People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 01, 2007
25TH CONGRESS OF CP ISRAEL
Courageous Struggle For Peace, Justice And Progress In The Region
A glimpse of the rally held in Nazareth on the occasion of the 25th Congress of CP Israel
PARTICIPATING in the 25th Congress of the Communist Party of Israel was, indeed, a unique experience. Functioning in such a society as that exists in Israel with constant war, continuing social conflict amongst the Arabs and the Jews and a strict surveillance by the State, Israeli communists are courageously and heroically carrying forward the struggle for peace, justice and progress in the region.
The Congress was held in Nazareth (the biblical town from where Jesus Christ hailed) on the 1st and 2nd of June, 2007. A little known fact is that this town of Jesus has continuously elected a communist mayor from 1975 till now. The current incumbent mayor was a delegate at the Congress.
Founded in 1919, the Communist Party of Israel is the only real Arab-Jew party in the country. Since the establishment of the state of Israel in the proportional representative parliamentary system, they had been polling votes which have been sending three to five MPs to the parliament (Knesset). Currently they have three members of parliament, out of a total strength of 125. Of these, two are Arab and one Jew. As a matter of precaution, they do not maintain a membership list. The composition of the membership, however, is 80 per cent Arab and 20 per cent Jews while the population composition is just the opposite – 80 per cent Jews and 20 per cent Arab. They publish a daily Arabic newspaper, Al-Ittihad (Unity), the only Arabic Communist daily in entire West Asia. They also publish a weekly paper in Hebrew language Zo Haderekh (The Path).
Openly critical of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and the continuous violation of UN resolutions by Israel, the party has been courageously organising public protest actions. Immediately after the Israeli war against Lebanon in July 2006, the party organised a series of protests against the war which began a day after the war broke out. The biggest action was in Tel Aviv on July 22. The report to the Congress notes: “The Jewish Arab character of these demonstrations was evident, together with the connection made between the war in Lebanon and the Israeli government’s toeing of the dangerous Bush administration line. This mood was expressed in the popularity of the slogan – `We shall not die or kill in the service of the United States’ ”.
The party is, in fact, very clear of the direct link between US imperialism and Israeli political administration. They see Israel as a strategic lynch pin in the US imperialist plan to strengthen its control over West Asia, “even if the price is the destruction of nations and the starvation of peoples”.
The report notes that over the years from 1949 to 2004, US military aid to Israel has been a whopping $64 billion. “The USA, which is by itself responsible for half the world’s military expenditures, gives Israel $2.2 billion a year in regular military aid – the most aid given to any one country.” The organic US-Israel nexus can also be understood by the fact that at the last count, Israel had 5.4 million Jews while US has 5.2 million!
Being a consistent and uncompromising advocate for a peaceful two-nation solution with East Jerusalem being the capital of the Palestinian state after the vacation of all occupation by Israel, the report to the Congress notes: “The occupation of Palestinian territories which has been going on for forty years has not made Israel more secure but less so. The suicide bombings in Israeli cities exact a heavy price on Israeli citizens for the continued occupation. The CPI has denounced suicide bombings targeting civilians, adding that they are detrimental to the struggle of the Palestinian people for an end to the occupation.”
However, it also notes: “As opposed to State terror, individual and group terror rises from the swamps of poverty, hunger, oppression, exploitation, humiliation and occupation; this is why these swamps must be dried up. This can only be done if the workers and peoples of the world redesign the world order in such a way that it serves to defend the peoples, the rights of the workers and democracy from the tyranny of gigantic corporations and from the aggressive strategy of US administration.”
Meeting exactly in the week that marks the 40th anniversary of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, the report notes: “In June 1967 we could not know that the occupation would still be going on forty years later. But the CPI was not wrong in insisting all these years on what continues to be its platform for peace: the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside Israel, with its capital in East Jerusalem and the enforcement of UN resolutions. This peace plan continues to garner support in Israel and around the world; in fact, the support for it has even led Bush, Sharon and Olmert to announce that they support the principle of `two States for two peoples’. But their flaunting of support for a `Palestinian State’ is actually intended to prevent its establishment.”
PLATFORM FOR PEACE
Declaring that the achievement of a general, just and stable Israeli-Arab peace, with an Israeli-Palestinian peace as its centrepiece as a strategic goal of its political activity, the party has formulated a nine-point platform for peace.
1. Peace shall be based on Israeli withdrawal from all Arab lands occupied in the war of aggression of June 1967, and on respect for the right of Israel, the Palestinian State and the Arab countries to a sovereign existence and development under conditions of peace and security.
2. The Palestinian Arab people shall realise their right to self-determination and to an independent State in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem, alongside the State of Israel.
3. The problem of the Palestinian refugees shall be solved in accordance with UN resolutions (which guarantee their right to choose between return to their homes and reparations) and within the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
4. The annexation of East Jerusalem since its occupation by Israel shall be annulled. The sovereignty of independent Palestine will extend to East Jerusalem. West Jerusalem shall be recognised as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of independent Palestine, according to the wishes of both peoples. Within the framework of peace agreements, it is possible to come to a negotiated solution for the entire city of Jerusalem, to ensure cooperation between its two parts in the municipal sphere as well as free access to the holy places for all religions, etc.
5. All settlements in the Occupied Territories shall be dismantled.
6. The entire Golan Heights shall be returned to Syria.
7. Israel shall retreat from all Lebanese territory (including the Sheba'a Farms).
8. The peace accords shall be anchored in treaties between States, which shall form the legal basis for peaceful coexistence between them; the states will refrain from intervening in one another’s internal affairs. All sides will revoke the state of war between them and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their neighbours, including those of Israel and the independent Palestinian State, as well as the right of all to live within recognised and secure borders, free from violence and the threat of violence.
9. The Middle East shall become a zone free of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons. Israel shall become a signatory to the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Under these complex conditions, the party has worked out its strategy of attempting to consolidate a wide Israeli peace camp on the basis of agreed principles. In this context, the Jerusalem Initiative organised together with the Palestinian People’s Party (reported in the last issue) saw the participation of a Left liberal Zionist party, Meritz, which supported the end to the occupation and Israeli recognition of the Hamas government in Palestine. We were informed that it is for the first time that such a wide ranging coalition in Israel has taken place.
Most of the progressive sections in Israel see the current internecine conflict between the Hamas and the Fatah in Palestine as aiding Israeli occupation and aggressiveness. It is being widely hoped that the meeting in Cairo on July 25 between these two sides would bring some positive results. The recent Arab initiative announced in Saudi Arabia is seen by most as constituting a good basis for a solution to the conflict. Israel has not yet formally accepted or endorsed this, neither has the USA. For the obvious reasons of trying to conceal their unreasonableness both have not rejected this plan either.
STRUGGLES AGAINST ISRAELI CAPITALISM
Though the Israeli economy grew by over 5 per cent in the last few years and is among the developed countries in the world with a per capita income of $20,000, the unemployment rate by the end of 2006 was more than 9 per cent. An additional close to 15 per cent or over half a million workers, mostly women, were part-time employees according to the report.
The growth of capitalism in the “past decade was through the pushing down of the price of labour through the employment of temporary workers and migrant workers with no social rights. The privatisation of governmental and other public corporations, as well as the takeovers and mergers and the generous financial incentives, all helped the large corporations to increase profits and capital and strengthen their hold on the Israeli economy. It is estimated that the Israeli economy is mostly under the control of 17 rich families. Following the abolition of various taxes, the years 1986-2007 saw employers enjoying a cumulative subsidy of 160 billion NIS – more than half the State budget for 2007. The Sharon government accelerated the reform in direct taxation, which created huge tax breaks for high incomes, corporations and employers. The tax reform passed in 2003 lowered the tax on companies, which was 61 per cent twenty years ago, to a paltry 25 per cent….
The identical socio-economic policy of all these governments has deepened social inequality and pushed 1.5 million citizens, including 770,000 children (37 per cent of Israeli children) below the poverty line (as reported in the government Poverty Report for 2006). A major focal point of poverty is the Arab population. The percentage of those living in poverty among Arabs is three times as high as that among Jews; 60 per cent of poor children are Arab.
More and more working families are falling victim to poverty. In the past fifteen years the share of national income going to each of the bottom seven tenths of the population has gone down, and only the top two tenths have increased their portion of the income. “The new poor” include not only the unemployed but a large number of workers earning meager wages. Half of all wage earners in Israel do not make enough money to pay the income tax….
Since the mid-eighties, under the guise of “economic recovery”, Israeli governments have minimised State participation in spending on health, education and welfare and thus deepened poverty and social distress. According to the Adva Center, the per capita budget of the Ministry of Health in 2007 was 14 per cent lower than that of 2001, while the population has been ageing. The cuts in education spending, the spread of poverty and the lack of affirmative action in government policy have brought about a situation in which 55 per cent of 17-year-olds do not complete their Bagrut (baccalaureate). The situation is particularly bad among Arab students and students living in the periphery of the country, and especially among Bedouin youth. The government has also stopped building public housing, privatised government construction companies, and frozen the number of housing mortgages since 1992 – all of which have contributed to the deepening housing problem.”
Though communists polled less than 5 per cent in the trade union recognition elections, they have been the prime movers for initiating joint struggles against these economic policies. The report candidly notes that though a number of strikes have taken place in the recent years, for instance, in 2003, 1.3 million workers struck work, but in subsequent years, there has been a drop in the number of strikes. Determined to strengthen the workers struggles, the report notes:
“The CPI shall contribute its share to the consolidation of a coalition of workers and unemployed people as part of a wider social coalition composed of all those adversely affected by existing socio-economic policy – Jews and Arabs, women and men. These coalitions will fight in various ways for workers, the unemployed and pensioners, for children, students, youth and women, for equality between Jews and Arabs and for social justice.”
“Since its creation in 1919 the CPI has applied Marx and Lenin's revolutionary theory to the conditions of the country. As a consequence, our strategy has been internationalist: we have opposed wars of conquest, raised the banner of "two States for two peoples", initiated and led the campaigns against the oppression and segregation of the Arab population, and preached unified Jewish-Arab struggle. From a historical standpoint, it would be correct to say that the Arab population has managed to conserve itself as a national Arab Palestinian minority in Israel and to wage important struggles against land expropriations, home demolitions and budgetary discrimination thanks to the class strategy of the Communist Party of Israel and thanks to its policy, which has been based on a class analysis of the national question.
“The internationalist strategy of the CPI is not a sign of weakness of the Communist Party on the national question. Rather, it is a point of strength, a unique advantage. The CPI has developed a dialectical conception of clear, unhesitating national identification of the Arab minority with the Palestinian people, together with a clear, unequivocal and outspoken membership in Israeli society and in the Israeli working class. In the struggle of the Arab Palestinian national minority in Israel, the fight in defence of the land is organically connected to the campaign to defend its citizenship and civil rights.
“The Arab population is not a burden on Israeli democracy but rather one of its bulwarks. The defamation campaigns against the Arab public are campaigns against Israeli democracy, and every achievement in the struggle for equality is an empowerment of democracy in general.”
THE CHALLENGE OF RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM
“Fundamentalism is the other side of the coin of globalisation, and in many senses the two are complementary. Both create divisions between workers, reject class analysis as well as the need for and possibility of an alternative to capitalism, and sow the seeds of despair as social and national distress deepen. The fundamentalist movements are buoyed by the ongoing occupation and imperialist aggression in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East and by imperialism’s encouragement of religious and communal factionalism. Both fundamentalist movements and the champions of globalisation support the reactionary thesis of the supposedly inevitable "clash of civilisations". Historical experience teaches us that imperialism and its allied regimes have encouraged and even created fundamentalist organisations like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“In the Israeli context, fundamentalist movements have exploited the worsening socio-economic situation of the Arab population and the deepening oppression of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. They draw ideological and political support from the burgeoning fundamentalist movements in neighbouring Arab countries, including the Palestinian Authority. The fundamentalist movements in Israel have fallen for the trap of playing by the imperialists' rules and conforming to their propaganda about "culture wars" and "religious wars", thereby obscuring the class nature of the imperialist war against the peoples of the region.
“From the CPI's point of view, all fundamentalist movements – whether Islamic, Jewish or Christian – are reactionary movements using religion as a political weapon. These movements isolate the populations they work in, damage the struggle for democracy and equality, and hinder social progress, especially in the field of women's rights.
“We Israeli communists respect all believers and cooperate with believers and religious leaders who support a just peace, democracy, equality and social justice. We shall continue to cooperate on concrete issues with all the forces within the Arab population, including the Islamic movement, for instance in the National Committee of Arab Municipalities and in the High Follow-Up Committee of the Arabs in Israel. This cooperation does not imply any relaxation of our criticism of fundamentalist conceptions.”
UNITED FRONT TACTICS
Much of the discussion in the Congress centered on the united front tactics that the party needs to adopt in order to break the continuous circle of receiving 3 to 5 per cent of the seats in the Parliament.
Following Israel’s occupation in 1967, Egypt and Syria tried to liberate the occupied territories in the war of 1973. Though this failed, the CPI feels that it served as a shock to Israel which led to the process of talks and agreements during 1977-79. It is also signalled the end of the Labour Party domination in Israel leading to the strengthening of the rightwing Likud Party.
In this political situation, the first ever civil general strike in Israel took place under the CPI’s leadership on March 30, 1976. This day is observed every year since then as the Land Day. Following these struggles and activities, in March 1977, the party formed the Democracy Front for Peace and Equality (DFPE). This was seen as the vehicle to enlarge the party’s support base. The range of issues taken up by the DFPE included the issues of discrimination of the Arab Jews apart from the other issues of Israeli occupation.
During the discussions in the Congress, there was a strong social democratic tendency which argued that the party should concentrate in developing the DFPE and not concentrate its efforts in strengthening the party itself. After a lively debate, it was finally concluded that the DFPE exists because of the party and unless the party strengthens itself, the front cannot be strengthened. Hence it was decided that all energies must be concentrated in removing organisational inadequacies by strengthening ideological education and removing weaknesses which sounded all too familiar to all the fraternal delegations, viz., improving branch functioning; having regular meetings; overcoming lethargy in levy collections etc.
The Congress concluded by electing a 45-member central committee. Interestingly, the outgoing CC proposes only two-thirds of the members while the rest of the one-third come as proposals from the delegates followed by voting.
On the whole, summarising the complex situation in which they exist and function, the Congress concluded by stating the following: “The conditions created by the ongoing colonial occupation are hurtling Israeli society towards a dangerous crisis at a rapid pace. The burning question is now: who shall isolate whom? In this context two basic options are possible – either the ethnic-cleansing Israeli right will isolate the left and the Arab population, or the democratic forces will isolate the right.”
The answer to this question only the future shall decide. However, we, as Indian communists, express our solidarity and support to Israeli communists in their struggles to strengthen the Left and the democratic forces to isolate the right.