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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.