Binyamin Netanyahu celebrates his re-election. Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images
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Might Binyamin Netanyahu surprise us all - again?

Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu defied the polls to win re-election last week. Uri Dromes offers his quiet wish for statesmanship from the leader.

The outcome of the Israeli elections on 17 March was a great personal victory for Binyamin Netanyahu, who had been dismissed by pundits a few days earlier as a relic of the past. Indeed, it was a double victory: not only will Netanyahu be able to form a stable right-wing government, he’ll be able to address grievances of little interest to those outside Israel.

Ever since the Six Day War in 1967, there has existed a tension between maintaining state security and addressing socio-economic concerns. Common wisdom dictated that security would always prevail. However, the social unrest of 2011, when hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the street to protest about the rising cost of living, seemed to change that. A new political party, Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, was created to funnel the protesters’ frustrations into mainstream politics. Lapid’s tenure as finance minister, however, produced a mixed response.

His dismissal paved the way for Moshe Kahlon, a rising star who as minister of communications had succeeded in sharply reducing the cost of mobile-phone calls – and now promises to repeat the miracle with housing costs. By giving Kahlon the finance brief and making him the housing tsar, Netanyahu is reassuring Israelis that he is attuned to their real-life aspirations.

If this stroke of political mastery were not enough, by single-handedly running a campaign of fear in the days before the election – warning that the left was about to take over – Netanyahu managed to snatch many voters from the parties that had outflanked him on the right: Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home), led by Naftali Bennett, and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu (Our Israel). The result was that, unlike in the previous government – where it was held hostage by medium-sized parties – Netanyahu’s Likud today towers over its potential coalition partners, allowing Bibi much greater control and stability.

And yet, with all due respect for domestic matters and the stability of the coalition, Netanyahu’s new government will still need to address the strategic challenges particular to Israel: the volatile Middle East, the immediate threats of Hamas and Hezbollah, nuclear Iran and the so-called peace process with the Palestinians.

Many Israelis, myself included, feel that Netanyahu has failed in dealing with each and every one of these issues. But the result of the election clearly showed that we are in a minority. That’s the beauty of democracy. It appears, then, that on all these fronts Israel will carry on as before.

The problem is that if the worst comes to the worst, on three out of the four issues there are certain military responses available. Not so with the question of Palestine. Without a bold move in this arena, Israel will eventually become one binational state, losing its Jewish identity, or its democracy, or both. Netanyahu, who during the campaign renounced his 2009 acceptance of a Palestinian state, will not have the luxury of ignoring the matter. Either he embraces the 2002 Arab League proposal for a comprehensive regional peace, or he will face growing pressure from the world community, encouraged by a frustrated President Barack Obama.

As someone who did not vote for Netanyahu, I pray that he surprises me. Not with strokes of political expertise, but with a show of statesmanship. This is what Israel desperately needs. Doing nothing, ignoring the issue, is no longer an option.

This article first appeared in the 27 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double 2015

Photo: Getty
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No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.