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IW 04

Asia-Middle East

Amir Peretz: The Zionist Lula?


The election of Amir Peretz, the general secretary of the Histadrut (trade union confederation), as president of the Israeli Labor Party triggered a crisis of all the political system. It led to the withdrawal of the Labor Party from the "government of national unity" with Ariel Sharon, to the call for new elections at the beginning of 2006 and to the division of the Likud.

Peretz in the Histadrut

Amir Peretz split in 1996 from the Labor Party in order to create a new party called Am Hehad (literally, One People), supposedly a workers party. That party included elements of the Histadrut bureaucracy which came from the Labor Party, but also right-wing Zionist elements identified with the Likud. The Histadrut is a union confederation ‘sui generis’ which defends the Jewish character of the Israeli workforce, i.e. it's a branch of Zionism.

Peretz, of Moroccan origins, was elected general secretary of the Histadrut as a politician of the Zionist Labor Party. He had a medium-sized enterprise dedicated to farming near Sderot, the town where he was elected town mayor. He was linked to the lawyer Hayim Ramon, the owner of a large law buffet in Tel Aviv. He got into the Histadrut leadership as Ramon's right hand. During Ramon's period as general secretary, the Histadrut sold —i.e. privatized- the Bank Hapoalim (the "Workers Bank"), the largest health insurance company in Israel (Kupat Holim Klalit) and the consortium Klal, as well as a dozen large and medium-sized enterprises. When Hayim Ramon resigned as general secretary, in 1995, Peretz stayed as his successor and "undisputed" leader of the Histadrut, and was general secretary reelected two years ago.

Back to the Labor Party

The creation of Am Hehad was no obstacle for Peretz to scab and boycott the large strikes of the last years, in the name of the free market and national security, i.e. of the repression of the Palestinian Intifada. He betrayed the large strike of October 2002, when most of the strike committees in the workplaces demanded the declaration of a general strike for an indefinite period of time–a demand knifed by the Histadrut leadership. After that Peretz signed with the government of Ariel Sharon the reduction of wages for the public employees (4%). In 2004, he again saved Sharon's government by submitting to the injunction forbidding the strike, a judicial order issued in open violation of the democratic liberties.

Peretz dissolved his “workers' party” six months ago and went back into the Labor Party fold, when the latter was in a government of national unity with the butcher Sharon and the Thatcherist Benjamin Netanyahu.

The newspaper Haaretz pointed out that Benny Gaon, a pope of the Israeli capitalists, has been financing Peretz since his return to the Labor Party, whose primaries he finally won. On October 14, Haaretz revealed that Peretz had meetings with "businessmen that apparently have ideas opposed to Peretz's, though they believe in reducing social inequality in the framework of the 'free market,' making Peretz acceptable as leader for wide layers of the population, even those he is supposed to fight against.”

Perspectives

Peretz's election showed the fragility of the government and of the current Zionist strategy. As opposed to the failure of the Sharon-Netanyahu-Peres government, Peretz appears as a “social” alternative.

Most analysts remark that Peretz's election reveals the depth of the economic and social crisis, which has left 25% of the Israeli population below the poverty line and 10% of the workforce unemployed. There is a workers' resistance, evident for instance in the relative triumph of the Bank Leumi workers, who secured the defense of their work conditions previous to the privatization of the bank.

Peretz promised a minimum wage of 1,000 dollars, which would mean a rise of 40%. He didn't say though where the money for that wage rise will come from; if he will reduce military spending, dismantle the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, abolish the subsidies to the big capitalists, etc. As regards the Palestinian workers, he didn't say a word about how he would fight unemployment, which reaches 70% in Gaza and 50% in the West Bank.

Peretz has declared that he will return to the Oslo Agreements and that he totally opposes not only the return of the Palestinian refugees but even the division of Jerusalem. He took distance both from the “ultra-right” (Avigdor Liberman) and from the supposed “ultra-left”, i.e. the left-wing Arab parties within Israel (Azmi Bishara's party, the National Democratic Assembly, and Muhamad Barake's Israeli Communist Party). He also promised to continue the repression of the Palestinian organizations. In his first public address to the Central Committee of the Labor Party he said: “As a man of peace, I see terrorism as public enemy number one. The war against terrorism will be without quarter.” (Haaretz, 21/11).

Many of the left-wing Zionists have raised the call to vote for Peretz. Uri Avnery, the leader of Gush Shalom, said that Peretz would bring about a great change. The Israeli Communist Party argues that his election constitutes a promising development (Zo Haderekh, 16/11), and even the pro-Zionist international currents of Alan Woods and Maavak Sozialisti (the name of the Committee for a Workers International in Israel) call on the workers to support Peretz critically, in order… for him to fulfill his promises. For those pseudo-Trotskyists, Peretz is a sort of Israeli Lula. But if it was utter foolishness to suppose that Lula would do anything for the benefit of the workers, only a traitor to the cause of the working class and to the struggle of the Palestinian people can call for critical support for Peretz.

It is true that Israeli finance capital has doubts about Peretz's ability to rule. But, as the manager of a big finance and insurance company told to the business newspaper The Marker (11/11): “The declarations of Amir Peretz are meant for all the voters... Peretz's election surprised the market and caused bewilderment. However, often the (government) post changes the man...”. Another businessman told the same journal: "Though we attributed to the Labor Party a socialist tendency, nobody in the local financial market thinks that under Peretz's leadership the Labor Pary will change in any meaningful way the structural transformations underwent by the market in the last years."

The revolutionaries are not insensitive to political changes. Peretz's election, for the time being, only reflects a mood of the Labor Party members, and is not even certain that he will be elected prime minister in the next elections. The most recent opinion poll showed gave the victory to Sharon, as candidate for his new party Kadima ("Forward") party, which has also been endorsed by former Labor Party leader Shimon Peres.

In any case, the only fruitful perspective for the Jewish and Palestinian working class is the construction of its own party, independent of the bosses and totally opposed to Zionism; a party able to break with the oppressive Zionist nationalism and unite the Palestinian masses of 1948 and 1967 with the Jewish masses; for a workers, peasants and refugees' government; for a secular, democratic and socialist republic in Palestine.

By Ytzhak Betzalel