Portrait of the week: an election looms, Joe Biden crashes and England wins

Home A general election shook the nation’s political snowglobe. Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, was able to stop stunts for the camera after making a bungee jump at Eastbourne. Before the election, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister for the time being, commented on Channel 4 footage of a Reform UK supporter talking of him in racially abusive language: ‘My two daughters have to see and hear Reform people who campaign for Nigel Farage calling me an effing Paki. It hurts and it makes me angry.’ Reform UK made an official complaint against Channel 4 to the Electoral Commission, claiming that the supporter filmed was an actor. England beat

Israel says it’s ready for another war

According to my phone, I’m in Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport. Except I’m not. The Israel Defence Forces have scrambled the GPS of everyone within about an hour’s drive of the Israel-Lebanon border. The same navigation system that tells my iPhone its location is the same navigation system that Hezbollah could use to identify targets in northern Israel. They’ve been firing across the border since 7 October, and the Israelis are fed up. They’ve evacuated 80 kibbutzim, nine villages, three community centres and two Arab villages. The phrase that ministers use to describe the displaced is ‘refugees in their own country’. The offensive in Gaza is winding down, and after that

Who is allowed to play Richard III?

On Tuesday night I was body double/understudy for the brave, brainy, beautiful Rachel Riley, at a packed ‘support Israel’ evening. The keynote speaker was the brave, brainy, beautiful lawyer Natasha Hausdorff. I was slightly out of my depth but I hope I provided some light relief. Natasha was dazzling in defence of beleaguered democracy, but the facts are sombre and the audience went home a little more concerned about our future in the diaspora. Anti-Semitism is known to be a light sleeper. I fear it may become insomniac. I’ve been arguing vehemently with my brother Geoff about everything and nothing for 75 years. Inevitably, these days, our arguments are about

Letters: how to get the uni protestors out

Soft left Sir: I read with a certain wry amusement in Yascha Mounk’s piece that ‘activists’ occupying Columbia were demanding the university administrators should supply them with food and water (‘Preach first’, 11 May). How times have changed. In winter 1976 I was the president of the student body at Edinburgh University. A group of ultra-left activists occupied a building of the social science faculty. The administration sent two members of staff to speak to me in the hope that I might be able to dislodge them. I explained very patiently to them that given my own unashamed Conservatism, there was unlikely to be any meeting of minds on this

A helpful suggestion for Taylor Swift’s boyfriends

Sir Mark Rowley should not resign. We must try to break our habit of getting rid of each Metropolitan Police Commissioner before his/her term is complete. He has done nothing iniquitous or seriously incompetent. He is, however, systematically wrong about the right to protest, elevating it over the much more important right of the general public to own the streets. His parlaying with self-appointed Muslim community leaders privileges them. The weekly Gaza marches in London are effectively mobile no-go areas. This was confirmed by the altercation between Gideon Falter and the police sergeant who told him he was ‘openly Jewish’. It was true that Mr Falter had willed such an

We’re better off with Hamas in Qatar, than out

The news that Qatar is ‘re-evaluating’ its role as mediator in the ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas, amid claims by the Qatari Prime Minister that its efforts are being ‘misused for narrow political interests’, will have been met with consternation in many western and Middle Eastern capitals. Qatar’s potential withdrawal comes at a time when talks to secure a truce and the release of the hostages still being held in Gaza have stalled. A ground assault into the final Hamas stronghold of Rafah looks likely to be the next chapter in a gruelling war.  The threat is most likely a negotiating ploy to force progress in the talks Should Qatar cease its

A new survey that may be of interest

My favourite opinion polls are those which elicit enormous shock in the population for stating something everybody knew for ages, or could have guessed. Such as those headlined ‘People in Torquay are happier than people in Rotherham’ – goodness me, etc. Surely we are reaching the time when bland, deceitful shibboleths should be replaced by reality The polls that always occasion the gravest shock, however – despite the fact they come out every year or so – are those dealing with the views of the British Muslim community. In the lacunae between these reports their findings are completely ignored in favour of the approved set of lies with which the

It will be difficult for Israel to ignore this ICJ ruling

Yesterday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered an interim ruling on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel. Its decision is likely to please neither side of the debate, but seems broadly balanced: it criticised Israel, but failed to demand a suspension of the conflict.  The court, which sits in The Hague, was formed in 1945 and is one of the principal organs established by the Charter of the United Nations. It is the UN’s highest court.  On 29 December, South Africa brought its proceedings in the ICJ under Article 9 of the Genocide Convention of 1948. It claimed that Israel was engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people

Portrait of the week: Elgin Marbles madness, Israel/Hamas ceasefire and Oscar Pistorius freed

Home Net migration reached a record 745,000 last year, the Office for National Statistics said, 139,000 higher than the 606,000 it had previously given. Robert Jenrick, the minister for immigration, was reported to be ‘pressuring’ No. 10 with ideas for cutting immigration, such as by making a minimum salary of £35,000 a requirement for a work visa. Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, had agreed with Suella Braverman, when she was home secretary, to raise the salary requirement to £40,000, according to a copy of their agreement seen by the Telegraph. Eight small boats carried 364 migrants to England on 26 November. Caolan Gormley, 26, from Co. Tyrone, was found guilty at the

Portrait of the week: tax cuts, hostage releases and highly rated horses

Home Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said, ‘We can now move on to the next phase of our economic plan and turn our attention to cutting taxes,’ having seen a reduction in inflation. Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, followed suit in the Autumn Statement, cutting personal taxes. The government was to make changes to long-term benefits. The minimum wage, known officially as the National Living Wage, currently £10.42 an hour for those over the age of 23, will rise to £11.44 an hour for those over 21 from next April. The government also drew attention to £8.3 billion allocated to mending potholes, money purportedly saved from the curtailment

My futile morning guarding Churchill’s statue

On Armistice Day I made my way to Parliament Square with some vague notion of protecting Churchill’s statue. I’d discussed the need to stop it being defiled by pro-Palestinian protestors a few days earlier with a group I’m involved with called the British Friends of Israel, but in my head this had been a theoretical discussion, not something that involved me personally. Then Allison Pearson, a member of the group, announced in the Telegraph that she intended to stand in front of the statue armed with a rolled-up copy of the paper, and I felt shamed into joining her. Not that I was worried about her being knocked over by

Benjamin Netanyahu is increasingly seen as Israel’s curse

Jerusalem On Tuesday, I was driving down to an Israeli army headquarters on the border with Gaza as a massive convoy of police cars and black bullet-proof limousines forced me onto the side of the road by the town of Ofakim. In Israel, only one man travels in a convoy that large.  It was 7 November, a month after the Hamas attack on Israeli communities in which 1,400 were murdered and the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza began. Even during peacetime the Prime Minister’s movements are shrouded in secrecy until he is safely back in one of his homes or offices.  Many Israelis, including those who voted for

What did Hamas think was going to happen?

Much misfortune the woebegone couldn’t have seen coming: a raging fire in the house next door that spreads to yours. The invention of some kooky technology called ‘the internet’ that puts your travel agency out of business. Yet other calamities are foreseeable. If you suddenly stop filing tax returns without a good excuse – like, dying – it’s a virtual certainty that the all-seeing computer will come after you. So when compounding fees and interest leave you skint, our sympathies are apt to be scant. What did you think was going to happen? Or to up the moral ante: if you slaughter 18 innocents in a frenzy for no apparent

What Hamas promised to its electorate

Things you do not hear very often, number one: a pro-Palestinian protestor denouncing Hamas for the barbarity of its incursion into Israel on 7 October, appalled at the savagery of those attacks upon children, grandmothers, etc. It may seem as if, in saying this, I am stating the obvious – because support for that pogrom was, I would suggest, strong among some of those carrying Palestinian flags on marches through London and elsewhere. Six Arab language journalists were suspended by the BBC when it was discovered that they retweeted messages glorifying in that day’s murder. They were not members of Hamas. Ordinary Palestinians interviewed, cowering in the rubble of Gaza, were

Toby Young

Why I don’t trust the BBC’s Trusted News Initiative

You almost certainly haven’t heard of the Trusted News Initiative (TNI), although you probably should have. It’s a BBC-led consortium of the world’s most powerful news, social media and technology companies that seeks to cleanse the internet of ‘disinformation’. It carries out this mission by doing its best to discredit sites that challenge the prevailing narrative on topics like lockdowns, Covid vaccines, electoral fraud, the Ukraine war and climate change. It was founded in 2019 by Jessica Cecil, a senior BBC executive who, in 2021, was part of the Counter Disinformation Policy Forum, a shadowy group of ‘experts’ convened by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to monitor criticism

Homer’s take on theology

The Hamas charter does not mince its words: ‘The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”’ A return to the ancient pagan gods would surely be an improvement, but the modern world adopts the Hamas line. Consider the current deities of the bigots whose opponents, hiding behind a clearly sacrilegious belief in rational argument, must be condemned to eternal cancellation. The Greek

Joe Biden’s Middle East diplomacy is a wreck

Joe Biden prides himself on his decades of foreign-policy experience, his ability to talk tough yet be kind, and his talent for bringing opposing sides together. Touching down in Israel today, he gave Bibi Netanyahu a big hug – quite the gesture – and promptly told him he believed that ‘the other team’ – i.e. Hamas, not Israel – was responsible for the bomb that struck a hospital in Gaza last night, killing many of non-combatant Palestinians and inspiring another wave of anti-Israel protests. Biden will now set about trying to help release the hostages held by Hamas and persuading local powers to allow a secure flow of humanitarian aid

Why do I need security guards so I can play Shylock?

These are very odd times. The project of my life – The Merchant of Venice 1936, which sets Shakespeare’s play in East End London during the rise of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts – was postponed because of Covid, but is now alive and kicking. It’s kicking hard. We’re on a ten-week tour and I’ve been moved beyond words at the reactions of audiences and critics. Yet for the last week, the production has had to have security men around keeping an eye on things. It’s like a dystopian nightmare. A Jewish actress putting on a play about anti-Semitism which needs to be made secure because of Jew-hating extremists. As one reviewer

Lionel Shriver

Keep your politics à la carte

It’s a truism that the Anglosphere has developed a ‘tribalism’ that rivals the divisions between the Kikuyu and Luhya in Kenya. One pernicious aspect of mutually hostile groupsterism is prix fixe politics. Your side shares a rigid, prescribed collection of beliefs, and joining the club entails embracing every single one, while despising a compulsory roster of enemies and backing the folks on your team – whatever friend or foe may say, whatever friend or foe may do. As in French restaurants, there are no substitutions. Letting go of indefensible positions your gang is ‘supposed’ to maintain is a relief Rarely has set-menu morality been put on more vivid display than

An Israeli ground assault would be devastating for Gaza

On a patch of scrubland outside the Zikim kibbutz earlier this week, I came across a platoon of Merkava 4 tanks positioned among the trees. One of the tank commanders recognised my colleague and we exchanged a few words. ‘This is our Yom Kippur,’ he told us. ‘We haven’t even begun to grasp the implications of this.’ Yom Kippur, in this context, isn’t a reference to the annual Jewish day of atonement. Rather, it recalls October 1973, when Israel was surprised by an attack on two fronts from the forces of Egypt and Syria. The Hamas assault on Israeli Jewish communities around the Gaza Strip came exactly 50 years and a day after what Israelis