Land, language and Lieberman

On Israel’s identity crisis.

My cover story from last week's issue -- No loyalty, no citizenship -- is now available online. It looks at politics, religion and identity in Israel using as a peg a proposed amendment to the country's Citizenship Act which would see newcomers required to swear allegiance to "a Jewish and democratic state".

The man behind the proposal is Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party (translation = "Israel is our home"). The amendment has been described variously as "a declaration of purpose", "stupid and needless" and "racist". Opponents fear it will entrench the inequalities already felt by the Arab minority in Israel. Proponents say it merely echoes Israel's declaration of independence in 1948.

Here's a taste of some of the voices featured in the piece:

It's a stupid thing to ask Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state before the Palestinians have their own state or at least know where the borders are going to be." -- Sufian Abu Zaida, a former Palestinian minister and senior Fatah official

"Politically, I'm very much on the left, and it's a strange thing to be saying, but I appreciate that Netanyahu has an understanding that the Arab world in some way . . . hasn't internalised the concept of Jewish statehood. It may have done it from a political point of view, but it hasn't done in terms of legitimacy." -- Jeremy Leigh, lecturer in Israeli studies at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem

"Define Jews as a nation and you have a tautology, whereby Israel is the national expression of a nation - explaining and defining nothing." -- Naomi Chazan, a former deputy speaker of the Knesset and now president of the New Israel Fund, a US-based advocacy group

"Maintaining a democratic country with a minority which identifies with a nation that is at war with that country is bound to have problems." -- young, media professional in Tel Aviv.

"Israel did everything it could to make us forget our history: controlling education and the media, putting us in a ghetto, preventing us from having normal relations with the Arab world." -- Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset

 

After land, language is perhaps the most fought-over and contentious issue in the Middle East. So the use of the terms such as "ultra orthodox", "Zionist" and "Arab Israeli" come with baggage. In the Correspondence page of this week's issue the piece has been criticised for legitimising Palestinians and sanitising Israel. You can make your own mind up by reading it here.

 

About the picture

The photo on the top of this post is taken from a series by photojournalist Silvia Boarini, which is currently on display at Amnesty International's Human Right's Action Centre in east London. The images document life in al-Araqiba, an "unrecognised" Bedouin village near Negev where the population lives in fear of home demolition. The first mass demolition occurred in July 2010 when 30 homes were destroyed.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.