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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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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