15 April 2018

Avi Gabbay, leader of Israel’s Labour Party cuts links with Jeremy Corbyn alleging ‘anti-Semitism’

It is long overdue that Labour severed its links with Israel’s (Labour) party of ethnic cleansing

Last week the new leader of the Israeli Labour Party, Avi Gabbay issued a letter cutting his links with Jeremy Corbyn.  It is doubtful that this racist twerp had any links in the first place.  His actions were designed to aid those seeking to overthrow Corbyn. The last person Jeremy Corbyn needs to take lessons from, when it comes to racism, is Avi Gabbay of the Israeli Labour Party, a party that openly supports segregation and Apartheid.

Gabbay’s actions provide an ideal opportunity however to sever our links with the Israeli Labour Party.  For that we should be grateful to him.  It is a complete disgrace that Labour has maintained, for nearly a century, its links with a party of ethnic cleansing, segregation and apartheid.  A party that openly campaigned for employers to sack Arab workers, which barred Arabs from its kibbutzim, which destroyed produce that Jews bought from Arabs and which barred Arabs from its trade union Histadrut, which was the General Federation of Hebrew Labour, until 1959.
Gabbay's letter to Corbyn cutting non-existent links
The Labour Party in its War Aims Memorandum of August 1917 gave support to the creation of a Jewish settler state in the Middle East, alongside the Suez Canal.  It was seen as an essential guarantee of Britain’s strategic interests which lay in protecting the route to India, the jewel in the crown of the Empire.

Since 1920 Poale Zion (now renamed the Jewish Labour Movement) has been an affiliated socialist society of the Labour Party. PZ's affiliation should be seen in the context of Labour’s support at that time for the British Empire. Supporting Zionism and a Jewish settler state was a part of Labour’s support for the Empire.

Joan Ryan with a group of helpers

Former leader Isaac Herzog (left) and current leader Avi Gabbay (right)
 In the words of Sir Ronald Storres, the British Military Governor of Jerusalem from 1920-25 the Zionist project would be ‘one that blessed him that gave as well as him that took by forming for England “a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of hostile Arabism.’ [Orientations, Nicholson & Watson, London 1943, p.345] 

Whatever imperial justification there was in 1920 for the anachronism whereby the overseas wing of the Israeli Labour Party (then Ahdut Ha’avodah) was affiliated to the Labour Party with the status of an affiliated socialist society, there is no such justification now. 
Labour Friends of Israel's Joan Ryan doing her best not to support Jeremy Corbyn in the General Election
A Jewish Palestine was seen as a piece in the imperial jigsaw.  Today Israel is an essential component of Pax Americana in the Middle East.  It is supported to the tune of $4 billion a year by the United States.

If there is a case for a Jewish section of the Labour Party, then the Jewish Labour Movement which describes the Israeli Labour Party as its sister party’ is not it.  The JLM’s name is misleading. It is only open to Zionists  Jewish or non-Jewish. The JLM is affiliated to the World Zionist Organisation whose Jerusalem Program holds that Zionism means the centrality of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of the [Jewish] nation’

Jews who are neither Zionists nor racists cannot join the JLM whereas non-Jewish racists are welcome.  The JLM is believed to be largely composed of non-Jewish members for whom ‘anti-Semitism’ is simply a weapon to attack the Left.
In the wake of Gabbay's letter to Jeremy Corbyn, Gabbay became impatient awaiting a reply and so sent a second letter
Rather than reprimanding Gabbay for seeking to interfere in the internal affairs of the British Labour Party and for appointing himself the representative of Jews in the Labour Party (when were the elections?) Joan Ryan, the Labour MP for Enfield Southgate (when is she going to be reselected?) and Chair of Labour Friends of Israel rushed out an Open Letter, on behalf of LFI, supporting Gabbay.  This is the same Joan Ryan who told her constituents in the General Election that she understood why they liked Theresa May more than Corbyn! She wrote:

“The polls are all saying that the Conservative party will win a large majority, possibly with more MPs than they have ever had before. Realistically, no one thinks Theresa May will not be prime minister or that she will not have the majority she needs to negotiate Brexit.”

These are the 10 reasons why the Labour Party should cut its links with the Israeli Labour Party and its ‘sister’ party the Jewish Labour Movement

1.           As Ben White explained in The Independent the Israeli Labour Party’s ‘“glory days include the Nakba [the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948]”, as well as “conquering and settling the West Bank and East Jerusalem”. In 1947-48 the ILP organised the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.  ¾ million Palestinian refugees were expelled and thousands were massacred by the Labour Zionist terror group, Haganah and Palmach.

2.           The Israeli Labour Party was always a racist party of segregation and apartheid.  From the time of its formation in 1906 it fought for Jewish Labour, which meant campaigning against Jewish employers hiring Arab labour.  It was a nationalist never a socialist party.

3.           When it comes to repressing the Palestinians there is no difference between Labour and Netanyahu.  In his open letter to Corbyn Gabbay stated that he was cutting his links with him because ‘Corbyn had expressed “very public hatred of the policies of the government of the state of Israel, many of which regard the security of our citizens and actions of our soldiers – policies where the opposition and coalition in Israel are aligned”.  There isn’t a war in Israel that the ILP hasn’t supported or an attack on the Palestinians which they have not taken part in.  Gabbay and the ILP wholeheartedly support the current shooting of unarmed protestors in the Gaza prison camp by Israeli snipers.

4.           Previous leader Isaac Herzog declared that his nightmare was waking up to find that Israel had a Palestinian Prime Minister and 61 Palestinian Members of Israel’s Knesset (Parliament).  Herzog also emphasised that he wanted to dispel the false impression that the ILP were ‘Arab Lovers’.

5.    Gabbay has gone better.  He declared that he would not join a coalition with members of the Joint List, a grouping of parties made up predominantly of Palestinian citizens of Israel. An Israeli Palestinian party has never been part of a government in Israel. It is an unwritten Zionist convention that Arab parties do not take part in the government of a Jewish state.  “We will not share a government with the Joint List, period,” Gabbay said. “Let that be clear.”  Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, responded that “Someone who doesn’t view Arab citizens and their elected representatives as a legitimate group, doesn’t present a real alternative to the right.”  At the same time, Gabbay indicated he could team up with Yisrael Beiteinu, the far-right party led by Israel’s notoriously anti-Arab defense minister Avigdor Lieberman.

     6.    Lieberman believes Palestinians like Odeh should eventually be stripped of their Israeli citizenship altogether.

7.           Gabbay followed up with more belligerent comments declaring that “the Arabs have to be afraid of us” and that Israel need never evacuate any of its settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law.  According to Gabbay ‘Settlements represent the ‘beautiful face of Zionism’.
Gabbay's Labour Party, which is supposed to be the part of everyone, opposes admitting asylum seekers for the same reason that it expelled 3/4m Palestinians - because a Jewish state means a Jewish majority state

8.           In May 2012, Herzog wrote an opinion piece, challenging arguments by human rights groups that Eritreans in Israel deserved protection as refugees.  When the current crisis over Netanyahu’s attempt to deport 40,000 Black African refugees for the crime of not being Jewish or White erupted, Gabbay rushed to support Netanyahu. 

9.           The Israeli Labour Party was in power in Israel from 1948-1977.  During that time its closest ally was Apartheid South Africa.  Labour’s trade union Histadrut established an arms factory in South Africa, Iskandoor.  Israel also jointly developed a nuclear bomb with South Africa.

10.      On 22nd November, Ha’aretz published an editorial Labor Party's Support of Deportation, Imprisonment of Asylum Seekers Cheapens the Israeli Opposition.  It described how the ‘Zionist Union gave their support to a disgraceful government bill for the deportation and imprisonment of asylum-seekers.’ (Zionist Union is the Israeli Labour Party plus a smaller party, Hatnuah). 

Gabbay, who previously served in Netanyahu’s cabinet has only just joined the Israeli Labour Party.  Previously he was Chairman of Bezzek, Israel’s telecommunications giant.  There is nothing in the slightest left-wing about this billionaire.  It is a measure of the ILP’s desperation that he has been elected the leader of a party which is, in the worlds of Uri Avnery ‘a political corpse without a purpose’.

From vowing never to join forces with Arab political parties to saying there’s no reason to remove settlements, Labor’s new leader has alienated many on the Left in recent months. His latest move, supporting the deportation of asylum seekers, is different.

Head of the Zionist Union party Avi Gabbay with Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last July, Avi Gabbay was elected chairman of the Labor party on the promise to return the party to power. Since then, Gabbay has staked out positions considerably to the right of Labor’s traditional base, leaving many on the Left frustrated, even devastated. Labor gained ground in the 2015 elections because it cast itself as the anti-Netanyahu; now, Labor voters worry, Gabbay is turning into Netanyahu.

Gabbay was always an unconventional choice for Labor. A former head of the Israeli telecom giant Bezeq, Gabbay was among the founding members of Moshe Kakhlon’s center-right Kulanu party, and even served as minister in the current government, resigning in May of 2016 to protest the appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister. While Gabbay’s rivals in Labor raised questions about his right-wing past, the party ultimately decided to give him a chance.

Religion and state? Okay

The first sign of trouble came shortly after Gabbay’s election, in August, when he appeared at an event about religion and state alongside Education Minister Naftali Bennett in the West Bank settlement of Efrat. Bennett, at the time, was facing criticism from secular Israelis who were angered by his changes to the Israeli public school curriculum, which they felt amounted to religious indoctrination. While Gabbay did criticize Bennett’s changes to the curriculum, he made a concerted effort to appeal to the religious right. “I have no problem if my son learns Talmud,” Gabbay said.

‘We have nothing in common with them’

In early October, at a speaking event in Beer Sheva, Gabbay announced that he would refuse to form a governing coalition that included the Joint List, the political heterogeneous union of Arab parties and the third largest party in the Knesset. “We have nothing in common with them,” he said. Gabbay’s stance on the Arab parties was in practice not significantly different from that of his predecessor, Isaac Herzog, but the absolute rejection of partnering with Arab parties ruffled feathers even within his own party.

Threatening to kick out Labor’s only Arab MK

Two weeks later, when Labor MK Zuheir Bahlul announced he would not attend the Knesset’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Gabby reportedly threatened that Bahlul “won’t sit in the next Knesset session,” adding that he was tired of “this kind of extremism.” Gabbay’s public threats against his party’s only Arab MK disturbed many in Labor and on the left. “From his response to Bahlul,” the Haaretz editorial board wrote, “[Gabbay] has proven himself to be a nationalist like all the others—someone who does not want Arabs in the governing coalition, or in his party.”

Settlements are here to stay

Gabbay further frustrated members of his own party when he declared that no settlements would need to be evacuated in a future peace agreement. Tzipi Livni was quick to release a statement that Gabbay’s views did represent hers or those of the Zionist Union, the merger of the Labor party and Livni’s Hatnua. Despite the controversy, Gabbay’s comments, again, reflected more of a shift in style than in substance. Herzog, during his time as Labor chairman, also did not exactly take a pro-peace position, claiming that now was not the time to attempt a two-solution.

Gabbay’s strong statement in favor of keeping the settlements in place did not sit well with others on the left either. Meretz MK Ilan Gilon remarked at the time that Gabbay seemed “to have forgotten that he was chosen to lead the alternative to the Likud.”

Adopting Netanyahu’s disdain for the Left

If pandering to the religious right, threatening an Arab member of his party, and cozying up to the settler lobby wasn’t enough, Gabbay appeared to cross another line when in early November he echoed a famous Netanyahu comment that “the Left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish” — that the Labor party had chosen liberal values at the expense of Jewish values. Adopting a line associated with the beginning of Netanyahu’s tenure generated a firestorm.

The last, or latest, straw

Gabbay’s defenders have insisted that the rightward swing is all part of a strategy to return Labor to power—though it is a strategy that has been tried and failed before.

Yet Gabbay’s new direction for the party became more than just a change in rhetoric this week, when he ordered the party to support a bill that will allow the deportation and indefinite detention of asylum seekers living in Israel. Support for the bill does more than shift Labor’s location on the political map, it could have real consequences: the deportation of tens of thousands of people who have lived in Israel for years, putting many of their lives at risk.

Nine of the Zionist Union’s 23 MKs opposed Gabbay’s decision. Sheli Yachimovitch, the former Labor chairwoman, said it “was morally impossible to support the bill.” Zuheir Bahlul remarked, “I cannot understand how the party can support an immoral, right-wing proposal to send the refugees to hell.”

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