ODA Launches its Election Campaign
HE Central Committee of the Organization for Democratic Action (ODA – in Arabic, DA’AM) has decided that the party will run in the national elections on March 28, 2006. Asma Agbarieh and Nir Nader will head the list, which will be published in full on February 11. It will include members of the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MA’AN), as well as Israeli peace activists. This will be ODA’s fourth consecutive campaign, and as before, its central message will be the need for a true workers’ party.
After a series of meetings in Arab villages, where WAC members favored the new electoral bid, ODA organized an assembly of Israeli activists on December 27, 2005 in Tel Aviv. Nir Nader chaired the session. He pointed out that, unlike other parties, ODA has not gone into eclipse between elections. For the past three years, its members have devoted themselves to building WAC-MA’AN as the basis for an alternative labor union. No matter how great a union’s success, however, it cannot alone change basic realities. For this purpose it requires a political arm. The worker needs representation in government, especially on committees that deal with the economy and funding.
Asma Agbarieh presented the achievements of WAC, which was created a decade ago as an ODA initiative: “For a long time we focused on the building trade, and our main achievements since the last elections in 2003 are here. We mobilized public pressure. We did our organizing in constant consultation with the workers. We managed to reach an agreement with the Contractors’ Association. We took in more than a thousand members, who got jobs on the basis of the collective agreement in construction, including full social benefits and pensions. We are a major factor in organizing reliable work teams. It is a sign of these achievements that the Ministry of Industry and Commerce has asked us to be the official body for the Arab sector in a new governmental program to train construction workers.
“In 2004 we also went into agriculture. Here we focus on getting jobs for women, whose main source of employment – textiles – practically disappeared in the 1990’s, when companies moved their plants abroad. We operate a Women’s Forum, which seeks to strengthen them in their struggle for emancipation within Arab society.
“In asking you to support ODA, we invite you to take part in the lengthy but stable process of building a new consciousness and identity among Arab workers and the Israeli Left.”
The keynote address was delivered by Yacov Ben Efrat, General Secretary of ODA:
“Poverty is the topic of the day. The election of Amir Peretz as head of the Labor Party is supposed to signal a revolution. People hope he’ll put the social agenda first. These expectations are ludicrous. Just look at the record. As head of the Histadrut, Peretz was among those responsible for the antisocial upheaval in Israeli policy. He and Haim Ramon, claiming they wanted to trim bureaucracy, removed all the impediments to privatizing the Histadrut companies. They adapted the Histadrut to globalization and the free market.
“The need for WAC developed within the vacuum left by the Histadrut, which failed to represent the weaker sectors. The Histadrut has fostered a number of anti-labor measures: privatization, the import of migrant workers shorn of rights, and a disproportional reliance on ‘manpower’ companies. Today, in the name of the strong workers’ councils, Peretz wants to lead a social upheaval, and I ask: ‘You who helped create the poverty we are living in, how many Histadrut members are there among the million and a half workers earning less than minimum wage? Not one! Because you shrugged them off!’
“By the logic of our positions, we could be representing not just the Arab workers who are organized today in the ranks of WAC, but also the thousands of Jewish unemployed. But a political barrier separates us from them. They vote for Shas [a right-wing religious party of Jews with backgrounds in Arab countries – Ed.] or leaders like Bibi Netanyahu, who represents the most conservative economic views.
“Although a big part of our effort goes to social issues, we don’t believe that Israel’s agenda can ever be purely social. Israel faces two fronts: an external front, which consists of the confrontation with the Palestinians and the Arab world, and an internal front, which consists of enormous social gaps. Both fronts are connected, and without a radical solution to both, the society will collapse.
“But instead of seeking a solution, what does Israel do? It plays ‘Make Believe,’ and ‘Hide and Seek.’ Take for example the Oslo Agreement of 1993. The Israeli side said, ‘Come, let’s make peace with the Palestinians. We’ll give them a little Gaza, a little Jericho, but we’ll keep Jerusalem. We won’t dismantle the settlements, and the refugees will stay where they are. We won’t talk with the Palestinians about the major things, but we’ll make as if we recognize them, as if we’ve given them rights, as if they’ve built a state, as if they’ve gained independence. We’ll print their identity cards, supply their electric power, set up checkpoints, decide who will pass and who won’t. They’ll use our currency, and we’ll be in charge of Customs. We’ll decide how much sugar they can import and how many pairs of shoes they can make. They’ll have an “as if” president and “as if” elections.’
“This game continued until the Palestinians got fed up. As soon as they tried to achieve something real, they discovered that the Israelis just went on playing ‘as if.’ In September 2000 the Palestinians finally cried ‘Enough!’ Then Israel came up with a new game, ‘Hide and Seek.’ They built a wall to hide behind. Them there, us here.
“And we can’t help asking: ‘Who or what have you separated from? What does it mean to separate? What are they going to eat? Did you think about that? How will they make a living?’ Today we stand before a new consensus. Amir Peretz has no disagreement with Sharon where the Palestinians are concerned. His only disagreement is on internal social policy. What do they agree on? On unilateral annexation of the settlement blocs? On cantonizing the West Bank? Is that what will stop the next Intifada?
“Does Sharon not understand that by destroying the Palestinian regime he is strengthening Hamas? That the resulting anarchy nurtures criminal and paramilitary factors which are imposing the law of the jungle? Can the State of Israel allow itself to hide, saying ‘What we don’t see does not exist’? Isn’t it clear that the Palestinian people cannot re-organize without a minimum of economy, law, institutions, and self-sufficiency?
“The obverse of the policy toward the Palestinians is the cruel social policy being carried out within Israel. Its representative is Professor Avishai Braverman, the would-be Finance Minister of Amir Peretz. Braverman is identified with the globalization establishment. According to him, it’s possible to operate a more socially conscious policy even in the framework of the free market and liberal economics. This is a pipe dream. Israel is being auctioned off to a handful of billionaires, and they’re the ones who determine what will be broadcast and what not. They already dominate print journalism, TV, and the banks. Zionism is being sold to this handful of capitalists. And I ask: What about immigration? What about building the nation? The liberation of labor? What about all the ideals that brought you to this shore? For what good cause did you expel a whole people? So that a few billionaires could get richer? To deliver the Jewish people to poverty? Fifty years of bloodshed – for Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags? And I in my innocence thought that you came here for the kibbutz, that you came here to rescue the refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe, to rescue the Jews of the Soviet Union.
“When ODA-DA’AM runs in the elections, our message to Israeli society is this: Let’s stop playing games! Let’s stop hiding! Let’s go out and find our allies among the Palestinian people. Let’s build a socialist alternative. When you come with something to offer, there is always someone to talk to.”