the one on “admissions committees” [allowing communities to prevent people moving in, with clearly racist implications] and one which makes it possible to deprive those found guilty of espionage or treason of citizenship. And today the Knesset is back from recess, and a law to criminalise boycotts of Israel has been introduced. A law is also being discussed for greater restrictions on migrant workers, legally tying them to one employer so that if they are fired they have to leave the country. Obviously this will make them even more vulnerable to abuse.

There is also a call, though not a specific legislative proposal yet, to restrict strikes. This comes in connection with a railway workers’ struggle. The government is proposing to privatise at least part of the railways; the rail workers, who have a militant union, are fighting back. Their campaign has cited the disastrous example of British rail! They had a demonstration of hundreds in front of the house of the rail network’s director, who is leading the privatisation campaign, in a suburb of Tel Aviv. Many were arrested, including the entire leadership, and a strike began the next morning. A court ordered them back to work, and the union claimed that because of its leaders being in jail the message couldn’t get through, so the police released them. The media is demanding restrictions of the right to strike, perhaps a law against strikes in central government services. At the same time, the railway workers’ fight against privatisation is continuing; they are fighting to start a legal, official strike against privatisation.

By the way, the rail workers’ union is the only one in Israel led by a woman, Gila Haedry.

Everyone is looking to this September, when the Palestinians declare their state. They have already succeeded in defining the agenda – everyone is talking about it, and the Israeli military and political establishment is extremely worried. At the end of the week Netanyahu is going to the United States, where he has got himself invited to speak to Congress. He is trying to bypass Obama and capitalise on the strength of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill. Obama is going to make a statement on the Middle East this Thursday, before he meets Netanyahu on Friday, which seems like a deliberate snub. How specific will he be in his speech, and how much pressure will he put on Israel? Last George Mitchell resigned as US envoy to the region, and he was supposed to be frustrated with Obama’s refusal to get tough with Netanyahu. But we won’t know more until we hear Obama.

The debate between one staters and two staters is, perhaps, at the point of being resolved one way or another. If the Palestinians succeed in being recognised as a state at the UN and can make moves towards actual statehood, one state will be out the window. If they fail, that might be the end of the two-state solution. So we are at a turning point.

You asked about Israelis’ attitude to the revolution in Egypt. There are several different strands. On one level people see it in terms of ‘Israeli interests’, and worry whether Egypt will continue its peace treaty with Israel, whether it will be more friendly or hostile. People are very concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood will win the elections. On the other hand, many Israelis are very happy, and want to know why we cannot have our own revolution, why we are allowing our rulers to get away with so much. Just after the fall of Mubarak, there were protests against a decision to raise petrol prices, explicitly linking themselves to the Egyptian revolution. These were not established politicos, but ordinary people including some football fans. There were only a few hundred people demonstrating, but the government backed down. In terms of links between the Israeli and Egyptian left, some Israeli activists were in Egypt during the revolution, but it is not very well developed. We would love to do more in this regard.

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