This pre-election jockeying could threaten the United Kingdom itself| Jonathan Freedland

Politicians competing for a place in the next coalition are setting Britain’s four nations against each other

Consider it an advance on Punch and Judy politics: British electoral combat has ascended from the level of the kindergarten to that of the teenage playground. Ahead of 7 May, the UK’s political parties have taken to running about saying who likes who, who’s been seen holding hands, and who will absolutely never be friends ever, ever, ever. The main Conservative theme of the week came in a poster whose message can be broadly distilled as: “Ugh, don’t touch him. He’s best friends with those two!”

To bring you up to date. Plaid Cymru, the Scottish Nationalists and the Greens have all said they will never go into coalition with the Conservatives, which implies they’d be happy to bed down with Labour. Meanwhile, the Conservative chairman said on Friday that his party would never do a deal with Ukip, which seemed to contradict what David Cameron said, or didn’t say, earlier this month, when he pointedly refused to rule out an arrangement with Nigel Farage.

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Auschwitz 70 years on: a different place, yet memories of its horror endure

Survivors’ stories show they were members of infinitely varied human race – the stubborn fact Nazi death camp sought to deny

They had come back, some three hundred of them, but this was not the Planet Auschwitz they remembered. The Auschwitz of their memories was a place where the rules of normal life were upended, where the moral laws of gravity were reversed, where good was deemed evil and evil deemed good – a place scholars came to speak of as an alien planet. One even writes of “the Auschwitz universe”.

That place was cold and desolate, the very sound of the word – Auschwitz – seeming to contain a bitter frost. It was terminal, in every sense: the final destination of an extended railway and the place where more than 1.1 million people, a million of them Jews, were brought to die. And, at the time, this vast factory of murder was ignored by the world.

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Paris attacks: in this debate fear is the factor that dare not speak its name | Jonathan Freedland

Whether it’s blaming foreign policy, the cartoonists or invoking free speech, we’re all searching for ways to cope with our terror

In the debate that has been raging these last 10 days, fear is the factor that dare not speak its name. In the public sphere, the discussion following the Paris killings has been intense, wrestling with questions of philosophy and principle, especially the rights, responsibilities and inconsistencies of free speech. But in the private sphere the conversation has been quieter and more anguished. It has grappled above all with a sentiment that few voice with pride: namely, their own terror.

Perhaps my vantage point skews my view. There were two groups especially shaken by last week’s attacks – journalists and Jews – and I inhabit that small shaded area of the Venn diagram in which the two overlap. In both those circles, I have heard discussions about the abstract issues at stake, but also about the bleak practicalities of physical security. Newspaper offices, like synagogues and Jewish schools, have been checking the exits and entrances, just in case. I know that colleagues and friends have, in the silence of their own thoughts, imagined the unimaginable.

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Charlie Hebdo: first they came for the cartoonists, then they came for the Jews | Jonathan Freedland

Of course the Paris killers targeted a kosher supermarket: they’re a fascist death cult fighting a dirty little war

When terror strikes, we all become mind-readers. With no words to accompany the violence, it’s left to us to supply the motive. We insert our own guess, ventriloquising the killers who remain enigmatically mute. It happened again this week, following the slaying of 12 people at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine with little more than an “Allahu Akbar” to go on. They hated the cartoons, we say. Free speech was the target, we declare. They wanted to silence satire and gag dissent.

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Israel’s threat from within

The spring of 2015 will bring an election that features not just the traditional battle of left and right but a tangled contest of smaller parties, all jostling for seats and for a strong hand in the inevitable coalition horse-trading that will follow.

On the right stands the incumbent prime minister, reviled by some on his own side, under pressure from an army of insurgents who insist they alone truly stand up for the country - but grudgingly admired for his skill in retaining power.

The challenger on the left is from a distinguished political family, hothoused in the traditions of the Labour party that raised him, but somehow lacking the alpha qualities that mark out a leader: he wants to be prime minister but struggles to look the part. The campaign has only just begun and yet it already feels like a long haul.

That's the picture in Britain in the first weeks of 2015, where David Cameron and Ed Miliband prepare to do battle, both looking over their shoulders at the nationalist threat from UKIP and the Scottish National Party. But it also describes the situation in Israel this spring - with Benjamin Netanyahu in the Cameron role and Isaac Herzog playing the part of Miliband.

There are some obvious differences. The election here was unavoidable, the government having run its five-year course. The Israeli ballot is wholly unnecessary, triggered after just two years by the usual coalition shenanigans that are a permanent feature of Israeli life. Often an Israeli election differs from a British one in a more profound way, too: they are about matters of life and death.

While a British contest can turn on the marginal rate of tax, when Israelis go to the polls they're usually thinking about war and peace.

Superficially, 2015 is different. Yes, Netanyahu is humming the same, familiar tunes - issuing dire warnings about the threat of Hamas, Iran and Islamic State, accusing Herzog and his ally Tzipi Livni of being weak and desperate to "capitulate" to the enemy. But there is no peace plan on the table waiting for the voters' verdict, just as there is no immediate threat at the borders that has to be repelled. At first glance, it can seem as if the usual, existential questions that dominate an Israeli contest have receded.

But the Israeli writer Ari Shavit is surely right to say something just as large is at stake, that there is a menace that has to be defeated. The difference is that the current threat to Israel comes not from without but from within.

"The renewed alliance between the nationalist Likud and the messianic Habayit Hayehudi makes an almost apocalyptic horror scenario possible - Israel as Rhodesia, as South Africa, as a fortress of zealots," Shavit wrote recently. "In the balance lies the Jewish-democratic state."

His view, and it's echoed by many others, is that Israel has been lurching steadily rightward, in the grip of a surging intolerance and an aggressive form of messianic nationalism. These are the forces bent on deepening the occupation and enshrining in law inequality between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens. If they remain in charge, Israel will never be what its founders intended: both Jewish and a democracy. In its determination to be the former, it would destroy the latter.

Even Israel's own president, the Likudnik Ruvi Rivlin, has warned that the country he loves is "sick" and in need of treatment. The March election is a chance for Israel to begin its recovery – or else sink deeper into the malaise.

If Hillary Clinton wins in 2016, who will dare use ‘old woman’ as an insult? | Jonathan Freedland

Making it to the White House will shift prejudices not only in America, but far beyond

Hillary Clinton was on my mind even before word came of the death of Mario Cuomo. The former governor of New York will be remembered by those who have long forgotten, or never knew, his record running that state chiefly for his oratory and his knack for an enduring phrase. Eight minutes spent on YouTube watching his 1984 rebuttal of Ronald Reagan’s depiction of the US as a “shining city on a hill” will not be wasted. It was Cuomo who memorably told us: “You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose.” Still, the Cuomo quotation that lodges in my mind is one that is barely known.

He didn’t say it publicly. Indeed I heard it secondhand, from his former speechwriter Peter Quinn. He was recalling the 1988 presidential campaign, which Cuomo had famously decided to sit out. The governor was watching the television debate between George Bush the elder and the charisma-free Democrat Michael Dukakis. The turning point came when Dukakis, an opponent of the death penalty, was asked how he would feel if his wife were raped and murdered: would he oppose capital punishment even then? Dukakis gave a bloodless, policy wonk’s answer – and Cuomo was incensed.

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