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




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.


  • 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:

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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The Tories' aim is to put Labour out of business for good

Rather than merely winning again, the Conservatives are seeking to inflict permanent damage on the opposition. 

The Conservatives are numerically weak but politically strong – that is the peculiarity of their position. Their majority is the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974. Yet, to MPs at the Tory conference in Manchester, it felt like “2001 in reverse”: the year of Tony Blair’s second election victory. Then, as now, the opposition responded to defeat by selecting a leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who was immediately derided as unelectable. Just as Labour knew then that it would win in 2005, so the Conservatives believe that they have been gifted victory in 2020. David Cameron has predicted that the party’s vote share could rise from 37 per cent to a Thatcherite 43 per cent.

For Cameron and George Osborne, who entered parliament in 2001, this moment is revenge for New Labour’s electoral hegemony. They believe that by applying Blair’s lessons better than his internal successors, they can emulate his achievements. The former Labour prime minister once spoke of his party as “the political wing of the British people”. In Manchester, Cameron and Osborne displayed similarly imperial ambitions. They regard Jeremy Corbyn’s election as a chance to realign the political landscape permanently.

Seen from one perspective, the Tories underperformed on 7 May. They consistently led by roughly 20 points on the defining issues of the economy and leadership but defeated Labour by just 6.5 overall. It was their enduring reputation as the party of the plutocracy that produced this disparity. Those who voted for Labour in spite of their doubts about Ed Miliband and the party’s economic competence may not be similarly forgiving of Corbyn. To maximise their gains, however, the Tories need to minimise their weaknesses, rather than merely exploit Labour’s.

This process began at conference. At a dinner organised by the modernising group the Good Right, Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, affirmed their belief that, contrary to Thatcherite orthodoxy, inequality is a problem. Only the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, an admirer of the libertarian heroine Ayn Rand, insisted that equality of opportunity was the defining metric.

George Osborne’s assured speech was most notable for his sustained appeal to Labour voters. Several opposition MPs told me how unsettled they were by the Chancellor’s declaration that Labour’s new leadership calls “anyone who believes in strong national defence, a market economy and the country living within its means” a Tory. He added, “It’s our job to make sure they’re absolutely right. Because we’re now the party of work, the only true party of labour.” The shadow minister Jonathan Reynolds told me: “We’ve got to be extremely clear that this is not business as usual. This is a real attempt by the Tories to put us out of business – possibly for ever.”

The Conservatives’ aim is to contaminate Labour to the point where, even if Jeremy Corbyn were deposed, the toxin would endure. For those opposition MPs who emphasise being a government-in-waiting, rather than a protest movement, the contrast between the high politics of the Tory conference and Corbyn’s rally appearance in Manchester was painfully sharp. They fear guilt by association with the demonstrators who spat at and abused journalists and Tory delegates. The declaration by a rally speaker, Terry Pullinger, the deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, that Corbyn’s election “almost makes you want to celebrate the fact that Labour lost” was regarded as confirmation that some on the left merely desire to run the party, not the country.

But few Tory MPs I spoke to greeted Corbyn’s victory with simple jubilation. “It’s a great shame, what’s happened to Labour,” one said. “We need a credible opposition.” In the absence of this, some fear the Conservatives’ self-destructive tendencies will reassert themselves. The forthcoming EU referendum and leadership contest are rich in cannibalistic potential. Tories spoke forebodingly of the inevitable schism between European Inners and Outers. As the Scottish experience demonstrated, referendums are almost never definitive. In the event of a close result, the party’s anti-EU wing will swiftly identify grounds for a second vote.

Several cabinet ministers, however, spoke of their confidence in Cameron’s ability to navigate the rapids of the referendum and his pre-announced departure. “More than ever, he’s the right man for these times,” one told me. By this December, Cameron will have led his party for ten years, a reign exceeded in recent history only by Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. That the Conservatives have so far avoided cataclysm is an underappreciated achievement.

Yet there are landmines ahead. An increasing number of MPs fear that the planned cuts to tax credits could be a foul-up comparable to Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate. Despite the appeals of Boris Johnson and the Sun, Cameron and Osborne have signalled that there will be no backtracking. At such moments of reflection, the Tories console themselves with the belief that, although voters may use Corbyn as a receptacle for protest (as they did Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband), they will not elect him. They also acknowledge that the current Labour leader may not be their opponent in 2020. The former paratrooper Dan Jarvis is most often cited as the successor they fear. As with Cameron and Blair, his relative lack of ideological definition may prove to be a strength, one MP suggested.

William Hague is fond of joking that the Tories have only two modes: panic and complacency. If the danger before the general election was of the former, the danger now is of the latter. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.