Chauvinism Cannot Be Defeated Without Struggle against Palestinian Oppression
Recently in Israel, we have witnessed a wave of reports on acts of chauvinist oppression, especially ones committed by Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews: from attempts to stop women from singing in public, through attempts to force women to sit in the back of the bus, and up to a verbal attack byHaredim on a 7-year-old girl, who in their minds was not dressed in a way fit for a woman. The Zionist media has named the phenomenon “Women’s Exclusion”. In fact, it is a classic example of the oppression of women under class society.
It did not take long for a public response to take place. On the 23.12.2011, gatherings were held in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv protesting this oppresion. At noon, about 300 people marched from France Square to HaMashbir Square in Central Jerusalem. Among the slogans raised were “Equal Rights and Nothing Less” and “Equal Pay – Women’s Fundamental Right”.
On the same day, Tzipi Livni spoke at a convention on the subject of women’s oppresion, saying “this struggle isn’t only about women’s rights; it is a struggle for the character of the state of Israel. It’s clear to me that if we won’t fight on this front… no one else will do it for the state of Israel… we have to realize that the situation is changing rapidly and that it is our job to stop this degeneration, and that [standing up to] sayings like ‘better a firing squad than women singing’ and ‘don’t rent Arabs apartments’ are part of the same struggle”. Livni is the leader of Kadima, a party whose program for the 17th Knesset included explicit support for the settlements. When it was founded, its proposal for peace with the Palestinians included an Israeli retreat from the 1967 territories, but also the annexation of Ariel, Maale Edomim and Qiryat Arba, among other settlements.
Labor Party leader Shelly Yechimovich also took part in the convention. Yechimovich was heavily criticized by the Israeli left after stating in Haaretz that she “does not see the settlement enterprise as a crime” and made it clear that it was justified as long as they were supported by the Zionist mainstream.
This co-optation of the movement by pro-settler parties does not bode well for the women’s movement which is organizing in Israel – and it must be said that this movement has done nothing to recruit to its ranks Palestinian women, who suffer oppression both as Palestinians and as women. Of course, as long as the leadership of the movement is left in the hands of Zionist, racist, pro-settlement women like Yechimovitch and Livni, this will not change.
We do not doubt the seriousness of the incidents reported by the media. But the Zionist media is not interested in exposing the causes for the rise in the number of such incidents, but in finding comfortable scapegoats that the Israeli government. This is why from the beginning, reports by the Zionist media – whether identified with the right, like Maariv and Yediot Ahronot, or ones identified with the left, like Haaretz – were tinged with anti-Haredi racism. This is part of a conscious attempt to blame all political and religious radicalization in Israel on the Haredim. Like all racist mud slinging, it has very little to do with the reality of the situation.
Were the people who refused to listen to women singing in the IDF event Haredim? No. Most Haredi people do not serve in the army at all. The officers in this case were in fact religious nationalists. In December, Nethanyahu expressed his support for a law suggested by Israel Beitenu MK Anastasia Michaeli, which will prevent mosques from using loudspeakers to call on people to pray. Are Nethanyahu and Michaeli Haredim? No, they are secular right-wingers who prepare the ground for settler pogroms against Palestinians – the so-called “price tag” attacks. Has Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, who proposed a law which will enable the chief Rabbinate to oversee the production of electricity, suddenly become Haredi? Of course not.
Thus it is clear that the cause for religious radicalization and women’s oppression is not a Haredi takeover of the state, but the Zionist apartheid state’s growing need to rely on ever more radical right-wing elements of Israeli society in order to maintain the brutal oppression of the Palestinian people.
Many Zionists want to revive Zionist liberalism and “return to the values of the declaration of independence”. But the idyllic image they have of the Israeli state at the time of its founding has nothing to do with reality. During the writing of the declaration of independence the Nakba, during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinian were slaughtered and expelled, took place. Shortly afterwards, Palestinian were put under martial law. At the time, the Zionist left dominated Israeli society. Racism is not an exclusively right-wing Zionist phenomenon: quite the opposite, it is an integral part of all political tendencies of Zionism. The internal contradiction between Zionism’s need for racist oppression on the one hand and the liberal, and even socialist, pretensions of some of its representatives on the other, is exactly what has brought about the sharp turn to the right by Israeli society, which today enables, among other things, the oppression of women.
Zionist Women and Palestinian Women
In this context, one should analyze the reasons for the continued support of most of Jewish society in Israel to the government’s oppressive policies. Israel is a colonialist settler state, which was created by expropriating the Palestinian people of its lands and property. For many years, the Zionist ruling class shared its loot from this expropriation with the Jewish masses, by creating a rather advanced welfare state. The Jewish masses learned that their identification with the state is crucial to ensure their privileged status relative to the Palestinian people.
This is especially clear in the West Bank, where two systems of law exist: one for Jews and the other for Palestinians. Settlers are accorded many benefits, and their privileges exceed those of the Israelis living in the pre-1967 territories: they receive subsidized housing, transport and education, have their own roads, and soldiers are stationed at their settlements to guard them. If that weren’t enough, while the state is very forgiving when settlers expand their settlements illegally, the Zionist state demolishes every building that the Palestinians build without a permit, which they have no chance of receiving in the first place. This policy is meant to force upon the Palestinians the so-called “silent transfer”, and indeed, since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian have left their country due to these settlements and the terrorism perpetrated by their inhabitants.
One racist law which is worthy of discussion is the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which creates an extreme situation of exclusion of Palestinians. According to this law, Palestinians living in the 1967 territories who marry Israeli citizens are not given the right to live in Israel’s 1948 territories. It is hard not to understand that this oppression is harsher than any of the chauvinist incidents that led to the recent public outcry and rise in anti-Haredi feelings, and despite this fact, the Jewish liberal women who today want to struggle against their oppression remained, for the most part, silent regarding this law.
Oppression of Palestinian Women
What is the situation of Palestinian women in Israel compared to Jewish women? The rate of participation of Palestinian women in the Israeli job market is very low. Statistics show that over the last 10 years, this rate has been no greater than 23%. The rate is especially low in the south, where it averages around 11.4%. In the north, participation is about 19%, and in the center of the country it is about 23%.
Palestinian women in Israel also face discrimination in pay. The average monthly wage of Palestinian women is 4350 NIS, compared to the 6112 NIS of Jewish women. Jewish women are also paid more per hour – 41.5 NIS compared to 32.3 for Palestinian women.
Israeli propaganda claims that these differences are due to Palestinian society being a traditional patriarchal society, in which the division of labor is such that men are expected to work while women are expected to be housewives. To test this hypothesis, it is best to compare the situation of Palestinian women to that of women in the Arab states. Indeed, in these countries, the rate of women’s employment stands around 33.3% percent. Those who claim that the discrimination against Palestinian women is the Palestinians’ fault are merely spreading racist propaganda meant to cover up for Zionist oppression.
For a Palestine Free of Chauvinism and Racism
As we have shown, the oppression of women in Israel is intimately bound with the oppression of Palestinians, as the same reactionary interests that are pursuing greater racist oppression are also behind the drive for women’s oppression. As long as the women’s movement continues to support them, directly or indirectly, and to fight for nationalist demands such as increasing the number of female officers and fighter pilots, their struggles will inevitably fail. We support the struggle of Jewish women against their discrimination, even when they do not understand that they must connect their struggle with that of the Palestinian people. But we tell them: Jewish women cannot be free as long as the Palestinians remain oppressed.
The recent regional uprisings show that the only way forward to liberation from imperialism and the corrupt dictators, as well as from the brutal Zionist oppression, is to create a revolutionary movement of the masses, led by the working class. The central importance of the working class was shown by its decisive role in ousting the dictators in Egypt and Tunisia. We are convinced that the Palestinian masses will not only support this revolution, but also actively participate in it. For Israeli Jews who want to live in a democratic state, with equal rights to all, is to join this struggle.
The victory of the struggle will bring about historical justice – the return of all refugees to the lands from which Israel expelled them, and the creation of a Palestinian state from the river to the sea. This country, established by struggles against oppression, will not be a state like those which we know today, who are ruled by a small rich minority. It will be ruled by the revolutionary working class, which will run it in the masses’ favor. In this country, not only will neither Arabs nor Jews be discriminated against, but women will not face discrimination for their gender. The former Israeli workers who will join the revolution will form a part of the new ruling class in this workers’ state. In this the new revolutionary state will be like the only other true workers’ state in history, Soviet Russia under Lenin and Trotsky, who cancelled all reactionary Czarist laws (for example, the ban on abortions) and in which men and women were truly equal.