This pre-election jockeying could threaten the United Kingdom itself

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!”

Published by: The Guardian

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

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”.

Published by: The Guardian

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

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.

Published by: The Guardian

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

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.

Published by: The Guardian

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.

Published by: The Jewish Chronicle

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

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.

Published by: The Guardian

Heroes of 2014: Reuven ‘Ruvi’ Rivlin, president of Israel

Reuven ‘Ruvi’ Rivlin is an unlikely hero. He is a lifelong member of Israel’s Likud party, and on the right of that rightwing bloc. He is an advocate of Greater Israel, swallowing up the occupied territories that ought to form an independent Palestinian state. And yet ever since his elevation to Israel’s largely ceremonial presidency in June he has acted as something like his country’s conscience – both castigating what he sees as a national slide into racism and intolerance, and standing up for the civil rights of Palestinians.

Published by: The Guardian

The Pope Francis stardust worked over Cuba. Could it work with Isis and the Taliban?

Stalin had quite a knack for the soundbite. “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” That’s said to be him. “The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election. It’s the people who count the votes who decide an election.” Him too. And, among the most enduring, the dictator’s mocking riposte on hearing that the pope was urging an end to the oppression of Catholics under Soviet rule. “The pope? How many divisions has he got?”

Published by: The Guardian

CIA torture: Homeland and 24 make great TV, but they’re no way to govern

Reality rushes in where fiction fears to tread. The events of the real world constantly outstrip even the most creative maginations. As Philip Roth famously complained, “The actuality is continually outdoing our talents” – contriving situations that few novelists would dare offer, lest they seem outlandish and far-fetched. The latest proof is the US Senate intelligence committee report on the CIA’s use of torture in the course of fighting the “war on terror”.

Published by: The Guardian

George Osborne may live to regret his rush towards Wigan pier

It’s on the edges of living memory now, but in the folk memory it lives on. The very words – the 1930s – instantly evoke poverty and the Great Depression. Slum housing, queues for food, dirt-faced workers, children without shoes. Little wonder George Osborne took such exception to the suggestion by the BBC’s Norman Smith that if the chancellor implemented the cuts promised in his autumn statement, Britain would eventually reach 1930s levels of public spending.

Published by: The Guardian