The Communist Party-led Hadash has emerged as a major force among the leftist groups in Israel. Hadash has displaced the exhausted Israeli left bloc of the Labour and Meretz in the recently concluded elections to the Knesset. Here, Peoples Dispatch (PD) talks to Arafat Bdarny, Secretary-General of the Israeli Communist Youth, regarding the relevance of the communist movement in contemporary Israeli politics and the peace process.
Peoples Dispatch (PD): What has been the status of the COVID-19 spread in Israel and what has its impact been on the people, especially the working class? How effective has been the government’s response to the crisis?
Arafat Bdarny (AB): The pandemic has hit marginalized communities the hardest due to systemic inequality and endemic cuts to the public health system. Moreover, the social and economic effects of the pandemic are much more devastating, since the neoliberal right-wing government of Netanyahu refused to take any action to help the working people even though so many are now on the brink of disastrous poverty.
PD: The current government in Israel is formed out of an agreement which seems to be against the mandate of the people. What is your take on it? How disastrous has Netanyahu’s government been for the Israeli working class and the peace process? Also, what is your view on the performance of the joint list, particularly Hadash and the communist party, in the recently held back-to-back polls in Israel? What has been the reason for the drastic decline in support for the Labour/Meretz camp?
AB: The government that has just been sworn in (christened by Trump’s administration), is a betrayal of the people’s mandate because the majority of the people voted for parties that promised to oppose Netanyahu but were betrayed by cowardly politicians. We were very close to toppling Netanyahu and the far-right after the last elections thanks to the unprecedented achievement of the Communist Party-led Joint List, and the success of our strategy to convince a large portion of the Israeli public that the only way to oppose Netanyahu’s corrupt government is through a broad, democratic and anti-fascist front of Jews and Arabs. Our main achievement from this election is our ability to finally break the political isolation of the Arab Palestinian national minority of Israeli citizens and offer a horizon of a joint Jewish-Arab politics.
Whereas the liberal Zionist Left parties (Labour & Meretz) have completed their long declining trajectory and collapsed due to their inability to offer a clear alternative to the Right (by shunning a joint Jewish-Arab struggle as well as class struggle, or even coherent criticism of the Occupation and a vision for peace and democracy), the strategy of the Communist Party has proven successful and puts us as the leaders of the Israeli Left camp as a whole.
PD: What is your take on the political divisions that exist in today’s Israel? Is it getting more sharply polarized on ethnic lines? What has been the situation on the class front?
AB: The Israeli society is very polarized, along with multiple divisions (religion, nationality, ethnicity). The gap between the rich and poor is among the highest among all industrial countries and a third of all Israeli children live below the poverty line, while the government – that does not have a solution to the social problems – is doing all it can do to incite racial tensions and hatred among the people. Recently, more and more forces are beginning to realize that the only way to advance struggles that address the social and economic problems of the Israeli people is through a joint Jewish-Arabic struggle and an end to the Occupation of the Palestinian People.
PD: How do you define the contemporary communist movement in Israel?
AB: The Communist Party of Israel runs as the Jewish-Arab electoral front Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace & Equality), which is at the head of a wider electoral alliance “the Joint List” representing all of the Palestinian national minority of Israeli citizens. Our main strength and support base for many years have been the Palestinian national minority, but we have always been a joint Jewish-Arab party advocating for a united class struggle for the interests of both people. Yet, this year alone, we have roughly doubled our support among the Jewish public and are now in the process of becoming the leaders of most left-wing forces among Israeli Jews, who are finally seeing the necessity of the CPI’s strategy of a joint Jewish-Arab struggle for peace, democracy and social justice.
PD: What is your opinion regarding the foundation of the state of Israel and its ethnic manifestations? Also, what is your position on a solution for the Palestine question?
AB: We are a joint Jewish-Arabic, patriotic, anti-Zionist, and internationalist party. The Communist Party supported the creation of the State of Israel in accordance with the UN plan for the independence of both the Israeli and Palestinian people, free from imperialism, and have fought ever since to secure a just peace based on the independence of both peoples. Only when the Palestinian People achieve their self-determination can we have true independence, peace, and security.
PD: Is there political persecution against the communist movement by the Israeli state or right-wing forces? Are there any conservative, right-wing groups among the Arabs in Israel? If yes, what is their attitude towards the communist movement?
AB: There are ever-present threats from the fascist tendencies of the government to suppress dissent, in particular among Arabs, but our party still manages to operate.
The Arab Palestinian national minority of Israeli citizens contains various political strands. The overwhelmingly vast majority of the Arab population supports the Joint List, and our strategy of engaging with the wider Israeli public in finding common interests with pro-democratic and progressive Jewish forces against the fascist right and for social justice and a two-state solution. So even though there are also liberal and moderate-conservative parties in the Joint List, our strategy has become hegemonic over politicians who advocated for defeatist national-isolation. Our main political rivals within the Arab populations are on the one hand the Northern Islamic Movement, and on the other the traditional family-elites and organized crime families who are supported by the government in order to weaken the Palestinian society.
PD: Can you elaborate a bit on your campaign for the Right to Return day organized recently? What has been the response from the progressive sections in the region and abroad? What was the response of the rightwing in the country?
AB: We’ve organized several campaigns around the Right of Return and the commemoration of the Nakba. Among them was a video recently released by the Hadash student union that was focused on militarism in the universities and the complicity of the universities with the Occupation, that was vehemently attacked by right-wing groups and the mainstream media with calls to ban and repress our student union.
PD: What has been the general attitude of the Israeli working class, especially from the non-Arab sections, towards the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation and state terror in the Palestinian territories?
AB: The occupation does not benefit the Israeli working class since the destruction of the welfare state in Israel is intrinsically tied to the enormous military spending and the prioritization of militarism over social welfare. It is the ruling class, in particular the military-industrial complex and the related high-tech companies, that benefit from the Occupation and wars. The majority of Israeli workers don’t care who controls the Occupied Territories or what happens to the settlements, and are often unaware of many of the crimes committed against the Palestinian People; they just want to feel secure. However, the government is very successful so far in convincing many among the working classes that that war against the Palestinians is waged only in self-defense against terrorism, rather than for imperialism and colonial expansion. The vast majority of Israelis want peace but are being told that it is the Palestinians who reject peace.
PD: What is your take on the state of political affairs in the Palestinian territories? How robust has your cooperation been with the progressive sections there regarding the peace process?
AB: The Communist Party of Israel maintains very close relations with the left forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, issuing joint statements in opposition to the Occupation and for a just peace for both Peoples. The CPI and the Palestinian Peoples Party (as well as the Communist Party of Jordan) originated from the original Communist Party of Palestine. Our position is that the PLO is the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian People and Israel must negotiate with the PLO for a just peace based on an independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. Unfortunately, the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority seems to be subservient to Israel and the US.
PD: What is your take on the rise and consolidation of the right-wing across the world as we see in the US, UK, etc.? In your opinion, how disastrous are their policies outlined for the Palestinian peace process?
AB: The far-right governments of Trump, Orban and Bolsanaro have given significant support to Netanyahu’s extreme policies of repression against the Palestinian People, while Netanyahu himself has become a model embraced by right-wing forces across the world. Modi in particular has given enormous material support to the Occupation of Palestine by making extremely expensive deals with the Israeli military-industrial complex.
PD: It has been well known that the left had a significant stake in the trade union movement in Israel and has left its progressive imprint in different sectors including Hapoel Football Clubs. In your opinion, how relevant is the left in contemporary Israeli culture, media, literature, cinema, etc.?
AB: The trade union movement has been very significant in the shaping of multiple dimensions of Israeli society, but has fallen dramatically with the turn to neoliberalism since the 1980s. Yet, after years of decline in the workers’ movement – since the 2011 social justice protests which saw a massive uprising of youths against neoliberalism – the workers’ movement has slowly begun to be revitalized by a new generation of socialist-leaning Israelis.
There is in general a wide sympathy in Israeli society to socialist and economic left-wing ideas but at the same time a lot of Zionist nationalism, militarism, and racism. Still, many Israeli artists in all mediums oppose the government’s attempt to stifle critical and anti-chauvinist art and culture. Specifically, “Hapoel” (“The Worker”) sports club carries the radical legacy of the early workers’ movement in Israel, and to this day many of these clubs identify with socialism, including in sports teams that became cooperatives run democratically by the fans.