- Interview by
- Hugo Albuquerque
Since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, Israeli forces have waged a relentless assault on Gaza. It is estimated that over eleven thousand civilians have been killed, more than one in every two hundred residents; the majority of the dead are women and children. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers in the West Bank have unleashed a new wave of violence, and Israel has ramped up repression of dissent within its own borders.
Jacobin Brasil’s Hugo Albuquerque recently spoke to Eli Gozansky, a Jewish Israeli member of the leadership of the Israeli Communist Party, part of the broader left-wing coalition Hadash, about the ongoing crisis. The two discussed the war on Gaza, the evolving domestic political situation in Israel, and the Communist Party’s demands for an immediate cease-fire.
What is the perception in Israel of the massacre taking place in Gaza?
The Hamas attack on October 7 caught Israelis by surprise, both from a military point of view and from the point of view of the number of dead, injured, and kidnapped. The feeling was one of total neglect and that residents had been abandoned by the government and the army.
Feelings of fear and shock turned into hatred against Hamas, against Palestinians generally, and also against the Israeli government, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The government immediately declared a state of war that, together with the crisis and media brainwashing, created a kind of massive psychosis that has expressed itself in horrible racist calls for revenge — as well as calls for “national unity” on the one hand and harsh criticism of the government on the other.
It is worth remembering that the current Israeli government, led by Netanyahu, is the most right-wing, fascist, and racist in Israel’s history, in addition to the many accusations of corruption against it. It is a government that tried to change [the political system] through a constitutional coup.
The biggest and most powerful protests that have been seen in the country rose up against this, for forty consecutive weeks, focused on the democratic theme — and only we [the Israeli Communists], who are also part of the “bloc against the occupation,” said that “there is no democracy with occupation, there is no democracy without equality.” This was an important message that resonated with people and put the Palestinian issue on the agenda.
In that context, from the point of view of foreign relations, Netanyahu was isolated. For this reason, with support from the United States, he sought to circumvent the Palestinian issue and reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia at the expense of the Palestinians.
This all changed after October. Netanyahu emerged from that international isolation when the United States and Europe supported Israel in its brutal war against Gaza. Internally, Netanyahu incorporated his opponent Benny Gantz into the government. Furthermore, similar to what many right-wing governments do, he took advantage of the crisis to deepen the oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank, including ethnic cleansing in the southern part of the area, carried out by occupying settlers with the support of the army.
[Netanyahu has also ramped up the repression of] Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 percent of the population, and anyone who has tried to question the war and the murder of innocent people in Gaza. There have been hundreds of arrests, dismissals, and expulsions from Israeli universities just for writing things on Facebook, with the government using a vague argument that identifies these protesters as supporters of Hamas.
Today the Supreme Court dismissed our petition requesting the right to demonstrate freely in two Israeli cities with an Arab population (Umm al-Fahm and Sakhnin). The reason it gave was that the situation was particularly explosive and that the police did not have enough forces to deal with the “dangerous” protesters. The suspension of communist deputy Ofer Cassif from the Knesset for forty-five days for condemning the war is more evidence of the level of persecution and restriction of the already limited democratic space in Israel.
We also saw police threats against hosts of a potential Jewish and Arab conference in Haifa. Also arrested — though he has since been released — was Mohammad Barakeh, former deputy for Hadash and head of the High Follow-Up Committee, which is an umbrella organization for all movements and elected representatives of the Arab population in Israel. There are many other examples.
On our initiative, a Jewish-Arab group was created whose objective was to prevent racist attacks. From the beginning of the demonstrations, we called for the return of all those kidnapped [by Hamas] in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Along with this, we carried out direct demonstrations against the government and especially against Netanyahu, and also called for an immediate cease-fire.
We also recently started a coalition of dozens of Israeli organizations, including Jews and Arabs, who issued an important declaration for a cease-fire, the exchange of all those arrested or kidnapped, and a call for a political rather than military solution. Now, after a month, we are slowly beginning to feel a slight awakening on the center-left, mainly in the context of relations between Jews and Arabs within Israel, although it is still insufficient.
What is clear is that the current government, and also the main opposition nucleus, have no real answers for the eventual day after the war. [The main opposition’s demand] is only that Netanyahu resign after the war.
[Netanyahu’s approval] is at a low point. But he is now leading a government with his liberal opposition as a minority partner. What are the real possibilities in the short term?
It is possible that eventual disappointment with the conduct of the Netanyahu government in the growing crisis — together with the understanding that the Palestinian people will not disappear and growing international pressure — will lead to change, beginning with replacement of this government, and then negotiations with the Palestinians can begin.
It is unclear if and when this will happen. But it is clear that if this does not happen, we will move from catastrophe to disaster. I am optimistic, however, and believe that the progressive forces between both nations will be able to demonstrate the correct, fair path.
What is the risk of the conflict becoming a regional one in the Middle East?
Not only is there a danger of a regional war, but it could turn into a global conflict, as the United States has brought in more aircraft carriers and submarines. Exchanges of gunfire and missile fire continue on the border with Lebanon, although both sides are cautious about launching an all-out war.
However, the Biden administration’s support for Israel and its attack on the Gaza Strip is seriously harming the American president now that he is starting his reelection campaign. Global public opinion, especially in the Middle East as well as in Europe and in the United States, opposes the continuation of the massacre of Gaza’s population.
How is the rupture in relations between Israel and other countries [affecting internal Israeli politics]?
This hasn’t had a big impact on the domestic public, either because attention is focused on the war, or because Israel is still receiving support from the governments of the United States and Western Europe. But now dissatisfied voices are growing, which is likely to affect these governments as well.
What is the position of the Israeli Communist Party on the ongoing crisis?
The Israeli Communist Party has a coherent and clear position opposing harm to innocent civilians on all sides. We condemn the October 7 massacre and its perpetrators on the one hand, but we are against the barbaric bombings and collective punishment of the Palestinian people on the other.
We support the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for kidnapped Israelis and hold that a just peace solution based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside the State of Israel, will bring security, peace, and hope to both nations. We call for negotiations for this solution under the auspices of the United Nations and ask that progressive forces help us in this important fight. We also condemn the fascist oppression and persecution against the citizens of Israel, especially those directed against Palestinian citizens and allied left-wing forces. We are calling on Jews and Arabs who support these ideas to fight.
There are serious dangers, such as a regional war resulting in a world war and an increase in attacks on innocent people and ethnic cleansing in Gaza and the West Bank. There is also the danger of increasing racism and fascism and the transformation of Israel into a completely fascist state.
What about the solution of building a binational, democratic, and secular state?
In theory yes, but in reality no. For several important reasons: The first is that the Palestinian people want and have the right to independence. Second, mutual disbelief [in the possibility of one binational state] is enormous, certainly even more so after the latest massacres involving the two nations. Third, Israel is much stronger economically, so if the single state is established now, without a phase of independence for the Palestinians, apartheid and Jewish economic control will be perpetuated. In the future, after both countries exist in peace and prosperity, this solution is a possibility.