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Vol. 76/No. 25      June 25, 2012

Changes in Israel, world pose
challenges for Israeli rulers
Tel Aviv adjusts policy on settlements, Haredim, seeks
accommodation with Hamas, scapegoats immigrants
(feature article)
“The state of Israel needs stability,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Party, told a May 8 press conference announcing the formation of a “national unity government” with Kadima, the main opposition party.

Netanyahu has sought to advance this “stability,” an elusive goal in a world increasingly marked by capitalist crisis and working-class resistance. He has made measured overtures to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip; agreed to dismantle some Jewish settlements in the West Bank while promising to bolster others; scapegoated immigrant workers for the country’s growing economic and social problems; and taken initial steps to dismantle special government dispensation for the ultra-Orthodox Haredim, while maintaining the second-class status of Palestinian citizens of Israel amid small but persistent and potentially explosive fights against discrimination.

“Surprise Alliance Resets Israel Policy” is how the headline in the Wall Street Journal described the announcement of the new coalition.

On June 6 Netanyahu easily defeated a bill in the Israeli parliament that would have reversed a Supreme Court decision ordering the removal of the Ulpana Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. Netanyahu had threatened to fire any minister who voted for the bill.

Ulpana consists of five apartment buildings housing some 30 families on privately owned Palestinian land on the outskirts of the larger Beit El Jewish settlement. The court has also ordered the demolition of the Migron settler outpost by Aug. 1.

Netanyahu promised he would build 300 more homes in Beit El. Some 500,000 Jewish Israelis now reside in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which were occupied by the Israeli regime during the “Six Day War” in 1967. More than 2.6 million Palestinians live there.

Integration of Haredim

The Netanyahu government has also initiated measures aimed at undermining the special status of Israel’s growing Haredim community. About 65 percent of Haredim men do not work so that they can study the Torah full-time, living off a small government subsidy. The Supreme Court, with support from the government coalition, has set Aug. 1 as the end of the Haredim’s exemption from the Israeli army draft.

The special status of the Haredim is a source of resentment among many Israelis. It’s also a growing problem for a capitalist regime that, like its competitors worldwide, is looking to deepen the exploitation of wage labor and trim its government expenses.

The Haredim, the fastest growing group in Israel today, make up more than 10 percent of Israel’s population and 21 percent of all primary-school students. More than 60 percent live below the official poverty line.

Palestinian citizens of Israel

Palestinian citizens of Israel continue to face systematic discrimination in housing, jobs, language and access to government services, as well as harassment by cops and other police agencies. They represent about 20 percent of Israel’s population—a proportion that, like the Haredim, is growing.

“Israel is in the midst of an unprecedented social change,” wrote Haaretz editor-in chief Aluf Benn in February 2010. “Economic pressures, which are forcing Haredim to look for work and Jewish employers to take on Arabs, are fueling a slow change in the employment scene. … But it is not enough.” Referring to Israel’s growing Haredi and Arab populations as a “time bomb on its doorstep,” he called for “buying in shops that employ Arabs and Haredim, hiring workers from these communities, renting apartments to them or simply watching television programs and channels that represent our multicultural mosaic.”

The changing demographics of Israel is also propelled by a net Jewish migration out of the country. In recognition of this irreversible trend, the Israeli rulers have retreated from the perspective of a “Greater Israel,” encompassing the West Bank and Gaza and beyond.

Instead, Tel Aviv is trying to find a way to redraw boundaries to maintain defensible borders, slow the growth of Palestinian citizens within it, and move toward some accommodation with the Palestinian bourgeois leaderships in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israeli government is also taking actions to encourage shifts already taking place in Hamas, the Islamist group that dominates the Gaza Strip, and has vied for Palestinian allegiance with Fatah, which administers the West Bank.

In early March, when it was widely reported that Tel Aviv was considering attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, Hamas made it clear that it was looking to stay out of any conflict.

“If there is a war between two powers, Hamas will not be part of such a war,” Salah Bardawil, a member of the group’s political bureau in Gaza City, told the London Guardian.

At the end of May the Israeli government handed over the remains of 91 Palestinians killed during armed conflicts with Israel going as far back as the 1970s to the Palestine Authority and Hamas.

“We hope that this humanitarian gesture will serve both as a confidence-building measure and help get the peace process back on track,” stated Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

700,000 ‘foreign’ workers

Like other relatively advanced capitalist countries, Israel has become a magnet for immigrant workers and refugees, who provide a source of cheap labor for the bosses.

At the end of May Netanyahu claimed that “illegal immigration” was threatening “national security and identity.”

“Currently there are 60,000 infiltrators in Israel,” Netanhayu said, referring to Sudanese and Eritrean refugees and others without work permits. “This number can easily reach 600,000.”

The Israeli government is erecting a 150-mile steel fence along the Israeli-Egyptian border to keep out undocumented workers and announced June 7 that it is building desert prison camps that could hold up to 25,000 immigrants.

“Most of those people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai told the daily Maariv.

Arnon Soffer, a professor who heads up an immigration task force set up by Yishai, told the Jerusalem Post that there are 700,000 “foreigners” in Israel today, making up 10 percent of the population.

According to Soffer, there are 60,000 African refugees, 100,000-200,000 non-African foreign workers, and 100,000 tourists with expired visas. Among those he considers foreigners are 300,000 Palestinians from the occupied territories but not the thousands of Jews who have emigrated from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

In May and June, rightist demonstrators, encouraged by the government’s anti-immigrant measures, physically attacked African immigrants, vandalized African-owned stores and firebombed homes and a kindergarten.

On June 11 and 12 immigration cops started rounding up hundreds of immigrants without papers. Workers from South Sudan, Nigeria, China, Ghana and the Ivory Coast were picked up in the first few hours of the sweep.

To meet the bosses need for cheap labor, “they bring in immigrant workers from Thailand and the Philippines every day, even while they sign the deportation orders for the South Sudanese. It’s a revolving door,” said Noa Kaufman, who assists refugees for Kav LaOved, the workers hotline, in a phone interview.

Kaufman said that Yishai’s statement was “shameful,” pointing out that Yishai is himself a mizrahi, a Jew of Middle Eastern descent. “He found people darker than himself to blame for all the problems of Israel,” she said.

Some 300 African immigrants carrying signs saying, “A refugee is not a cancer” and “We want refugee status” were joined by some south Tel Aviv residents at a protest against the anti-immigrant moves June 10.  
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