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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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.