Why We Refuse to Support the Daam 2013 Election Campaign (January 2013)

The Israeli elections coming up on the 22nd of January are causing very little excitement in Israel itself. The victory of the right is a foregone conclusion, and center-left Zionism remains weak and divided. One popular pass-time for left Zionists has become to produce sheets of complicated calculations and faulty logic intended to prove that the left can win the elections (Yossi Gurevitz is one example) – however, outside such middle class circles, few entertain such illusions.

However, for people who want to change society, there is much more to elections than what the governing coalition would like after they are done. Understandably, socialists and supporters of the Palestinians want to use the elections to advance their cause or at least use it as a platform for their ideas. For this reason, many on the left in Israel are calling for a vote to various left-wing organizations outside the spectrum of mainstream Zionism. The most popular parties among such leftists in these elections are Hadash, the Communist Party front, Balad, the liberal-nationalist Palestinian party, and Daam, an ostensibly socialist workers’ party.

The ISL originally took the position that revolutionaries in occupied Palestine must boycott elections to the Knesset, seeing as these elections ignore the majority of the people living in this land – the 1967 Palestinians – and are recognized as a sham by most Palestinians. In recent months, after discussing the question again, we have decided that these are not strong enough arguments in favor of a principled boycott. The tactic of exposing reformist and nationalist leaders by putting them to the test of office is too important to rule out in principle. However, since no working class or Palestinian mass movement for the election of any particular party exists, we believe that there is no party that revolutionaries should vote for in the current elections.

We have written about Hadash and the Communist Party many times in the past (see here for a historical review; additional criticisms here, here and here). In short, for all its pro-Palestinian rhetoric, it is a Zionist party, which supports the two-state solution, prides itself on being a “patriotic Israeli party”, and has signaled its willingness to sell out the right of return. It is not by accident that it identifies so strongly with unelected PA “President” Mahmoud Abbas. Balad, while far more courageous and radical in this respect, remains ambiguous about changing its former two-state position, and does not take a clear class line on the nature of the future Palestinian state.

Daam claims to be an alternative to the left Zionist as well as to the Arab parties in Israel, by uniting Jewish and Arab workers (Daam seems to categorically refuse to refer to Arabs in Israel as Palestinians – more on this below) on the basis of a socialist program rather than nationalism. It claims to also be an alternative to Hadash, which it criticizes for its alleged support to the Assad regime (in fact, Hadash’s position on the Assad regime is more complicated, raising a suspicion that Daam is taking a cheap shot here), capitulations to the Histadrut leadership, and capitulations to nationalism.

Sounds good, and many Israeli leftists who have despaired from parties like Meretz and Hadash are enthusiastic about Daam’s election campaign. However, as much as we understand this enthusiasm, we would not be doing our job if we did not tell Daam’s supporters who they are really voting for. Our criticism of Daam isn’t a sign of sectarianism: sectarianism is the act of putting the interests of one’s organization before those of the movement. In the past, we have congratulated Daam activists for their bravery; today, we are forced to condemn them for cowardice.

How Many Daam Activists Does It Take to Change A Light Bulb?

It is not new for self-proclaimed socialist parties in Israel to criticize Hadash for nationalism and advocate “real” Jewish-Arab unity. Usually, this is a smokescreen for capitulations to Zionist racism (see our criticism of Maavak Sozialisti here and here, for example). In practice, Hadash’s nationalism is simply the other side of its support for Israel: it justifies support for the two-state solution under the slogan “two states for two people”, while also giving Hadash an opening to support the Assad regime, whose survival assures that the Zionist state’s northern border remains secure (in fact, recently Israel had conducted an air force exercise to prepare for a rebel victory in Syria). To claim that its function is to support Hamas is to play on Israeli Jews’ racist fears and to slander an organization whose track record requires no lying for criticism – unless, of course, one is trying to appeal mainly to left Zionism.

The price of this capitulation to left Zionism is palpable. To distance oneself from the “nationalists”, in the eyes of the Zionists, means first and foremost to deny that Palestinians face any sort of special oppression in the Zionist state or that they have any special national rights in Palestine which should be fought for. Tablet Magazine quoted Asma Agbariya Zahalka, No. 1 in Daam’s Knesset list, as saying that

“Whether they like it or not… Jews and Arabs today are joined at the paycheck. They’re both victims of bad policy… you can continue to fight over the country you say the Jews took from you in 1948… or you can realize that the Jews themselves don’t have a country today. It was taken from them. It was taken by the government and given to tycoons, and we all need to fight to get it back.”

If Jews and Arabs are victims of the same bad policy, if both have as much claim to the land as the other, if both has had their land stolen for them in the same way, then there is certainly no need for a special struggle for national liberation – convenient, since Daam’s left-Zionist enthusiasts would frown upon that anyway. Moreover, if the victimization of Palestinians and Jewish workers is just a “bad policy” rather than the basic working mechanism of the Zionist state, then there is no need for a revolution in Israel – one can be content with voting Daam into Knesset.

Sadly, this is not the case. Israel was created by expelling, murdering and expropriating masses of Palestinians. The property and land that was taken from the Palestinians was then used to eventually create a Western standard of living for Israeli Jews. And although this standard of living has declined, it remains significantly higher than that of the Palestinians and the rest of the people of the region, and Jews – at least those who do not join the struggle against Zionism – continue to enjoy a myriad of rights and privileges that Palestinians can only dream of. This has led to Israel’s working class becoming highly passive and easy to control. Israel being a capitalist state, it has, of course, taken advantage of this to attack the workers harder than most imperialist states could afford to. By refusing to recognize the centrality of the question of Palestinian national liberation, organizations like Daam are playing a crucial part not only in normalizing Zionism, but in holding back even the struggle of Jewish workers.

This leads to further capitulations to Zionist chauvinism. In an interview to J14, Agbariya-Zahalka said that

“For four years [the Israeli government] wasted time and did not talk to the man who wants peace [Mahmoud Abbas]. They did deal with Hamas, because both want a Palestinian state in Gaza.” We do not believe Zahalka means this. No sane person could believe that the Israeli government wants a Palestinian state anywhere. However, the attempt to appeal to Zionists means that one has to make certain compromises with the truth. The statement in the same interview that opening the Rafah crossing would cut Gaza off from the West Bank, and that this is why the Egyptian government refused to do so – as opposed to the pressure coming from Israel and the US – comes from the same place. When she says that Israel can leave the territories for a “Palestinian state that Israel will not have any responsibility for”, it is merely a left-wing re-formulation of Zionist racist and arch-war criminal Ehud Barak’s slogan “them over there, us over here”, which expressed the idea that the Apartheid wall in the West Bank would keep Palestinians out of Israel forever.

Agbariya-Zahalka goes even further: “we say no to talks with Hamas – no one can talk to Hamas – Abu Mazen [Abbas] doesn’t talk to Hamas either.” This is an amazing position to take at times when even some members of the Labor Party advocate that Israel should negotiate with Hamas. In the name of Jewish-Arab unity, Agbariya-Zahalka calls on the Zionist state to ban the organization that many Palestinians see as their representative, and instead negotiate with the hated representative of the occupier. Can there be a more shameful sellout of the Palestinian rights for self-determination and election of representatives?

The answer is that there is, and it once more comes from Agbariya-Zahalka herself. In an interview inHaaretz, Agbariya-Zahalka described her criticism of Balad:

“Balad is an Arab nationalist bourgeois party, is is not a party which deals with social justice. I am not competing with [nearly-disqualified Balad MK] Hanin Zoabi… there is 50% unemployment among Arabs, 80% of Arab women are not working. That’s a catastrophe. Is this a people that can think about liberating Palestine? This is a people that should liberate itself first and foremost.”

That Balad does not take a clear class line is obvious. At least it does not pretend to. However, Daam does pretend to be a socialist and revolutionary organization, while claiming that Arabs in Israel are distinct from the Palestinian people (otherwise, how can one tell the difference between liberating Palestine and liberating this “people”) and that social reforms should be fought for before one fights for national liberation. Marxists are familiar with the old Stalinist two-stage theory, which claims that oppressed nations must struggle for national liberation before socialism can be achieved – Trotsky correctly analyzed this theory as a justification for capitulations to nationalism in the national liberation struggle. Agbariya-Zahalka’s two-stage theory is the oppressor nation version of that theory, and is nothing more than a justification for capitulations to Zionism on Daam’s part: it means that Palestinians should not fight for their own national rights until the “social struggle” is victorious.

So how many Daam members does it take to change a light bulb? If it’s Israeli, one is enough. If it’s Palestinian, though, they have to wait for the Jews.

Agbariya-Zahalka claims to oppose the siege on Gaza. However, in the same interview she said:

“I would not join the Marmara” – the Turkish ship which sailed to Gaza and was attacked by Zionist forces, killing 8 Turkish nationals, which Zoabi joined – “aside from isolating and distancing and presenting yourself as against and anti, I think joining the Marmara was to strengthen Hamas against Abu Mazen. Tablet Magazine quotes her as saying that “we will not go together with the Muslim Brotherhood like [Zoabi] did on the Marmara… I object to the siege on Gaza, I think it’s a travesty to starve an entire people. And I’m against the political persecution against Zoabi. But we’re fighting against the Brotherhood. I want to promote a real left that doesn’t see Islam as its salvation. I don’t want to go 1,400 years back in time. I want to go into the future.”

What slander! What lies! Hamas is today busy proving to the Zionists that it can be depended on to keep the people of Gaza quiet, while enriching itself at their expense by means of the tunnel economy. While we give no political support to Balad, Zoabi has paid for her bravery by having to stand an unceasing campaign of slander and delegitimization, including physical attacks. Agbariya-Zahalka has made her contribution to this campaign: Zoabi’s contention that her criticism is no different than that which she faced from the right and the Zionist parties is apt. This is the price of refusing to recognize the nature of national oppression under Zionism and of pandering to Jewish workers’ national chauvinism.

Daam’s preaching about not working with Hamas is especially revolting considering its cavalier attitude with regards to working with Zionist parties. Daam’s Facebook reported that Agbariya-Zahalka said that (see screen capture below)

“There is no doubt that in the Knesset we will work with however believes in what we are advocating. I do not rule out some sort of connection, some sort of coalition, as long as its guiding lines suit us.”

And so, fighting against the siege of Gaza under a questionable leadership is completely off limits. Joining a coalition with Zionist parties? Not off limits at all. Perhaps the good people of Daam need someone to change the light bulbs in their offices – it is becoming quite clear that they no longer even read the nonsense they are writing.

Jewish-Arab Unity in Wonderland

Of course, on such a basis, one wonders what Daam means by Jewish-Arab unity. Daam member Yaacov Ben-Efrat inadvertently answers:

““The people demand social justice” – this slogan connected the protesters in Israel with the millions in Egypt and around the world, because they were sick of the destructive capitalism that had taken over their societies. The enthusiasm of Tel Aviv’s youth stemmed from their understanding that they were making history, that walls of separation were crumbling, that we were joining the rest of the world. The youth of Cairo were similar to the youth of Madrid, and in Tel Aviv the Zionist decree that “the people shall dwell alone” was shattered. Cairo built up faith in change, and Tel Aviv brought back hope.”

The mind boggles. In Egypt, thousands were murdered in a struggle to bring down an oppressive pro-Western and pro-Zionist dictatorship. In Tel-Aviv, the struggle could not even bring itself to appeal to Palestinians in Israel. It preferred to discuss solidarity with settlers and right-wingers. This in turn had led Egyptian leftists to refer to the movement in Tel Aviv as the movement of the sons of dogs; it is not clear to whom hope was restored in this case.

The passage quoted above is symptomatic. Ben-Efrat is eager to show that both the social protests and Daam’s election campaign are events in which Jews and Arabs united to fight together. The truth is that the social protest failed exactly because it failed to appeal to Palestinians, rejecting their demands in the name of advocating a Jews-only socialism. Daam’s shameful capitulation to this racist position continues to this day, affirming a long-standing understanding of the anti-racist struggle: when one puts the oppressor and oppressed on the same level, one ends up having to sacrifice the interests of the latter in order to placate the former. As such, Daam’s Jewish-Arab unity remains a lofty ideal which barely veils its capitulation to Zionism.

We would love nothing more than to have Jews support Palestinians rights and their struggle and for them to join it. However, we do not condition our support for this struggle on the attitude of the members of the oppressor nation. Daam does, and is thus forced to take ever more right-wing positions with regards to the Palestinian struggle. But not with regards to it alone.

Workers of the World Unite – But In the Countries You Were Born In, Please!

Daam has become somewhat notorious in left-wing circles for its anti-immigrant position, which for now is kept away from its election propaganda. However, Daam is a repeat offender in this field. A few years ago, it called on the Israeli government to reduce the number of immigrant workers coming into Israel.

We are aware that immigrant workers who come to Israel are terrible exploited. We are also aware of the fact that immigrant workers are brought in so that Palestinians could continue to be denied jobs in Israel. However, the revolutionary working class position is not to demand that immigrant workers are kept out but to encourage them to join the struggle against exploitation. In the US, immigrant workers have become a mass force that, under the correct conditions, could significantly strengthen the struggle of the working class. With the correct attitude, Palestinians could find a powerful ally inside Israel which does not enjoy racial privileges given to Jews by the state.

Under the pressure of criticism, it seems that Daam has altered its position somewhat. Its election manifesto states that “Daam is working to cut off the import of foreign workers… [who] come to the country sunk into debt due to payments to the importing contractor, becoming in practice imprisoned workers, with no social rights or protection… the result is the lowering of wages and increasing unemployment…” It also says that  “Daam opposes the jailing, expulsion and attacks on the human rights of foreign workers and immigrants.”

How touching! Daam does not call to bar foreign workers from entering Israel out of some pandering to racist sentiments – it does so out of concern for the rights of those workers! What the good people of Daam do not take into consideration is that poverty in Asia will not go away if Israel will stop foreign workers from entering its territory. It will just make them that much more dependent on the oppressive employers in their own home countries rather than the Israeli ones. Another question should be asked: if foreign workers already in Israel will not be expelled, and those trying to come to the country will not be jailed, then how will this “import of foreign workers” be stopped?

We are familiar with leftists who claim to support the Palestinian right of return while simultaneously supporting a two-state solution. We ask them how there could be a Jewish state if Palestinians are allowed to return to its territory. Either there must be official Apartheid to ensure the rule of the Jewish population, or there must be ethnic cleansing to create a Jewish majority. Often we find, for example, in the case of Hadash MK Dov Khenin, that while these leftists support the right of return “in principle”, they are willing to accept compromises “in practice”. It would be interesting to hear from the members of Daam how they plan to reconcile the humane treatment of foreign workers “in principle” with the treatment which Israel metes out to them “in practice”.


Daam’s fake internationalism notwithstanding, we will certainly be accused by many of sectarianism for our criticisms, or for refusing to vote for “the lesser evil” despite its drawbacks. Our answer is once more simple: the only force in this region that can carry forward the struggle for socialism is the Palestinian masses, led by the working class and poor. To vote for a party which wants to subordinate this force to another that has proven its inability to stand up to nationalism in order to assert its own interests is nothing less than a betrayal of the struggle for socialism.

The case of Daam shows once more that in the context of the Palestinian struggle against Zionism, all pretense to being anti-nationalist by refusing to recognize the special nature of Palestinian oppression and special role of the Palestinians in the struggle for socialist revolution can only lead well-meaning socialists down a very dark road. We call on all those who are interested in socialist revolution and in building true solidarity with the Palestinian struggle to contact us and discuss with us the ways in which these important tasks can be undertaken.

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