Questions and Answers by WAC-MAAN
The MA’AN Workers Association/Workers Advice Center, based in Israel, fights for worker rights and has joined the protest movement for democracy with the slogan “Without democracy there are no workers’ rights”. They have spent more than a decade organizing Arab workers in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as well. More here, in Hebrew: http://www.wac-maan.org.il
MAAN Workers Association joined the Israeli protest movement for democracy and works together with hundreds of organizations and groups to strengthen this protest and ensure it will continue to march in the street until the fascist government is overthrown. The presence of our Arab activists in MAAN contingent in the main demonstration is particularly noticeable and contributes a unique element to the struggle.
MAAN sees the protest movement as a central force in the fight for democracy and equality. To clarify the way in which we see the protest movement and our reasons for participating in it, and in response to questions addressed to us, we have formulated a number of answers here. We would be happy to receive feedback from our readers. [Change Links note: We also invite further comment from readers here, particularly about MA’AN’s decision to join a movement overwhelmingly based among Jewish Israelis that does not center the issues of occupation and war on the Palestinians, especially at a moment when Israeli apartheid and violence against Palestinians is so stark.]
Why do you support the protest movement?
We see the extreme right-wing government of Netanyahu, Smotrich and Ben Gvir as a danger to democracy, human rights, and workers’ rights. The fact that a huge public in Israel is revolting against this government with clear fascist characteristics is extremely important. MAAN sees itself as an integral part of the struggle to stop the government and fights bring about its overthrow. We sympathize with the line drawn by the protest leaders between democracy and dictatorship. This is a fateful battle. We see this struggle as part of the global struggle against the populist right: Trump in the USA, Orbán in Hungary, the Justice Party in Poland and other variations. These regimes present us with a warning sign. The regime established after the adoption of the government’s dictatorial legislation will make it impossible for MAAN to continue its activity as an organization that protects workers in general and Palestinian workers in particular. We are fighting for democracy and freedom for all but also for our right to exist.
What are the slogans and ideas that MAAN raises and how are they received by other groups in the movement and by demonstrators in the street?
Our main slogan in the protest is “without democracy there are no workers’ rights”. This is a slogan that goes in tandem with the message of various groups participating in the protest that link between inherent freedoms and rights that may be lost, for example: “without democracy there is no health”, “without democracy there is no academia”, “without democracy there is no mental health”. Our slogan, in Hebrew and Arabic, aims to warn against the intention to harm workers’ rights and the right to association and strike. Our request to join the Coordination Committee of the Protest was accepted very favourably. The presence of Arab activists within MAAN’s bloc in Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv and the chants in both languages have a positive public echo among protesters.
The coup against which the protest was launched focused on the intention to eliminate the independent status of the Supreme Court. How is this related to labor struggles?
Such a coup will have a direct impact on the right of association and the freedom to strike. The right wing Kohelet Forum, which is the think tank that drafted the government’s new legislation promotes also neoliberal ideas against labor unions, the labor court, and against welfare budgets. The Chairman of the Knesset Constitutional Committee, MK Simcha Rothman, published a bill that limits the right of unions to announce a strike. Curtailing the independence of the courts and any government control over the appointment of judges will also affect the judges elected to the labor courts and thus neutralize an important factor that protects workers and their right to fight for their rights. As part of the protest movement, MAAN is involved in an initiative of representatives of trade unions, Labor lawyers and academics who specialize in labor law, who are struggling to stop this legislation. A public petition signed by 60 senior lawyers and former judges in the field of labor law, including the director of MAAN’s legal department, was published at the end of April and defined the legal coup as a danger to workers and unions that justifies the announcement of a national work dispute and a strike.
How do you see the role of labor organizations in the struggle for democracy?
Workers’ organizations cannot reduce their role to Bread & Butter issues such as wages and working conditions. A workers’ organization that does not mobilize its members and activists at this fateful moment against the dangerous government is betraying its mission. Without democracy, there is no existence for free trade unions and thus workers’ rights will not be guaranteed. Taking into consideration that Kohelet Forum that stands behind the Government plan is committed to a neoliberal libertarian agenda, it becomes clear that there is a close linkage between the struggle for democracy and between freedom of association and the struggle of labor rights.
At first the Histadrut was criticized for its refusal to join the protest. Its position, however, underwent a change that was reflected in the general strike it announced at the end of March. It is no coincidence that two days after that strike, President Biden announced that Netanyahu is not welcome in Washington until he shelves the legislation and reaches broad agreements with the opposition. It is clear to us that workers’ rights and organized labor are central issues in American domestic and foreign policy. The Histadrut’s strike, as the largest labor union in Israel was therefore crucial to the clarify the severity of the crisis and the danger inherent in the government’s plan. [Note from MN: The Histadrut cannot be classified as a labor organization, as it was explicitly based on the exclusion of Arab labor even before the establishment of the State of Israel, and it has been involved in ownership of land and enterprises dispossessing Palestinians.]
The protest is focused on calling for democracy. The occupation and the struggle for peace are not on its agenda. As an organization whose banner is the struggle for Palestinian rights, do you live in peace with this choice?
We support the decision of the protest leadership to concentrate at this stage of on the struggle to stop the right wing dictatorial coup. Our assessment is that the urgent and central task today is to bring about the overthrow of the extreme right-wing government and for this purpose it makes sense to mobilize a broad coalition of forces. One of the prominent protest leaders, Shikama Bressler, defined the political division today between those who support the rule of law and democracy and those who support dictatorship.
The overwhelming majority of the speakers and leaders of the protest are fully aware of the connection between the judicial coup and the drive of messianic settlers to force their agenda on Israeli society. The role of the extreme right from the Religious Zionist Party (Smotritch) and Jewish Power Party (Ben Gvir) within the coalition is clear. The protest movement definitely opposes their intention to bring about the annexation of the West Bank, and the establishment of Jewish supremacy over the entire area between the Jordan and the sea. Such a process would transform Israel by international law into a de-jure apartheid state.
Against this background, we note very positively the openness of the protest movement and its ability to open its doors to voices raising the Palestinian issue. The democratic protest does not try to exclude different voices, but the opposite to get everybody in with an approach that sees diversity as a source of power.
You emphasize the need of the Arab society in Israel to join the protest. Why?
The glue that binds the various elements of Netanyahu’s dangerous government is the racist attitude towards anyone who is not Jewish, and especially towards the Palestinian residents of Israel and the territories. Palestinians will also be the first to be harmed if the government’s plans come to fruition. Therefore, in the fight against the government there must be a presence and powerful role for organizations & activities from the Palestinian Arab society, which will give an answer to the racism and Jewish supremacy ideas of Ben Gvir and Smotrich. Hence the strategic importance in the need for the Arab society to partner with the protest.
It seems that despite your efforts and those of other parties, the participation of Arabs in the protest until now was poor. What do you think is the reason for this and what can be done?
Indeed this reflects the gap created between the democratic movement in the Jewish Israeli society and the Arab society. On the other hand, the Arab society is in an extremely acute internal crisis. It should be remembered that for decades the Arab public has suffered from institutionalized discrimination, exclusion from any influence to the point of defining it as “illegitimate”. There is neglect of infrastructure, a critical lack of residential space, high unemployment of youth and women, resulting in high poverty rates. All these led to widespread corruption and protectionism which in turn became a fertile ground for the growth of criminal organizations. Political trends of nationalist and religious seclusion limited voices advocating for creativity and freedom. The murder of women on the grounds of so-called “family honour” did not receive a proper internal social response either. Undoubtedly, the ability to mobilize the Arab voice would necessitate the rise of a new leadership that will have the moral courage to stand up against conservative norms that leave society frozen in its tracks.
The promotion of a democratic and secular agenda is the order of the hour. The emergence of a powerful democratic movement Israel, and the ideological ferment it had created, constitute a new and unprecedented factor that should and can lead to a similar awakening in Arab society. The massive hoisting of the Israeli flags in the demonstrations undoubtedly deters Palestinians who cannot identify with this flag. But one should take into consideration that these flags are hoisted more as a message to the right than as a desire to exclude the Arab public.
And yet, at the fateful intersection where all the citizens of the country are, it must be acknowledged that there must also be a deep change that will come along with recognition of the legitimacy of the Arab voice, and an equal partnership in life, employment, rights and government .
How do you manage to recruit activists from the Arab society to participate in the protest?
MAAN works to recruit activists from a wide pool of members and supporters that the organization had built up over many in both communities. MAAN’s field work in promoting fair employment, cross national workers’ rights, with an emphasis on Arab women’s employment, encourages Arab members to join us in the demonstrations. True, we also encounter voices expressing mistrust and doubts about the willingness of the protest movement to accept and cooperate with Arab society, but we certainly also see a thirst to join the movement, and on the other hand, a thirst of the protesting public to see Arab demonstrators. The experience of marching in a demonstration that has hundreds of thousands of participants and its friendly and welcoming attitude towards Arab speakers and activists who come and join the protest, show that there is a real possibility to cooperation and thus to expand the scope of Arab participation, overcoming prejudices, fear and lack of confidence and to work together towards a joint equal and peaceful future.