The COVID-19 pandemic: a historic milestone in the development of humanity

Political report to the Central Committee of the Da’am Party.

Since the last Central Committee meeting in February of this year, the political arena has undergone fundamental upheavals that we could not have anticipated. A global event like the coronavirus pandemic that has spread across the planet was surprising, leaving no place on earth without casualties. The pandemic illustrates the nature of globalization, which united the fate and future of humanity and the interrelationships between peoples, crossing national and ethnic boundaries. A health incident that began in the live animal market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 became a global health disaster within two months.

The coronavirus and the way each regime dealt with it revealed the nature of the various regimes and the shortcomings of the global neoliberal capitalist regime (which itself reached a dead end in 2008 following collapse of the American economy, which dragged the world to a historic low). The Chinese and American regimes stood out in the way they handled the crisis: the Chinese communist dictatorship hid the outbreak of the pandemic to protect its name, as the virus probably erupted due to a lack of government oversight over the wet market.  The American president also hid the dangerous nature of the pandemic from the American people, for fear of its impact on the New York Stock Exchange. The Chinese regime imposed severe measures and locked down 40 million citizens in the city of Wuhan for over two months, while Donald Trump has accused his Democratic opponents of inventing the pandemic, a hoax to damage the economy for electoral reasons.

The Chinese example of dealing with the pandemic has proven to be more effective. China managed to eradicate the pandemic with record speed through the draconian steps it took, steps possible for a dictatorial regime. The United States, on the other hand, which has been slow to prepare for the crisis,  and its president even denied and continues to deny the severity of the pandemic, has failed miserably in coping with it, and the coronavirus is spreading non-stop as of this writing. The death toll in the U.S. is approaching a quarter of a million, or a quarter of all COVID-19 related deaths worldwide, while the number of people infected now exceeds 8 million. American society has been deeply traumatized by Trump’s bizarre and reckless behavior on the one hand, and the health disaster on the other. The collapse of the economy as a result of the prolonged closure has affected the lives of millions of citizens. The US and China were the two powers that led the world economy in the last two decades. Yet the coronavirus revealed that humanity could not rely on China, despite its economic efficiency, due to its tyrannical regime, nor on the US. The latter collapsed because of its loose political regime, which on the one hand allowed an unstable and criminal personality like Trump to seize power, and on the other leads an economic system that sanctifies the extreme profit of the few. This method has been shamefully exposed in the face of a privatized health system that cannot cope with a huge-scale health disaster as befell the United States and the world.

The lesson we learn from the coronavirus is that restricting basic freedoms and human rights in exchange for economic well-being, as in China, is a fundamental problem, but also that when capital and monopolies take over the democratic regime, democracy is emptied of content, and political parties cease to serve the citizens and serve capital instead. Although before the pandemic China boasted of its impressive increase in gross national product, which reached 10% annually, and flooded markets with cheap goods that resulted in an increase in consumption and standard of living, its capitalist, non-transparent dictatorship extracted from humanity an extremely high health and economic cost. American capitalism, on the other hand, and the intensification of monopolies impoverished the American people, created abysmal social gaps and led to a loss of confidence in the democratic regime. This gave rise to populist and pro-fascist currents like Trump’s, which rose on a wave of partially justified criticism of the Democratic party, promising to “dry up the swamp” in Washington and clear it of corruption. In light of this, the American people need radical political and economic change simultaneously.

In recent years, the Da’am Party has championed the slogan “One State – Green economy,” which is gaining momentum in light of the current crisis. The slogan “one state” does not stem solely from the failure of the “two states” solution against the backdrop of the failed Oslo Accords. It comes from retrospection of the new global situation which pushed aside the national idea, abolished the national market, and deepened its unification. This process was made possible because of the information revolution, the Internet and the global transport network, which render it easier to move goods and people with tremendous speed. Hence symbols such as the flag, the national anthem and even the homeland itself lose their role in a world that not only copes with the coronavirus as a single health unit, but is united in the manner of production, consumption, and abolition of customs. If we add to this the joint effort to prevent global warming and save the planet, a universal task that will not be achieved without world-wide unity.

It is clear that the capitalist economic regime has failed to respond to the health crisis. Privatization on the one hand, and the complete neglect of health, education, housing, welfare and means of employment on the other, have deepened the crisis and proved that the poor are the first to pay the price. Let’s face it, governments were forced to “shut down the economy” because the health care system was unprepared to take in a large number of patients, lacking the requisite numbers of beds, inhalators  and medical staff; In Italy, thousands died not because of the coronavirus, but because of the health system’s collapse. We have discovered that despite the technological age in which we have been living for several decades already, the education system stood by helplessly and failed to prepare for remote learning. The welfare system lacks the resources necessary to absorb the millions of unemployed or self-employed who have lost their source of livelihood. Meanwhile, the private sector that was prioritized over the public sector (for example Google, Amazon and Facebook continues to use its massive capital to profit from the crisis itself, without providing any help to alleviate the citizens’ suffering.

When we move to discussion of a green economy, the paradigm changes. It is a cooperative economy built on true principles of democracy. An economy that directs the political regime and parties to serve the general public good instead of the capital controlled by the few. The role of the state is to manage the economy and take steps that strengthen the basic infrastructure for the benefit of society, whether it is health, education, public housing, transportation, internet communication, vocational training, strengthening bargaining power with employers, and monetary compensation or division of labor among employees to provide a dignified source of livelihood for all. The prevailing opinion is that many professions that have disappeared due to the coronavirus will not return. That the world economy is turning to a new mode of production controlled by robots, artificial intelligence, commerce via the Internet, the “Internet of things (IoT); and is moving to renewable energy, electric and autonomous vehicles. While these ideas began to be heard several years before the coronavirus, the epidemic has become an accelerator for this global development. Yet this reality requires a new way of thinking about politics and society – it does not fit into the framework of capitalism, and requires new priorities. Given the terrible failure of the confrontation with the coronavirus in China and the US, there is no escaping the question of what society we want to live in in the future: will we continue to support forms like the communist capitalist and democratic capitalist regimes, or will we pave the way for a new paradigm.

The coronavirus as a catalyst for political change

The epidemic has affected politics in both the United States and Israel. There is a good chance that the US presidential elections will lead to Trump’s defeat in early November. In Israel, too, Netanyahu’s failed handling of the crisis, his preference for his personal legal interests, and the proliferation of political considerations in dealing with the pandemic resulted in a major setback in his popularity. But the more substantial change is undoubtedly taking place in the United States, which has witnessed the largest protest movement in decades, led by a broad coalition headed by the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement is united behind Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his deputy Kamala Harris, the first black woman from a major party to run for this office. When Hillary Clinton ran for president with a white man as her vice president, deep reservations arose from the left wing of the party that supported Bernie Sanders. Many felt reticence toward Clinton, who seemed the representative of a failed administration, and situated too close to capital. The rise of Donald Trump was a huge surprise and shock to the entire world. On the one hand, dictators like Putin, Erdogan, Kim Jong-un, al-Sisi, Assad, bin Salman, or populist right-wing leaders like Netanyahu and the leaders of isolationist parties in Europe, led by Johnson, celebrated, each for his own reasons. In contrast, more “sane” countries, led by EU leaders, went into shock, and not in vain. Trump attacked the NATO alliance, withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, and rescinded the nuclear deal with Iran. The Democratic Party, influenced by its left-wing’s messages learned its lesson – not to repeat the mistakes of Obama who, contrary to his promises, preferred capital, large monopolies and Wall Street financers, all of which deepened poverty and social disparities, and created the fertile soil in which Trump grew. The selection of Clinton as the presidential candidate was a slap in the face to a public that wanted change. It is possible that Trump’s statement “Obama is the reason I came to power” is the only truth he has uttered to date.

The shock of Trump’s election has increased the influence of the voices demanding a fundamental change in the Democratic Party. The first change was the selection of candidates with a new profile: more blacks and more women. Leading them is New York congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has gained immense popularity and adopted a socialist approach and the Green New Deal; Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is waging a campaign against the monopolies, and especially against the giant Internet companies – Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google – and is demanding their dissolution under the Antitrust Act. The popular struggle and mass demonstrations across the US, which were influenced by the assassination of black citizen George Floyd, gave the election campaign further enthusiasm and stamina, so much so that Biden is ahead of Trump by significant margins in all opinion polls.

Trump failed to address the coronavirus crisis and attacked anyone who warned of its dangers, including scientists, experts, governors, and politicians. He accused the Democratic Party of inventing the pandemic only to advance itself in the elections. Trump also adopted racist positions and praised supporters of white supremacy; adopted a position against Obamacare; supports the prevention of abortion; adopts various conspiracy theories; harms the legal system; doubts the credibility of the elections; and refuses to commit to an orderly transfer of power in case of lose. He savagely attacks and mocks Biden, a representative of the Democratic Party, and even members of the Republican Party, so much so that his stay in power poses a danger to the democratic regime and creates the threat of instigating a civil war within American society.

Because of the dangerous situation, and the depth of the current crisis on all levels, the Democratic Party is faced with only one choice – to make a radical change at the political level: removing the influence of capital; implementing deep economic reforms; improving the health system; improving the state of the labor market and protecting the right of association; changing the tax policy that favors the rich at the expense of the poor; repairing the education system to improve its level and train the new generation for the future; annulling the overly high tuition of universities and the debts of graduates that harm their future; adopting renewable energy; dismantling monopolies; repairing the legal system; dealing with racism in the police ranks; abolishing private prisons; changing laws like the prohibition of using soft drugs, which put millions of blacks in prisons; correcting psychological treatment systems; safeguarding the right of women to abortion, and other steps that could prevent an eccentric person like Trump from coming to power again.

The coronavirus does not forgive Netanyahu

The pandemic reached Israel in February 2020, at the height of the 23rd Knesset election campaign, which was held on March 2. The election results were not much different from those of the previous two rounds, and Netanyahu failed to establish a supportive bloc of 61 MKs composed of ultra-Orthodox and right-wingers. He dragged the country to three rounds of elections for one and only reason – to attempt to evade prosecution on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu hoped that through a majority bloc he would succeed in passing laws that would overturn the trial. His second term as prime minister, with serious pending charges that could result in imprisonment, created a deep constitutional crisis in Israel, dividing society between the captive base of his supporters and those who see him as a corrupt person who does not deserve to serve as prime minister.

Even when Netanyahu’s opposition won 62 seats, and Blue and White won 33 seats as opposed to 36 for the Likud, the opposition was not sufficiently politically homogeneous, and had no common denominator other than opposition to Netanyahu. Although the Joint Arab List went as far as recommending Gantz to the president to form a government, it was impossible to create a Center-Left parliamentary block big enough to win the majority because of opposition from members such as Moshe Ya’alon’s faction (Telem).  After the legal period, that allowed Gantz and then Netanyahu to form a government ended, and in view of the increasing severity of the coronavirus crisis, Gantz decided, at the cost of splitting from Lapid and Ya’alon, and disappointing thousands of his followers, to reach a rotation agreement with Netanyahu. Even when a parity government was formed that gave Blue and White half of all government ministries, with the other half divided between the components of the right-wing bloc: Likud, Agudat Israel, Shas, Derech Eretz, Gesher, and the Jewish Home, the number of Gantz MKs dropped to 14 after the split with Lapid,  thus weakening his influence within the coalition. Netanyahu took advantage of the situation to launch a poisonous campaign of incitement against the Attorney General and the State Attorney’s Office. He withdrew from the agreement with Gantz; and especially from approval of the state budget, without which the government would disband automatically. Netanyahu is trying to escape the rotation agreement with Gantz that is due to take effect in September 2021, and force a fourth election, hoping to reach a majority that will allow him to pass a High Court override clause and other changes that will allow him to postpone/annul  his trial. In May, it seemed that the pandemic was contained and Netanyahu declared victory over the pandemic, praised himself as a wise leader, and called on Israelis to return to their normal lives. His popularity rose, and polls predicted 40 seats. This was the opportunity to hold the fourth round of elections.

But the situation was quickly reversed; the pandemic returned to spread at record speed, Netanyahu did not want to impose a second lockdown because he feared anger and public frustration. The crisis reached its peak after Israel became world leader in the number of per capita diagnosed infections daily, and the death toll rose to more than 2,000. Just as Netanyahu’s popularity soared after the ending of the first lockdown, it plummeted just as quickly as he was forced to re-impose a total lockdown, which deepened the economic crisis and exacerbated the difficult situation of millions of citizens.

Compared to the success of the first lockdown, for which Netanyahu gained confidence in his policies, the increase in morbidity over the summer was undoubtedly influenced by a lack of trust in the government and Netanyahu’s discretion. Netanyahu rejected the plan of Coronavirus Project Coordinator Roni Gamzu to lock down the red cities (mainly ultra-Orthodox) due to his need for support of the ultra-Orthodox factions in government; and launched a savage campaign of incitement against his opponents protesting in front of his Jerusalem home. The anger and doubt of Netanyahu’s motives only intensified.

The slogan “Just Not Bibi” (Go!) plays into the hands of the Right

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the political, social and economic weaknesses of Israeli society. Politically, it is clear that Israel is at a dead end as the political system has failed to produce a stable government to run the country. Prosecuting Netanyahu has plunged the political arena into a crisis, with many of his supporters seeing nothing wrong with Netanyahu serving as prime minister with three pending indictments against him. This approach includes the base of the Likud, which benefits from the bonuses that come with proximity to power and Netanyahu’s policies that have created economic stability and welfare for broad sections of the middle class and public sector workers. The right-wing religious public also aligns itself with Netanyahu, who guarantees it generous budgets for what is increasingly seen as a type of “autonomy” exercised independently from the general state systems.

On the other side is the other half of the public, including the marginalized Arab population, which suffers from Netanyahu’s racist incitement. The reason for Netanyahu’s obsession with the issue is simple – he is constantly striving to prevent the possibility that the Joint List could be a partner in a liberal and left-wing opposition that sees Netanyahu as a threat to the democratic and justice systems. Netanyahu’s plan (which has so far failed) to annex parts of the West Bank to Israel is interpreted by the same opposition as a step toward eliminating Israel’s Jewish majority and turning the country into an apartheid state. In addition, it sees the strengthening of religious and conservative elements as a threat to the secular character of society and its liberal way of life.

In the past, it was possible to reach understandings between the right and the left, and there were also joint governments (Netanyahu, Barak, Lapid). But after Netanyahu adopted the “bloc” strategy (right-wing plus ultra-Orthodox), he established an exclusive rule for himself, not only vis-a-vis the liberal wing but also within the Likud itself. The possibility of reaching a compromise between the two blocs became impossible, and the hostility to Netanyahu and the call for his removal became the slogan of the opposition camp.

The split between the various social groups stood out following the first lockdown, with each stratum or sector making decisions independently and blatantly violating central government directives. The alarming rise in morbidity in Arab society reflected a refusal to obey the government. People held numerous weddings and continued to pray in mosques, disregarding the pandemic. Only when the number of victims soared did the heads of the Arab local authorities act together with the clergy to prevent spread of the pandemic.

In the Jewish religious sector, the crisis continues in full force, with religious leaders refusing to obey government directives while using their political influence to blackmail Netanyahu. The third party – the upper middle class, a stratum of educated intellectuals and young people, retired generals, former members of the security forces, and the press – are all united in their hatred of Netanyahu and see him as caring only about cancelling his trial, and all this at the cost of pleasing the ultra-Orthodox and suppressing their democratic right to demonstrate.

On the economic side, a network of failures and neglect of infrastructure has been exposed. The medical system is starved and there is a shortage of beds and medical staff. The education system suffers from overcrowding classrooms, the status and salaries of teachers are poor, there are not enough computers for pupils, and there is no fast internet network. There is no functioning system for vocational training in the professions of the future and there is still reliance on a weakened and temporary workforce. Reliance on polluting energy such as gas and oil continues, and the creation of alternative energy sources is not promoted. There is no well-developed welfare system and assistance to the unemployed. Old-age benefits are meagre to a level that prevents economic and health security for the elderly. There exists no practical plan to protect all the unemployed and self-employed who have suddenly collapsed, and to deal with the danger that an entire generation will be lost. When you combine the crisis in politics, social divisions and economic failure, the result is a deep crisis from which there is no prospect of exiting.

In Israel, as in the rest of the world, a new approach is needed to change the political-economic system. It is clear that the slogan “Just Nor Bibi” is insufficient to create the profound change required to solve these deep problems. How can we fight the right without addressing the question of occupation and providing a solution to the Palestinian problem? How can we continue to demand democracy for Jews and manage and finance apartheid for Palestinians? How can right-wing neoliberalism be fought without setting up an alternative economic plan based on a green new deal? Required are investments in the public sector (health, education, vocational training, transportation, renewable energy) and the end of privatization, which transfers public projects to China or the United Arab Emirates or to private investment funds, whose aim is to increase profits regardless of the public and the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.

How do we deal with the current crisis?

The first question that must be asked is what faces us in the immediate future. What are the developments that have the potential to open up new political opportunities for us? How will the crisis affect political developments and awareness of the Palestinian and Israeli publics? Can our slogan “One State – Green Economy” be a call to mobilize the public, or will it remain a future idea that cannot be implemented at the moment?

The Da’am  Party program became most relevant to the new global and Arab situation after 2008 and the collapse of neoliberalism. We were attentive to developments in Egypt and Mahalla El Kubra in 2008 as the first spark of what was defined in early 2011 as the Arab Spring. A massive protest movement that overthrew dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, and expanded to Syria and Bahrain. In Europe and the United States, too, a widespread protest movement has arisen against the capitalist regime. We supported the Arab Spring because it placed the call for democracy at the center of the pursuit of a new political order, as well as the demand for social justice. We had hoped that the Arab Spring would sweep the Palestinians and Arab society in Israel, but the response of the Palestinian organizations, the Palestinian Authority and the Joint List was disappointing, as most of them sided with the counter-revolution.

After suppression of the Arab Spring and its imprinting in blood; massacre and expulsion of the Syrians from their homeland; beginning of an unending civil war in Yemen; and the military coup in Egypt against the revolution; there was a sense that the Arab Spring had failed. That it was confronted with strong and powerful forces that fought against change with all their might. Suffice it to mention Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Turkey, Hezbollah and Russia. And yet our position remains clear: Things will not be the same again. For a short time we saw a return of the demonstrations in Iran, then in Iraq, Lebanon, and together with them returned the Arab Spring slogans “bread, freedom, social justice.” Today we see them directed against Iran, even though it allegedly won in Syria. In Sudan, a large-scale civil revolution broke out that led to the removal of the eternal dictator General Omar al-Bashir, who relied on the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. The revolution in Sudan succeeded in forcing a partnership arrangement between the military and civilian forces, which continues today. In Algeria, demonstrations began against the Bouteflika regime, which called for democratic elections free of corruption and forgery. Even these popular revolutions have not yet affected the Palestinians, neither in the territories nor in Israel.

The question to be asked is how the Palestinians can ignore such important historical events that could change the balance of power in the region and put Israel in front of a new political situation. How can it be that the Palestinians, who in addition to the occupation also suffer from the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, and from the internal division between Fatah and Hamas, are not acting against the PA and Israel.  How can the absolute distrust of the Palestinian public in the PA be reconciled with the absence of significant political direction that seeks to change the situation, despite the revolutions being ignited in every corner of the Arab world. And how can we explain that on the one hand many of the Palestinian people have given up on the idea of an independent Palestinian state and prefer one state, and yet there is no significant political movement that waves this banner. Part of the answer lies in the failure of the Arab Spring in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon to build a new modern and democratic regime.

These developments in the Arab world do not occur in a vacuum. Many of these revolutions were suppressed through external intervention and funding by the Gulf states. The election of Donald Trump was a gift to the corrupt autocratic regimes of the Gulf, for whom democracy is the ultimate enemy. Trump allows for Russian involvement in Syria, the continuation of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and the involvement of both the Emirates and of Turkey in the Libyan civil war. In addition, Trump began implementing the Deal of the Century, moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, stopping aid to the Palestinian Authority, and also encouraging the annexation of settlements to Israel (and later objecting to it). In addition, Trump encouraged Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Bahrain to establish open normalization with Israel, thus completely isolating the Palestinian Authority.

The irony is that while Trump encourages all of the reactionary forces in the Arab world to suppress the Arab Spring, the spread of the coronavirus in the US has been a catalyst for the entry of spring into the U.S. itself. The huge mass movement that blacks are leading against racism and for social justice stems from the same reasons that pushed young Arabs into the streets and squares – a corrupt regime that leaves no future and horizon for the masses. This is why young blacks and whites in the United States take to the streets. But unlike what has happened in the Arab world, they have a political answer – overthrowing Trump and gaining a majority in the US Congress.

When we founded the Da’am Party 25 years ago, we determined that political change would come from Western countries, as the Third World does not have the necessary resources to change the regime. What is happening today in the US confirms this prediction. If we want to answer the question of what we expect after the coronavirus pandemic, the answer lies in Biden’s success or failure to move Trump out of the White House. The world after the pandemic and Trump’s removal will be a different world. Numerous issues left without a solution, including in Egypt, Syria, Iran and other Arab countries, will have to get a solution fulfilling the promise of the Arab Spring’s first chapter.

If Trump wanted to save the Saudi regime and its Gulf allies through an unholy alliance with Israel, the change in US rule heralds the end of these regimes, which have become outcasts and despised in the world due to their criminal involvement in other countries, their support for Trump, and oppression of internal opposition. The change in the United States also heralds the end of Netanyahu, who has lost the Israeli public trust is facing prosecution. He, too, will have to face a new US administration that remembers how he stood up for Trump, thus supporting the tragedy the US went through, losing its world status, paying a price of over 200,000 dead and 7.5 million infected, and a severe economic crisis. This change will not come automatically. It is necessary to internalize that the continuation of the current situation leads us to fascism, and that anyone who wants to prevent this dangerous deterioration must adopt an agenda of radical change.

The post-coronavirus world will not be able to tolerate the effects of populism, fascism or Trump. There is no room for dictatorships like that of General Sisi in Egypt, or of the corrupt regimes in the Gulf, or of Israeli apartheid. Anyone who demonstrates against Netanyahu while raising the Israeli flag is driving factionalism. He takes himself out of the direction of the progress of history. In the United States, blacks refuse to salute the American flag because of the racism directed at them. In Israel, the flag does not in any way symbolize the profound change that demonstrators are fighting for in the United States, or those fighting for democracy in the Arab world. Democratic change in Israel must be based on a Palestinian-Israeli partnership in struggle. If the struggle limits itself to overthrowing Bibi, the result will be the rise of Bennett and the far right. The role of Da’am is first and foremost to create a broad discussion about the future, and to contribute to it with articles, analysis, meetings, and lectures; at every opportunity to build a broad Palestinian-Israeli democratic coalition, which will integrate with the messages and struggles of the Arab Spring, with the democratic movement in the United States, and work with every democratic movement against the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in calling for freedom and democracy for Palestinians as well as all people of the world. History refuses to end. The information and Internet revolution, as well as revolutionary attempts in the world, open up the possibility of change here in Palestine and Israel as well. The current crisis within Israel and the Palestinian Authority can and should pave the way for change and the presentation of new ideas. The initiative to open a broad and genuine dialogue on all these questions, starting with the flag, the Naqba, the partnership between Israelis and Palestinians, the climate crisis and the economic situation, is essential if we want to create a society that can present solutions to the challenges we all face as human beings.

About Da'am: One State - Green Economy

Daam proposes an Israeli/Palestinian Green New Deal, both as a response to the current political-economic crisis and to create a basis for true cooperation between the two peoples. It is a plan that can end the conflict, abolishing the apartheid regime that Israel has imposed since 1967. It can replace the Occupation with a partnership based on civil justice, which will grant full civil rights to Palestinians equally with Israelis in the framework of a single state.