Palestinian workers and children at Israel’s checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem (Flickr/ United Church)

Could Israeli workers be part of the fight for Palestinian freedom? Socialists generally say that workers taking action can be the most potent force for change. But the makeup of Israeli society, propped up by its imperialist backers, means that its working class will never be agents of liberation for Palestinians.

Israeli society is a racist settler colonial enterprise, which can only exist through the continued displacement and oppression of the Palestinians. Israeli workers are settlers who play a role in maintaining the oppression of the Palestinians.

The compulsory conscription of all adult citizens into its army means that Israel always has a reserve of soldiers ready to fight. The Israeli state knows that to maintain this set-up, Israeli workers must constantly feel superior to Palestinians and know that they benefit from maintaining the apartheid system.

And it’s easy to see how Israeli workers benefit. The average wage of Israeli workers is almost double that of Palestinians. Unemployment in Israel was at 3.48 percent in 2022. In the nearby West Bank in the same year it was 13 percent, and in Gaza it was 45 percent.

Israel’s imperialist backers and Western corporations pour money into their watchdog in the Middle East. A portion of that goes to workers and is used to cement their support for Zionism. There is a direct link between the role Israel plays and the conditions of Israeli workers.

And at the same time Israeli workers gain from the exclusion, repression and marginalisation of Palestinian workers. They secure some of the profits from the robbery of Palestinians. The message this sends is that even if Israeli workers have problems with their boss or the government, they will still always be better off than the Palestinians.

And this message is pushed by Israel’s trade unions. The Histadrut, or the General Organisation of Workers in Israel, is a kind of trade union federation. But from its inception in 1920 it has been a tool of expanding apartheid and was one of the central organising bodies for some of the early Zionist settlers.

It helped to set up the Kibbutzim, which were farms built on the stolen land of Palestinians. It also oversaw the Haganah, a military force instrumental in the massacre and forced displacement of Arabs from their homes.

One of the biggest goals for the Histadrut was to promote to new Jewish settlers in Palestine that they should not rely on Arab labour or Arab goods. Members of the Histadrut smashed Arab market stalls, destroyed produce and organised to beat Palestinians who tried to get work in orchards.

This violence was part of the Zionist project to ensure that Israel was never too reliant on the labour of Arab workers. Today, Palestinians are still seen as secondary in the workforce and work in the lowest-paid and most casualised jobs. 

Israeli workers directly benefit from this set up. Of course struggle and strikes do sometimes break out inside Israel. There are political protests. But, significantly, these never go as far as to take on the whole apartheid regime itself.

There will always be tension inside Israel over the distribution of the loot from imperialism and the proceeds of theft from Palestinians. But that doesn’t extend to an assault on Zionism.

Individuals can and sometimes do make the break from Zionism, but not Israeli workers as a class. Socialists should look to a force that can lead to the end of Zionist terror. That’s Palestinian resistance, the working class across the region and a protest movement in countries which fund and arm Israel.

 

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