By GERRY FOLEY
The results of the May 17 Israeli elections were hailed by U.S. officials, as well as Arab rulers and politicians, as signaling a new lease on life for the “peace process.” Actually, they do not show a victory for supporters of a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians but do reveal a continuing degeneration of Zionism.
The Labour Party candidate for prime minister, Ehud Barak, scored a knockout victory over the right-wing Likud premier, Benyamin Netanyahu, winning 56 percent of the vote. However, in a separate vote for parliament, Labour lost seven seats, dropping from 34 to 27, while Likud fell from 32 to 19.
The biggest winner was the religious party of the oriental Jews, Shas, which went from 10 seats to 17, becoming the third largest party in the parliament, with only two seats less than Likud. The religious party captured most of the votes of oriental Jews who had previously supported Likud.
The backing that the oriental Jews gave to the right-wing “free enterprise” party was in fact a contradictory phenomenon. They are the poorest section of Jewish society. But they felt disadvantaged by the economic policies of Labor, which mainly represents Jews of European origin.
Shas is similar to religious fundamentalist parties that have grown up in recent years throughout the Middle East. It has a reactionary ideology but it offers social services to its adherents. For that reason, the Shas leaders are ready and willing to join Barak’s government, in order to gain state support for their social programs.
But a section of Barak’s supporters are deeply hostile to the religious party, both as secularists and as Europeans.
“‘Anybody but Shas,’ was one of the most popular slogans in the mass rally that took place on Tel Aviv’s central square following the announcement of Barak’s victory,” Michel Warshawsky wrote in the May 20 issue of ß, the paper of the French Revolutionary Communist League.
(Warshawsky is one of the best known leaders of the anti-Zionist left in Israel.)
“For tens of thousands of young people in the residential sections of Tel Aviv and in the kibbutzim [collective farms that are mainly an institution of the European middle class], Shas and its oriental, religious, poor constituency are the enemy.
“This shows how deep the fissure is in Israeli society but also the extreme limits of the Barak camp’s ‘progressivism.'” The election debate centered around the conflicts between religious and secular Jews, which has been steadily sharpening.
In its origins, Zionism was intended to transform the Jews from a religious community into a nation. It had a secularist and even socialist coloring.
However, as the Zionist settler state has inevitably moved to the right because of its alliance with imperialism and its suppression of the Palestinian people, reactionary religious tendencies have grown.
The West Bank Jewish colonies are largely a result of the rise of religious Zionism. This growth has gone hand in hand not only with the sprouting of ultrareactionary aggressive attitudes toward the Palestinians (“Canaanites, cursed by God”) but also with deepening divisions in the Jewish population. Thus, the outstanding result of the May 17 elections is a fragmentation of the vote.
But none of the myriad parties represented in parliament offers any way out of the blind alley of Zionism or any political alternative. This is so clear that there is even talk of a government of national unity that will include all these parties.
In curious contrast to the post-election hype about restarting the peace process, the election campaign was marked by the virtual absence of discussion of the Oslo peace accords.
Both major parties are agreed, in fact, on handing over about 40 percent of the West Bank to nominally Palestinian administration. At the same time, they agree on maintaining most of the Jewish settlements and exclusive control of Jerusalem.
It has not taken long for the Palestinians to learn that the elections will make no difference in the way they are treated. The day after the vote, Israeli bulldozers continued their demolition of Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.
Two days later, three Palestinian journalists were beaten by Israeli soldiers as they filmed the Zionist state’s troops uprooting Palestinian-owned olive trees near Nablus.