by Ellen Isaacs
appearing on Counterpunch 6/6/18
As we reflect on the latest brutality against protestors in Gaza and the struggle to end the outrageous Israeli occupation of Palestine and oppression of Israeli Palestinians, it is important to formulate a goal for what we would hope to attain. This goal does not have to be achievable in the near future or even near distant future, but it provides a framework that defines what immediate struggles we engage in and whom is declared to be an ally or an enemy. In fact, it is unlikely that this conflict will be settled between Israelis and Palestinians in isolation, as the whole region will probably be enveloped in larger conflicts between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the US and Russia long before that happens. However, it is to be hoped that there would be, at some time, a unified Palestine/Israel, or perhaps some larger regional entity, that would provide for equality, opportunity and freedom for all who live there. With that vision, I know that organizing in the present must strive to be multiracial, multinational, and to be led by rank and file people, as opposed to economic moguls, politicians or religious leaders.
Since 2012, there has been an official One Democratic State movement, and I have attended two of their conferences, one in Ramallah in 2014 and one the next year in Denton, Texas. The leaders and participants have been mainly Palestinian, with an overlap with those who initiated the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and some Israelis, including Ilan Pappe and Jeff Halper. I have been very happy to see this development, but the movement as I have experienced it seems to me to be weak in two crucial elements. One is the lack of a real on the ground action program and the other is lack of an analysis of what kind of economic system would be needed to actually guarantee equality and an end to racism. I imagine the problem is that these areas are very controversial, but that does not mean they are not essential.
I would like to consider the relationship between racism and economics in several countries that leads me to conclude the necessity of a non-capitalist framework in any one state. One is the situation in the US, a purportedly democratic state with an advanced system of capitalism and a long history of racism, which is economically necessary for its survival. Another is the economy of Israel, another capitalist state with a long history of racism, a similarly inegalitarian situation in the West Bank, and lastly that of South Africa, which has emerged from apartheid with racial economic disparities largely intact.
We live here in the US, and it is impossible not to see the racism all around us. Whether driving by the crumbling public housing projects, reading about police shooting young black men with impunity, watching videos of ICE agents rounding up immigrants, it is a tableau of a divided society. There is a lot of talk about opposing or ending racism, but most of it operates on the assumption that racism in the present is a result of personal prejudice which is a legacy of a former time when racism justified slavery, and even then anti-black racism was said to be a natural human attribute. Actually this could not be further from the truth, as was well laid out by the recently deceased historian Lerone Bennett. Racism was purposely and carefully developed in the 1600-1700s by the press, the pulpit and the schoolbooks in order to justify and continue slavery (see The Road Not Taken on this blog). Later, Jim Crow laws, housing policy, policing policy, hiring policies, and educational policy maintained racist ideas and practices. Today these disparities continue and the question is, can the US economy do without them?
Based on US Bureau of Labor statistics, non-white workers earn 75% of the wages of white men. The yearly wage differential adds up to about $783 billion, compared to total annual after tax profits of $1698 billion in 2017. That is, race-based wage disparities add up to almost half of profits, not even including the similarly lower wages of white women. The gap may be explained by lower levels of training and education or prejudice determining who gets what job or different wages for the same work, but it is a gap the society could not afford to do without, whatever the cause. And the gap in social spending on vastly different levels of services like health and education is many more hundreds of billions of dollars. Racial health disparities slash years off of lives, due to differences in insurance coverage, quality and quantity of providers, environmental hazards, or unavailability of a healthy diet. There is a five year shorter life expectancy for blacks than whites, a gap which has actually decreased as white deaths from opioids increase. In New York City, the infant mortality is three times greater for blacks than whites. The wealth differential between white and black families in the US is about 10 to 1. Perhaps most important is the weakening of the ability of workers to fight back when divided by the chasms of race and national origin .
Israel and Palestine
When you visit Palestine and Israel, there are stark realities that force your eyes to widen in horror — the separation wall between Israel and the Occupied Territories (OT), the checkpoints, the separate roads and license plates, the blatant racism of most Israelis, the military shootings of young Arab men with impunity, the harassment of dark-skinned immigrants and the periodic slaughters of thousands of Palestinians, as in 2014 or hundreds in Gaza in May. Sometimes the divisions, the injustice, and the violence are so great that one can neglect to try and understand the underlying structures of Israel or Palestine.
However, Israel , like the US, has one of the highest inequality or Gini indices (Gini – a coefficient describing the degree of inequality in a country where 1 is the highest and O the lowest) in the developed world, almost the same as the US. The difference between the wages of the top 10% and the bottom 10% of Israelis is currently increasing. Moreover, like in the US, wage inequality is highly race based, with Palestinians who work in Israel and dark skinned immigrants having the lowest wages, and Middle Eastern or African Mizrahi Jews falling in the middle. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in 2016 an Israeli Arab worker earned 58.6% as much as a Jewish worker, down from 67.2% in 2014. For Arab women it was even worse-56% of a Jewish woman’s wage. Mizrahi Jews, who make up about half of the population, earn about 75% as much as the Ashkenazi Jewish worker. So overall, the race-based differences in Israel are even greater than in the US.
In Israel there are also great gaps in education and health, housing and wealth. 13% of Israeli Arabs have college degrees, versus 28% of second generation Mizrahis and 50% of Ashkenazi Jews. The life expectancy gap between Israeli Arabs and Jews is five years, about the same as in the US. Of course it is higher if you compare Israel and West bank (WB), rising to seven years. Infant mortality is about three times higher in the West Bank as in Israel, very similar to the racial difference in the US. The very high numbers of black and Palestinian men who suffer imprisonment is similar in the US and Israel. One third of all black American men can expect to end up in prison, nearly the same as the 40% figure for Palestinian men in Israeli jails. The racism with which Israelis are inculcated from an early age, which is perhaps not so dissimilar in its intensity to that still prevalent in some of the US or as it was among the Nazis, allows these disparities to be tolerated, thought of as natural or even applauded.
Many who look with dismay at the oppression by Israel of the WB are unaware of what an inegalitarian society also exists there. Although the earnings of all strata of society are below those of Israel, there is a similar ten-fold difference between the top and bottom percentiles, leading to a calculated Gini index of .34, almost identical to that of Israel or the US. As described by Tariq Dana, a professor at Hebron University, and the Palestinian activist and author Ali Abunimeh, a very few families and companies, such as the Masris, whose power has skyrocketed since Oslo, dominate the West Bank economy. And they do plenty of business with Israel, as well as exploiting other Palestinians. They largely consist of returning émigré capitalists, historical large landowners, and those who accumulated wealth as subcontractors for Israeli companies after the 1967 occupation. They benefit from ties to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and from Palestinian basic law, which speciﬁes that “the economic system in Palestine shall be based on the principles of a free market economy.”
During the 1990s, the PA, which governs the WB, and a small group of capitalists centralized political and economic power and built ties with diaspora conglomerates, leading to monopolies protected by the PA of 25 basic imported commodities such as sugar, oil, cement, and steel. Partnerships with Israeli businessmen and the privileges that that accorded increased after Salam Fayyad became Prime Minister in 2008. Economic cooperation with Israel is manifest in joint industrial zones, Palestinian investments in Israel and its settlements, and joint management of water resources. Five West Bank companies are clients of an Israeli security company owned by an Israeli Major General who commanded troops in the Occupied Territories.
Fayyad’s “reforms” also allowed the government to take out interest-bearing loans equaling 50% 0f the GDP, which puts it at the mercy of large firms who can withhold investments. The cost is borne by ordinary people, as when taxes were raised and services cut in 2012. Private lending has also increased, so that 75% of public employees, the largest sector of workers, are now in debt to government-controlled banks, which decreases oppositional political activity. Labor unions have been greatly weakened by both the PA and large capitalists. The PA spends about one quarter of its payroll on security, largely to prevent protests against Israel, roughly the same amount as on health and education combined.
Those who organize against Palestinian oppression in Israel often make an analogy to South Africa and the so-called successful struggle to end apartheid there. There is no doubt that a long and courageous battle was fought and that many civil rights for the black population were won. However, a look at the economic and living situation of the majority of the African population today is truly disheartening and raises important questions.
In 1970, the African National Congress (ANC) stated : “It is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.” Joe Slovo, the head of the Communist Party of South Africa, said that “If every racist statute were to be repealed tomorrow, leaving the economic status quo undisturbed, ‘white domination’ in its most essential aspects would remain.”
Thabo Mbeki, however, a political leader since 1994, declared the national task to be to “create and strengthen a black capitalist class.” Indeed the agreement ending apartheid removed wealth redistribution of white capital or the nature of economic relations from the agenda and focused only on granting civil rights, while a few members of the new black bourgeoisie became millionaires. But what Winnie Mandela said in 2010 was “those who had struggled and had given blood were left with nothing. They are still in shacks: no electricity, no sanitation and no sign of an education.”
Only 10% of land has been redistributed since 1994, and white South Africans still earn five times as much as black workers. 50% of the population has no wealth at all and the next 40% are almost as poor. In South Africa, based on data from 2012, black men had an 18 year shorter life expectancy than white men, 17 years after the end of apartheid.
The point of assessing these situations is that racist differentials in wages, services, and quality of life in the highly racialized societies of the US, Israel, and South Africa are not simply the results of prejudice that can be overcome with goodwill and re-education. Instead, they justify vast gaps in social earning and social spending that these societies cannot afford to do without. It is true that there are capitalist societies that have less glaring racial divides to obscure their class divides, but in the nations we are discussing they are inextricably bound up.
It is also a mistake, however, to say that the majority white or Jewish workers are benefiting from this racism, with the possible exclusion of South Africa. In the US many white workers have inadequate wages, lack of affordable housing, insufficient health insurance and health care, a falling rate of unionization and the list goes on. The existence of super-exploited non-white groups lowers the standards for all and destroys the unity necessary for successful struggles for reforms or system change. In Israel, even among Jews, there is high unemployment, a huge housing shortage and deficits in education. This explains why 80% of the population participated in or supported the mass protests about these issues in 2011. Unfortunately, even then the issue of the occupation, its costs and its immorality, were not discussed.
So therefore building multiracial unity and at the same time calling for a non-capitalist economic system are necessary to achieve social or economic justice and equality, in all our nations.
U.S. Labor Force Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat37.htm
The Origins of Income Inequality in Israel – Trends and Policy
Palestine’s Capitalists by Tariq Danahttps://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/02/palestines-capitalists/
The Battle for Justice in Palestine, by Ali Abunimeh
The benefits and misfortunes of capitalism and racism: An integral part of the South African History, by Sehlare Makgetlaneng