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Israel's Labour Party has never been a progressive movement

October 30, 2017 at 11:29 am

Avi Gabbay, leader of the Israeli Labour Party [Laliv g/Wikipedia]

The new leader of Israel’s Labour Party made it clear once again earlier this month that the supposedly progressive and left-wing of Zionism is as racist as its right-wing version. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has the least bit of familiarity with the movement’s history.

Avi Gabbay, a former telecoms executive, said that Labour would never enter a coalition with the Joint List, a predominantly Palestinian Arab bloc in Israel’s Knesset (parliament). At the same time he indicated that he would have no problem with entering a coalition alongside Yisrael Beiteinu, the ultra-right party led by Israel’s notoriously anti-Arab “defence” minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

Aping Lieberman’s belligerent war rhetoric, Gabbay promised that “the Arabs have to be afraid of us” and said that in any “peace deal” Israel need never evacuate any of the Jewish-only settlements built illegally on colonised Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. While spouting some vague words about “compromise” he stated that “the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews” and that he wants to “create a situation in which we live in our country with a Jewish majority.”

Not so long ago, Israel’s ostensibly “left-wing” propagandists in Britain were hailing Gabbay’s elevation to the Israeli Labour Party leadership as a new start for the Zionist left. Groups like Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement welcomed his arrival on the scene.

Read: Will Jeremy Corbyn be able to fulfil his promises on Palestine?

LFI and JLM disguise the reality of their propaganda on behalf of the Israeli state with platitudes about a “two-state solution” and, more recently, being “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace.” They also try to promote the racist Israeli Labour Party as British Labour’s “sister party” and a “progressive” influence, which is a lie.

Someone should have updated Gabbay on the propaganda line, because he clearly didn’t get the memo about “peace”. In fact, his belligerent anti-Palestinian stance is entirely consistent with the Israeli Labour Party’s history as the number one enemy of the Palestinian people and the author of the worst atrocities against them.

This may sound counter-intuitive. After all, wasn’t the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, during which the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinian refugees took place, conducted under the auspices of the right-wing Likud government? Wasn’t the notorious Deir Yassin massacre of 1948 conducted by right-wing Zionist “revisionist” militias? Yes in both cases, but while it may not appear obvious that Israel’s Labour Party is just as big a culprit, if not more so, it is a fact.

Read: UK must recognise Palestine to rectify Balfour’s mistake

The 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine was masterminded and overseen by David Ben Gurion, whose political party was the direct political antecedent of the Israeli Labour Party. While Deir Yassin was the most well-known, it was only one of many other massacres of Palestinian civilians during the 1947-9 ethnic cleansing of Palestine in which the Haganah – the armed wing of Labour Zionism – provided a supporting role.

Former Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion

Similarly, the 1967 invasion and occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Syria’s Golan Heights was conducted by a government run by the same “left-wing Zionist” political current. The Israeli settlement project in the West Bank and Gaza was initiated almost immediately after the occupation started, a decade before the Likud came to power in Tel Aviv.

Like other social democratic parties in the West, the British Labour Party has long had an extremely malign influence when it comes to international issues. It has supported Britain’s imperial wars, and on occasion even directly administered and expanded the British Empire itself.

However, competing factions within the Labour Party have at times tempered this war-like tendency. The left-wing faction represented by the current leader Jeremy Corbyn offers hope for a more progressive foreign policy which no longer supports wars, invasions and occupations.


Corbyn made a good start on making amends for the Labour Party’s role in British wars by apologising for the party’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He should now go further and seek to break the historical support of the Labour Party leadership for Israel and the Zionist movement which established the settler-colonial entity in the land of Palestine, a land which did not at the time, and still does not, have a majority Jewish population.

The Israeli Labour Party is a different matter. There are no competing tendencies therein; it is 100 per cent Zionist from top to bottom. As such, it is irredeemably wedded to racism, colonialism, settlement expansion, wars of aggression, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Just like outdated and racist ideas about a “White state”, a “Protestant state” or a “Christian state”, a “Jewish state” cannot be anything other than racist, and the idea of a “Jewish and democratic” state is a square that cannot be circled.

The newly-energised and empowered Labour Party grassroots in Britain should start the process necessary to break all ties with the Israeli Labour Party. The latter is a party which does not recognise the basic equality and political or human rights of the Palestinian people, and is thus anything but a viable partner for peace and justice.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.