Israel Needs a Popular Front

The Popular Front was the communist response to European fascism in the Thirties. In a dramatic U-turn in 1934, Stalin broke with previous policy and instructed European communist parties to partner with social democrats and other parties of the Left in order defeat fascism.

The change came too late for the German Communist Party, which had already been decimated by the time that Stalin made his move, but Popular Front governments came to power in both France and Spain. In France, Léon Blum’s government lasted barely a year before falling apart due to strains between its constituent parties, while the government in Spain was overthrown by Franco’s fascists in a civil war.

History does not remember the Popular Front kindly, primarily because it was a Stalinist tool. But it was more than that, too, and there’s much that can be learned from it. The Popular Front in the Thirties was a strategy that enabled communists to form alliances with non-communist, and even bourgeois, parties in the fight against the radical Right. For the first time, communists were able to wrap themselves in the national flag without betraying their principles.

Israel needs a Popular Front. We need a strategy that will supersede differences and mobilize us to fight.

The creeping fascism that has put down roots here during the term of the current government bears no comparison with the genocidal European fascism of the Thirties. But that doesn’t mean that it is either benign or acceptable. The new Jewish fascism is a threat to Israeli democracy (such as it is these days), a threat to anyone who aspires to a progressive, secular life in Israel and a mortal threat to any hope of peace in the region.

The elections scheduled for January may well be a watershed. For 45 years we have ignored the apartheidization of the country (see Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz) with the comforting excuse that it was only temporary. Things would change when the Palestinians came to their senses. But the temporary has inevitably become permanent and that process is likely to be irreversible within the next few years, if it is not irreversible already.

It is critically important that all the anti-fascist forces in the country put aside their political, sectarian and personal differences in a united effort to prevent the further entrenchment of the deranged Right and to return the country to some sort of sanity.

I’m not the first observer to conclude that the only conceivable alternative to a right-wing government is unity among all those interested in peace and equality, but the alternatives mooted in the media to date are ludicrous. The so-called political center (Kadima, Lapid and Labor) is, at best, a soft right. They are not interested in working together nor do they have any interest in coexistence with the Palestinian. Their only objective in the elections is to maneuver their arses into cabinet seats. Bibi will buy them for a pittance.

Nor do the mooted leaders have any legitimacy. Neither the convicted crook Olmert nor the serial failure Livni nor even the newcomer Yair Lapid, an ambulatory ego with a serious entitlement complex, has what it takes to mobilize the two constituencies that are the natural basis of an anti-fascist coalition – the liberal-left that has been searching for a home ever since Rabin’ assassination and, most importantly, the Arabs.

The latter are the unknown soldier of Israeli politics. They have been out of action for so long –  due to the absurd but widely acknowledged notion that no Zionist government can be dependent on the Arab vote – that a Knesset majority today is effectively 50% of 108 seats (120 less the 12 sears that the Arab parties typically win.) At about 20% of the total population, the Arabs could potentially play a king-making role similar to that played by the religious parties. It’s high time they did that.

It’s not my place to tell Israel’s Arab population how to play politics and I lack both the knowledge and the experience to do that. Sticking my nose into the complexities of their politics would be patronizing and worse. All I’ll say is this:

The Arabs living in Israel need a drastic change in direction no less than I do (and arguably a lot more.) That change is not going to happen as long as they accept their treif status in Israeli politics. They have the numbers to be instrumental in bringing about change, but they need to use them. The introverted and seemingly defeatist stance of most of the current Arab parties only perpetuates the anti-Arab status quo.

I can understand the urge to retreat into Islamist purity in the face of a crusading and ill-tempered Jewish majority, but it’s self-defeating. The Arab parties all claim to stand for Palestinian independence and true equality within Israel and there are many Jewish Israelis who believe in the same things. Their place, Arabs and progressive Jews, is together.

There is only one person I can think of who is a potential leader of an Arab-Jewish bloc; who has the capacity to lead such a diverse grouping and has a decent chance of being acceptable to all. His name is Dov Hanin.

Currently a Knesset member representing the Arab-Jewish communist party Hadash, Hanin is Jewish, a well-known human rights lawyer, a prominent environmentalist and an exemplary parliamentarian. When he ran in the Tel Aviv mayoral elections a few years ago, he forged a wide Arab-Jewish coalition and did surprisingly well against the super-glued incumbent Ron Huldai. Hanin’s fresh and dynamic campaign invigorated the usually somnolent and apathetic younger population of Tel Aviv.

I believe he can do the same for all the peacenik Israeli drop-outs (and they are numerous) who have been footloose and homeless since the assassination of Rabin and the betrayal of Ehud “they don’t want peace” Barak. If anyone can do it, Hanin can – and the stakes have seldom been higher. If the Right returns to power in January, there won’t be a two-state solution to talk about in the next elections – if there are elections at all.

Perhaps we’ll be a fascist theocracy by then.

1 reply on “Israel Needs a Popular Front”

First, I’m glad to see at least half of my arguments finds a home. Second, I suggest sending a link to Henin ( Third, a missing definition:How exactly does this fascim/racism threaten those Jews whose partcipation is necessary to make this work.

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