What has the Corbyn project meant – as a model, an inspiration, or otherwise – to you and people in the milieu(x) in which you organize?
The consistent left in Israel is mostly made up of Palestinian citizens, organized in the Communist Party and its front group Hadash/al-Jabhah, the liberal-nationalist Balad/Tajama’u (who both form part of the Joint List parliamentary formation) and smaller extra-parliamentary formations like Abnaa’ el-Balad. These have generally been sympathetic to Corbyn due to his support for the Palestinian cause, but I don’t get the impression that they have been following the UK scene closely. The Zionist Jewish “left” would be better described in international terms as centrist or liberal, and has bought wholeheartedly into the establishment media spin that Labour under Corbyn is an anti-semitic formation that puts UK Jews in danger. Unfortunately, even more radical politicians have distanced themselves from Corbyn due to these allegations. On the eve of the December elections, the only Israeli politicians willing to publicly endorse Labour were Yousef Jabarin and Ofer Cassif, both of Hadash.
The campaign group “Standing Together” has connections with the UK’s Momentum and has talked vaguely about copying their organizing model, as well as that of Podemos in Spain, but to me this has always seemed pretty unserious, given the huge differences in context for left organizing here. Israel’s electoral scene is nothing like the UK or Spain; its closest analogy is Turkey, given that both countries are ruled by right wing neoliberal parties with nationalist-religious overtones, that the main opposition is a militaristic authoritarian middle-class bloc rather than a progressive one, and that the left is strongly concentrated within the national minority (Kurdish in Turkey, Palestinian in Israel).
Nevertheless, for myself as well as for a small number of other leftists attuned to world politics, the Corbyn project (together with the Sanders project in the USA) has been a great inspiration, raising our hopes not only that socialism might be thus regenerated as a global force, but also that Western governments might finally stop giving the Israeli state blank checks to support its ongoing repression of the Palestinians. Given the extreme dependence of Israel on US and European financial and diplomatic support, such a shift would make a huge difference in our own circumstances.
What is your perspective on the recent electoral defeat in the UK? What critical lessons should your milieu, and the left in general, learn from this defeat?
For me personally and for those few close comrades, the defeat was heartbreaking. The fantasy scenario of Labour taking the reins of the UK and Sanders conquering in the USA also took a rather big hit, obviously. But since the contexts are so different, the lessons for the Israeli left must be at a rather high level of abstraction. First, I think this is a warning note that we cannot put all our eggs in the basket of electoral politics. Radicals have always known this, but this knowledge has been somewhat forgotten in the euphoria around Corbyn and Sanders. We need to be patient and keep working in labor organizing and social movements as well as in electoral formations, and to keep our eyes open to the very clear limitations involved in party politics and the potential waste of energy on electoral campaigns. There are no shortcuts.
Second, we need to seriously address the fact that Labour’s ship ran aground on Brexit, just as the Spanish left has been shipwrecked by the Catalan national question. We would really like these nationalisms to just go away and let us do class politics. Even now a fallacious hope is arising that once Brexit is over, politics will go back to “normal” and class issues will come to the fore. But so long as it is convenient for those in power to cut the political cake in other ways, this will never happen. We need to theorize the politics of the nation in the 21st century better, and we need to figure out how to handle these questions in our organizing. We could do worse than to start by going back to Marx’s category of the “surplus population,” to understand that today the vast majority of the global proletariat is just not needed by capital to produce surplus value, and that this means the strategic position of “productive” workers has been undermined – permanently. Under such circumstances, certainly as climate catastrophe brings about economic disruption and mass movement worldwide, workers with privileged racial and citizenship statuses can be easily convinced that their best bet is to defend what W.E.B. DuBois called their “wages of whiteness”. Whiteness in this sense is relative; we need only look at the manipulation of citizenship in India under Modi to see what the right has in store for us as well.
Matan Kaminer is a political activist and anthropologist. He has been active in the Israeli conscientious objection movement and Palestine solidarity work, in national and municipal electoral politics, and in organizing with migrants and refugees. He has a PhD from the University of Michigan, with a dissertation on settler-farmers and migrant farm-workers from Thailand in Israel’s Arabah region, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Haifa. Matan is a member of the board of Academia for Equality, an organization for the democratization of Israeli academia and society.