In this week’s New Statesman: The A-Z of Israel

Our definitive guide to a country of contradictions. PLUS: The New Statesman announces its centenary.

The A-Z of Israel

In this week’s issue of the magazine, we bring you everything you need to know about a country of contradictions. Next Tuesday, Israelis will go to the polls in an election crucial to peace, security and human rights in the Middle East. The world watches – but how much do we know about the country that calls itself the region’s “sole bastion of democracy”?

Our A-Z of Israel is a comprehensive look at Israeli society, politics and culture, featuring contributions from leading writers, experts and activists.

Avi Shlaim, the author, emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, argues against uncritical American support for Israel and calls Barack Obama’s policy towards Israel a disappointment. Shlaim writes:

How can a small country like Israel defy almost the entire international community? Part of the answer is that Israel enjoys the virtual power of a veto on the UN Security Council. It exercises this power not directly, but through a proxy – the United States of America . . .

Israel’s friends in Washington argue that the interests of the two countries are identical . . . The occupation [of the Palestinian territories] most emphatically does not serve US interests. On the contrary, it undermines America’s position in the Middle East and beyond . . .

Since 1949, America has provided economic and military aid worth $115bn to the Jewish state. US aid continues to run to $3bn a year. The US is also Israel’s main supplier of arms and the guarantor of its “qualitative military edge” over all its adversaries . . .

The election of Barack Obama raised high hopes of a more even-handed policy . . . Obama had three confrontations with Binyamin Netanyahu to secure a freeze on settlement activity but he backed down each time . . .

As the defence minister Moshe Dayan once said to Nahum Goldmann, the veteran American Zionist leader: “Our American friends give us money, arms and advice.
We take the money, we take the arms, and we reject the advice.” “What would you do if we make the money and arms conditional on accepting our advice?” Goldmann asked. Dayan had to concede that Israel would have little choice but to follow its ally and benefactor . .

We are unlikely to see a US president any time soon who has the courage to follow Goldmann’s simple advice.

David J Goldberg – emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London – writes about the rise of Orthodoxy in Israeli politics and its controversial influence on public life. He compares Orthodox Jews’ “excessive influence” with the theocracy in Iran and describes the recent outrage surrounding a distinguished expert in child medicine. Goldberg writes:

[T]hanks to Israel’s unworkable system of proportional representation, this motley and diverse conglomerate, representing perhaps 10 per cent of the population . . . always holds the electoral balance . . .

Israel prides itself on being the only proper democracy in the Middle East; yet the excessive influence of religion on civil government has more in common with Iran, Egypt or Turkey than it does with western countries where separation of church from state is the norm . . .

 An incident just over a year ago became a symbol of the worsening Kulturkampf between the Orthodox minority and the secular majority. Israel’s ministry of health decided to give a prize to a professor of paediatrics, Channa Maayan. Knowing that the ultra-Orthodox acting minister and other religious figures would attend the award ceremony, Prof Maayan dressed in a long-sleeved blouse and ankle-length skirt and sat separately from her husband in the segregated women’s section. That was not enough. She was told that a male colleague would have to accept the prize on her behalf. Furious protests ensued.

Rafael Behr, the New Statesman’s political editor, profiles the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, a “political heavyweight”, but one whose policies on Palestine and lurches to right have polarised world leaders:

With the most recent generation, Israeli politics has shifted aggressively to the right. Pessimism about the peace process has nurtured insecurity and corroded the liberal credentials of the state. Extreme nationalism and a paranoid, hair-trigger militarism have colonised the centre ground. That shift has tracked Netanyahu’s rise. He has followed the trend and accelerated it . . .

There is no doctrine or great project that can be associated with Bibi, nor even any great military or diplomatic achievement – just the galvanising of fear into a desperate and ruthless campaign for self-preservation which serves as a description of the man’s career, his personality and the policies he has pursued.

PLUS contributions from:

Ali Abunimah: On the dwindling support for a two-state solution,
and how to ensure equal rights for all

Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi: On Israeli/Palestinian recipes
and why food defies ownership

Simon Sebag Montefiore: The author of Jerusalem: the Biography on Israel’s most ancient city

Rachel Shabi: On the Mizrahim – Israel’s Jews from Arab lands

Jason Cowley: On Jewish settlements on the West Bank 

Dimi Reider: On popular protest and the Israeli social justice movement

Ed Platt: On Palestinian rights and the West Bank separation wall

Uri Dromi: On the Mossad

 

ELSEWHERE IN THE MAGAZINE

 

Jason Cowley: The NS Centenary  

The New Statesman’s editor, Jason Cowley, announces that the magazine will celebrate its centenary in April this year. He recalls the publication’s esteemed history over the past 100 years and looks forward to our optimistic future. The New Statesman will be republishing the best articles from our archive in a series of special issues, as well as a book, due out this year. Cowley writes:

The New Statesman will be 100 years old on 12 April this year. [It was] founded by Beatrice and Sidney Webb with £5,000-worth of donations from friends, including £1,000 from George Bernard Shaw . . .

The first editor was Clifford Sharp, who was a drunk, a spy and, to the irritation of the Webbs, an ardent admirer of the Asquith Liberals. He was also competent, a skilled typesetter and copy editor. He hung on until 1928, when he was replaced by Charles Mostyn Lloyd, who in 1930 was succeeded by the man who became the NS’s greatest editor, Kingsley Martin . . .

Because of our ever-expanding website (which has more than one million unique visitors a month) and our availability in digital formats such as Kindle, we are arguably reaching more readers than ever before. Why, even the circulation of the old paper magazine itself is rising again, without marketing, at a time when so many print titles are dying. We’re feeling chipper.

PLUS

  • Rafael Behr: With Blairism a spend force, the new battle is between Blue and Brown Labour
  • Peter Wilby: The perils of intervention, new prospects Down Under and snow in Essex
  • Martha Gill: On Aaron Schwartz and the price of an ‘open society’
  • Laurie Penny: Most MPs want a pay rise while the country takes a cut. Why isn’t Parliament Square on fire?
  • Kevin Maguire: Charmless Gove’s school report
  • Ed Smith: The Lance Armstrong affair is about much more than one sportsman’s deceit

 

In the Critics

In the Critics section of this week’s New Statesman, Robert Skidelsky, the economic historian and biographer of Keynes, reviews The Slow Death of British Industry by Nicholas Comfort.

“In the early 1950s,” Skidelsky writes, “Britain was an industrial giant. Today, it is an industrial pygmy. The reasons for this sorry decline are various, he says. But “running through this history is a lack of continuity: government policy towards taxation and incentives continually changed, long-term aims were repeatedly sacrificed to short-term financial exigencies, projects were taken up and abandoned when they became too costly . . .”

PLUS: Olivia Laing reads How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti and Wild: a Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed. In the Books Interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to Jared Diamond about his new book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?. Ryan Gilbey on Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, while Rachel Cooke wishes the BBC hadn’t tried to adapt P G Wodehouse’s Blandings stories.

Click here to read more in our In the Critics blog.

Purchase a copy of this week's New Statesman in newsstands today, or online at: www.newstatesman.com/subscribe

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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Should feminists talk about “pregnant people”?

Two writers present the arguments for and against.

NO

“I’m not sure what the public health issue is that would require a focus only on those who become pregnant, as opposed to any of those involved in pregnancy, either becoming pregnant or causing someone else to become pregnant,” Dr Elizabeth Saewyc, a Canadian professor in nursing and adolescent medicine at the University of British Columbia, recently told journalist Jesse Singal when he asked her for clarification on a study she conducted into trans youth and pregnancy.

Her statement is, on the face of it, extraordinary: unlike those who “cause someone else to become pregnant” (males), those who “become pregnant” (females) actually, well, become pregnant, with everything that entails from the risk of varicose veins and pre-eclampsia, to having an abortion or being denied abortion, to miscarriage or giving birth and living with the economic strain and social discrimination that come with motherhood.

As absurd as Saewyc sounded, her position is the logical endpoint of “gender neutral” language about pregnancy. Pressure on reproductive rights groups – especially those in the US – to drop references to “women” and instead address themselves to “people” have been growing over the last few years, and the American body Planned Parenthood now regularly mentions “pregnant people” in its communications. In theory, this is supposed to help transmen and non-binary-identified females who need reproductive health services. In practice, it creates a political void into which the female body, and the way pregnancy specifically affects women, simply disappears.

The obscuring of the female body beneath obscenity and taboo has always been one of the ways patriarchal society controls women. In 2012, Michigan Democratic representative Lisa Brown was prevented from speaking in a debate about abortion after she used the word “vagina”, which Republicans decided “violated the decorum of the house”. Now, that oppressive decorum is maintained in the name of trans inclusion: in 2014, the pro-choice organisation A is For was attacked for “genital policing” and being “exclusionary and harmful” over a fundraiser named Night of a Thousand Vaginas.

Funnily enough, trans inclusion doesn’t require the elimination of the word vagina entirely – only when it’s used in reference to women. A leaflet on safe sex for trans people published by the Human Rights Campaign decrees that “vagina” refers to “the genitals of trans women who have had bottom surgery”; in contrast, unaltered female genitals are designated the “front hole”. And it’s doubtful that any of this careful negation of the female body helps to protect transmen, given the regular occurrence of stories about transmen getting “unexpectedly” pregnant through having penis-in-vagina sex. Such pregnancies are entirely unsurprising to anyone who knows that gender identity is not a contraceptive.

It does, however, protect from scrutiny the entire network of coercion that is cast over the female body: the denial of abortion rights in the Republic of Ireland, for example, affects the same class of people who were subjected to the medical violence of symphysiotomy — a brutal alternative to cesarean, which involves slicing through the cartilage and ligaments of a pelvic joint to widen it and allow a baby to be delivered — the same class of people who were brutalised by Magdalen Laundries (institutions established to house “fallen women” which operated from the late 18th to the 20th centuries), the same class of people who are subject to rape and sexual harassment. That class of people is women. If we give up the right to name ourselves in the service of “inclusion”, we permit the erosion of all our hard-won boundaries.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who focuses on feminism.

YES

No matter who you are and how straightforwardly things go, pregnancy is never an easy process. It might be a joyous one in many ways, but it’s never comfortable having to lie on your back in a brightly lit room with your legs hitched in stirrups and strangers staring at parts of your anatomy some of them hesitate to name. Then there are the blood tests, the scans, the constant scrutiny of diet and behaviour – it may be good practice for coping with a child, but the invasion of privacy that takes place at this time can have a dehumanising effect. And that’s without having your gender denied in the process.

If you’ve never experienced that denial, it might be difficult to relate to — but many women have, at one time or another, received letters addressing them as “Mr” or turned up at meetings only to discover they were expected to be men. It’s a minor irritation until it happens to you every day. Until people refuse to believe you are who you say you are; until it happens in situations where you’re already vulnerable, and you’re made to feel as if your failure to conform to expectations means you don’t really deserve the same help and respect as everyone else.

There is very little support available for non-binary people and trans men who are happily pregnant, trying to become pregnant or trying to cope with unplanned pregnancies. With everything geared around women, accessing services can be a struggle, and encountering prejudice is not uncommon. We may not even have the option of keeping our heads down and trying to “pass” as female for the duration. Sometimes our bodies are visibly different.

It’s easy for those opposed to trans inclusion to quote selectively from materials making language recommendations that are, or appear to be, extreme – but what they miss is that most trans people going through pregnancy are not asking for anything drastic. We simply want reassurance that the people who are supposed to be helping us recognise that we exist. When that’s achievable simply by using a neutral word like people, does it really hurt to do so? I was always advised that manners cost nothing.

Referring to “people” being pregnant does not mean that we can’t also talk about women’s experiences. It doesn’t require the negation of femaleness – it simply means accepting that women’s rights need not be won at the expense of other people’s. We are stronger when we stand together, whether pushing for better sex education or challenging sexual violence (to which trans men are particularly vulnerable).

When men criticise feminism and complain that it’s eroding their rights, this is usually countered with the argument that it’s better for everyone – that it’s about breaking down barriers and giving people more options. Feminism that is focused on a narrow approach to reproductive biology excludes many women who will never share the experience of pregnancy, and not necessarily through choice. When women set themselves against trans men and non-binary people, it produces a perfect divide and conquer scenario that shores up cis male privilege. There’s no need for any of that. We can respect one another, allow for difference and support the growth of a bigger feminist movement that is truly liberating.

Jennie Kermode is the chair of the charity Trans Media Watch.