Likud, Netanyahu, and the Ruling Class Interests in Israel

As is well-known, coming from behind, in Israeli terms from way behind “Bibi” Netanyahu has won another term as Prime Minister.  How did he do this?  By being honest.  Although he has in the past said that he was in favor of the “Two-State Solution” in principle, as is again well-known, at the end of the election campaign, he said that as long as he is Prime Minister there will be no Palestinian state, on any terms.  While this clearly has been his position for quite some time, this was the first time he said it in public.  Then, once again as is well-known, he came out with his racist statements regarding Arab-Israeli citizen voters and voting. This had all been proceeded in the final two weeks leading up to the election by a massive scare campaign, about “the Palestinians” and about “Iranian nukes.”

Although he had been running behind in the polls, these tactics obviously worked.  In so doing, Netanyahu stitched together an electoral coalition that itself had been previously somewhat fragmented.  His government and its policies will now clearly highlight the strains and internecine struggles over sharply competing differences on policy and needs that have underlain Israeli society for quite some time.  Not taking into account the Arab-Israeli citizens, among Jewish Israelis there are now two clear rival groupings. 

Netanyahu’s base is made of up the Sephardim (mainly Jews who came from Arab lands after the State of Israel was established in 1948, some, but not all, of them distantly descended from the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492), the (largely secular) Russian Jews who came starting in the 1970s as the Soviet Union opened up for emigration, the far-right-wing Settlers, who have many U.S. Jews among them, and the far-rightists among the Orthodox Jews.  Formerly, Netanyahu had to pull various small parties representing one or another of these groups (and sub-groups among them) into a coalition.  Now he has many of them directly behind him.  The opposing group, now represented by the “Zionist Union” (made up of the old Labor Party and the former “left” wing of Netanyahu’s party), consists primarily of what are known in Israel as the “WASPs.”  Yes, folks, only in Israel could you find Jewish Wasps: white, Ashkenazi, sabra, for peace.

Much has already been written about the election, the tactics Netanyahu used, including his controversial address to Congress, and what future relations between the U.S. and Israel will be for as long as Barack Obama is President.  Netanyahu has very openly supposedly “walked back” his statements and proposed policies concerning the Two-State solution.  However, his “commitment” is so hemmed in by pre-conditions for re-opening negotiations that the “walk-back” is functionally meaningless (and Israelis know this, even if the US media don’t).

It is important to note that although it has been on the back-burner through a whole series of right-wing governments in Israel, the stirring words of the Israeli Declaration of Independence (Israel has no constitution) on what was to be the multi-cultural nature of the State have clearly for  once and for all been abandoned:

“The State of Israel will be: open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

But central to the understanding of what is going in Israel is understanding what are the class interests that are being represented there.   In a very important column, Paul Krugman has summed up what the current structure of Israeli society is.  Straying far from its original roots with a major emphasis on Zionist socialism, Israel has become a nation that economically mimics the United States in many ways.  There is an increasing disparity in income and wealth and its economy is increasingly dominated by a military-industrial complex.  Ownership is so concentrated that, Krugman tells us, “According to the Bank of Israel, roughly 20 families control companies that account for half the total value of Israel’s stock market.”  As in the United States, income and wealth inequality and a military-industrial complex go together.

 This is precisely why Netanyahu’s party, Likud, and the Repubs. are so closely linked.  So closely linked in fact that it was the current Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., one Ron Dermer, who arranged for Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress, without consulting with the White House.  That Mr. Dermer, a former (and perhaps still) U.S. citizen is also a former “Republican operative” should come as no surprise.  And as I have pointed out previously, one of the primary interests of the Repubs. is the maintenance, of the military-industrial complex.  (Note that in their current budget proposal designed to “eliminate the deficit and start reducing the national debt” without raising taxes [which could easily accomplish both ends], military expenditures are exempted from any “balancing” steps.) And so in both countries we have the focus of the Rightists on the big, bad Persian (Iranian) leopard (the national animal of Iran). 

(Apparently some folks regard the Persian cat as the national animal of Iran, but as a long-time cat staffer who once had a half-Persian puss, they are not really very scary.  “Cat staffer,” you might ask?  Well yes.  You know the difference between dogs and cats, don’t you?  Dogs have owners; cats have staff.  And believe it or not, just as I was writing this, my beautiful Tabby, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, “Lenny” for short, came walking into my study looking for a pat from his staff.  By the way, Lenin himself was a great cat lover].)

So the class interests of Likud and the Repubs. are very much the same.  As he did in 2012, when Netanyahu gambled on his U.S. relationship with the hope that Mitt Romney would win the Presidency (and lost), he has now doubled down on alienating the current U.S. administration in the hopes that the Repubs., representing the same class interests in the U.S. that he represents in Israel, will finally win the White House again in 2016.  If he is wrong, Israel could be in for a very difficult time in the international arena indeed.  Given what “the White House,” and even the President directly, have been saying about the relationship, those troubles may be starting right now.