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The Other Israel

The Nature of Israel

The Class Character of Israeli Society


From International Socialist Review, No.23, May-June 2002.


The class character of Israeli society, first published in 1969, represents a pioneering Marxist analysis on the nature of the working class in Israel. Its authors, members of the now-defunct Israeli Socialist Organization, capture the uniqueness of Israeli society – “financed by imperialism without being exploited by it.” Although there have been many changes inside Israel and internationally, this article remains an important starting point for any discussion of the dynamics of Israeli society.

Billions of dollars in US aid and transfers from Zionist organizations underpin a North American standard of living for most Jewish Israelis. These resources make possible jobs, low-interest loans for housing, and other benefits that the country’s economy alone couldn’t sustain.

In addition, the Israeli working class has been formed through a process of colonization of Palestinian land and a displacement of Palestinian labor. Rather than connecting an improvement of its conditions to a fight against Israel’s bosses, it seeks to advance its status on the backs of Palestinians.

These powerful forces stand in the way of the Jewish Israeli working class’s class consciousness. That is why any socialist strategy for Palestinian liberation cannot at this time depend on Israeli workers to use their power to challenge the Zionist state.

Israeli society has changed since the first publication of this essay. For instance, Israel increasingly depends on more than 200,000 non-Jewish contract laborers (from countries such as Romania, the Phillippines, and China) to replace Palestinians at the lowest levels of the labor force. And Israeli workers have been subjected to many of the same neoliberal attacks on their job security and social safety net as workers in other countries in the last decade.

But the essence of the arguments made in The class character of Israeli society still hold. Ariel Sharon and right-wing religious parties retain the greatest support from Jewish workers of Middle Eastern (or “Oriental”) origin. Although these workers face discrimination at the hands of the country’s European-origin (Ashkenazi) elite, they unite with that elite to defend their privileges as Israelis against demands from Palestinians, even though they may engage in economic struggles.

Today’s upsurge of militant, racist Zionism (nearly half of Israeli citizens support the mass expulsions of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories) has coincided with an economic crisis in Israel. More than 10 percent of Israeli workers are unemployed, and the economic growth rate was negative 5 percent in 2001 – the worst rate since 1953. But as long as Israeli workers identify with Zionism first, Israel’s bosses will continue to escape blame for these problems.

It follows that only a “revolutionary breakthrough” in the Arab world would challenge Israel’s watchdog role in the region, the authors contend. “Once this role and its associated privileges had been ended, the Zionist regime, depending as it does on these privileges, would be open to mass challenge from within Israel itself.” This version was published in The Other Israel: The Radical Case Against Zionism, edited by Arie Bober (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1972).


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