On Europe, David Cameron is trying to feed a beast that cannot be satisfied | Jonathan Freedland

The prime minister stepped back from the brink of a British exit from the EU, but his attempt to assuage fury over immigration is doomed

It was a speech about Europe that was by turns philosophical and hard-headed, reaching back to the founding ideals of the European project while confronting the current troubles that besiege it. He spoke of peace and war, of the challenge of climate change and an ageing population, of the threat to democracy from the “unseen empires” of corporate might, and the persistent menace of both poverty and rampant consumerism. This was a speech that gazed at Europe with the widest possible lens, determined to see the big picture.

Unfortunately it was not delivered by David Cameron. Instead it was the pope who gave the week’s truly ambitious address on the theme of Europe, when he spoke to the European parliament on Tuesday, asking if the continent were now an “elderly and haggard” grandmother, one whose best days were behind it. Britain’s prime minister, by contrast, evoked no such memorable image today. Even though his speech had had far more build-up than that of Francis, trailed as a game-changing event for several months, it turned out to be a far narrower, more parochial affair.

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Israel’s crumbling pillars

Like the opening of an old joke, I've got good news and bad news. Both come from Israel. I'll assume that, like me, you prefer to get the bad news out of the way first. So here goes.

Last weekend, the Israeli cabinet approved a bill that will officially define Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. The session was said to be rancorous, a third of the cabinet voting against the new law.

Why the controversy, given that surely everyone already thinks of Israel as a Jewish state? Because those opponents understand that this bill - intended to become part of Israel's Basic Law, its de facto constitution - will change something fundamental.

While the Declaration of Independ-ence affirmed Israel as both Jewish and democratic, with each attribute equal to the other, this new measure would place one above the other.

From now on, Israel would be Jewish before it would be democratic, the former officially more important than the latter.

That is no abstract concern. It would have an immediate and practical impact, not least on the one fifth of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish.

Indeed, the bill - and Benjamin Netanyahu - are explicit on this point. The Prime Minister said that, while under the new legislation everyone would continue to enjoy equal civil rights, "national rights" would be allowed to Jews alone. Lest there be any doubt, the new bill would demote Arabic from its current status as an official language of Israel.

Such a move could have been designed to antagonise Israel's Arab minority, who have long endured discrimination. Those who fear a third intifada is coming often predict that the difference next time will be the involvement of Israel's Palestinian minority, turning on the state of which they are citizens. This latest step makes that bleak scenario more likely.

And, of course, Netanyahu's decision will be seized on as vindication by those opponents of Zionism who have always said a Jewish, democratic state is an oxymoronic, logical impossibility, that Israel can either be one or the other but not both. By its vote, the Israeli cabinet has sided with anti-Zionists, agreeing that, yes, these two goals - enshrined and entwined so inseparably in the Declaration of Independence - are indeed at odds and one has to come first.

So what's the good news? It lies in the forces of opposition to this bill. They are not the usual suspects. One is Abraham Foxman of America's Anti-Defamation League, who as a diaspora Jew perhaps hears the obvious echo when a government declares that one minority is to be denied the full rights granted to everyone else.

The other, and much more important, is the new President of the State of Israel, Ruvi Rivlin. A Likud veteran, he has emerged as an improbable opponent of the racism and bigotry currently staining too much of Israeli public life.

He made an unprecedented visit recently to the village of Kfar Kassim, to apologise for the 1956 massacre there of 48 Palestinians, including children. He also denounced the surging mood of aggressive intolerance by telling a Jerusalem conference, "It is time to honestly admit that Israel is sick, and it is our duty to treat this illness."

In a stirring speech on Tuesday, Rivlin slammed the new bill. Israel's Jewishness and democracy were not at odds, he said. On the contrary, respecting the dignity of all human beings was the greatest Jewish value. He insisted that Israel rests on the twin pillars of nationhood and democracy: "The removal of one will bring the whole building down."

That warning is gloomy. The only crumb of comfort is that Israel currently has a president wise enough and brave enough to issue it.

The Emily Thornberry affair proves it: US-style culture wars have come to Britain | Jonathan Freedland

One reckless tweet shows UK politics is fast becoming a constant battle over identity, just as it is in America

Emily Thornberry may be the first politician to quit over a single tweeted photograph that was not physically intimate, but she is not the first to get into trouble over flags and vans. In 2003 the US presidential hopeful Howard Dean said, “I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks” – adding that Democrats like him could not hope to win the White House if they did not appeal to poorer, southern voters as well as those in affluent, liberal cities and suburbs. His Democratic rivals turned on him, furious that he had embraced “the most racially divisive symbol in America”. The row passed, Dean lost, and he is now best remembered for the bizarre roar he let out on the night of a key defeat: the Dean scream.

Of course, the two episodes are very different. The English flag may carry a residual association with the far-right, but it bears nothing like the stain of slavery attached to the badge of the Confederacy. More importantly, Dean was trying to woo those blue-collar voters his party had lost. Even Thornberry’s defenders do not pretend she was trying to recruit white van drivers who fly the English flag from their homes. At best, she appeared to express the fascination of a visiting anthropologist for the natives of Rochester and Strood with their curious cultural customs. At worst, she was dissing them, her tweet tacitly asking: “Can you believe these people?” Chalk that up as another first for Thornberry, felled for posting an offensively implicit photograph.

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Rosetta and Philae: why this space story fills us with so much awe | Jonathan Freedland

The comet landing has given us a rare glimpse of the outer limits of human excellence and restored our faith in progress

These could be the dying hours of Philae, the device the size of a washing machine which travelled 4bn miles to hitch a ride on a comet. Philae is the lander which on Wednesday sprung from the craft that had carried it into deep, dark space, bounced a couple of times on the comets surface, and eventually found itself lodged in the shadows, starved of the sunlight its solar batteries needed to live. Yesterday, the scientists who had been planning this voyage for the past quarter-century sat and waited for word from their little explorer, hoping against hope that it still had enough energy to reveal its discoveries.

If Philae expires on the hard, rocky surface of Comet 67P the sadness will be felt far beyond mission control in Darmstadt, Germany. Indeed, it may be felt there least of all: those who have dedicated their working lives to this project pronounced it a success, regardless of a landing that didnt quite go to plan (Philaes anchor harpoons didnt fire, so with gravity feeble there was nothing to keep the machine anchored to the original, optimal landing site). They were delighted to have got there at all and thrilled at Philaes early work. Up to 90% of the science they planned to carry out has been done. As one scientist put it, Weve already got fantastic data.

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A pause to recall an age of extremes

Two peoples fated to clash in two catastrophic wars remember two events which marked the beginning and end of the short, bloody 20th century

In Britain, it was Remembrance Sunday, officially the commemoration of those who fell in all conflicts, but this year freighted with extra meaning, thanks to the centenary of the bloodbath named as the Great War. In Germany, 9 November 2014 served a different anniversary function: 25 years to the day since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It was only a whim of the diary that made these two dates converge, but the link was always there. It was the late Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm who spoke of the last century as short, bookending his account of the period from 1914 to 1991.

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If Labour is stuck with Ed Miliband, heres a way out | Jonathan Freedland

With no obvious successor, Labours focus should switch to what five more years of the Tories would look like

Im picturing next years John Lewis Christmas ad. To the sound of an acoustic guitar and an earnest vocal, it opens with footage of a lonely Ed Miliband, wandering the dark, deserted streets of Westminster. Melancholic, he presses his face against the glass of a Downing Street window to see others not him enjoying the amber warmth inside. He comes home and shakes the rain from his coat, looking rejected and dejected. But there is a glistening tree, smiling friends and some discreetly placed John Lewis merchandise to welcome him back. Message: he may not have power, but at least he has Christmas.

OK, maybe it needs some work. But youll notice the unstated assumption. Its the same one, long shared by many Labour MPs, which broke surface this week: Labour will lose the May election and is staring at another five years in opposition. It is this uncomplicated fear that is powering this weeks talk of a leadership crisis, even a potential challenge to Miliband. True, that talk has been stoked and fanned by newspapers who always had a hit job on the Labour leader pencilled in the diary for autumn 2014, some determined to replay against him the onslaught they unleashed against Neil Kinnock more than two decades ago. But Labour supporters delude themselves if they think this has all been got up by the press. The first Labour MP I spoke to today put it well: As our standing and his standing has got worse, Labour MPs talk of little else.

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