Portrait of the Week: Tory by-election misery, ‘jihad’ chants and emergency aid

Home Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, on his return from Israel (where he spoke with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister) and to Saudi Arabia (where he spoke with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince), told the House of Commons: ‘Hamas is not only a threat to Israel, but to many others across the region. All the leaders I met agreed that this is a watershed moment. It’s time to set the region on a better path.’ Twelve Britons had died in the Hamas attack, and five were missing. Of the blast at Gaza’s al-Ahli hospital on 17 October, which killed numbers of people into the hundreds, he said it was likely to

The Tories didn’t lose Mid Bedfordshire – Labour won it

In 1975 I travelled as an undergraduate to Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and finally to Israel. I visited refugee camps and met a Palestinian militant, Bassam Abu Sharif, who had been blinded in one eye by a Mossad parcel bomb. I talked to policymakers in each country and heard a range of Israeli opinion. On return I wrote in the Jewish Chronicle of the need to address the plight of the Palestinians caused by their displacement. I made the case in favour of a two-state solution five years before the 1980 Venice declaration on Palestinian statehood. One of today’s many tragedies is that Hamas’s barbarism has pushed that solution even

Britain should back a ceasefire

Six weeks ago, I invited Ahmed Alnaouq, a young diplomat who recently joined the Palestinian mission in London, to stay for a cricket weekend in Wiltshire. He resisted all entreaties to play the game but was in every other way a delightful guest. On Sunday, Ahmed learnt that his family in Gaza has been wiped out by an Israeli bomb. His father, siblings, and more than 15 nieces and nephews had all been killed. Twenty-three dead, no injuries. Another brother was killed by an Israeli bombing in 2014. His mother died three years ago because, he says, Israel denied her medical treatment. When I sent him a text message saying that

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

No one should trust the camera in the age of AI

This war is being fought with pictures more than words. The poignant shots, often selfies, of families, children, even babies, who were to become victims of Hamas butchery, the wailing mothers and children on stretchers in Gaza, the missile strikes and collapsed concrete buildings. We know politicians on all sides lie, but photography is a mechanical process; these pictures must, surely, be the truth? Almost all these photos have been taken with mobile phones. To a rough approximation, everybody now has a smartphone. There are said to be seven billion smartphones in use around the world – there are only eight billion people. (Sales of what we used to know

How is Joe Biden handling the Israel-Palestine crisis?

27 min listen

This week Freddy speaks to Dennis Ross, former Middle East coordinator under President Clinton and current Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. They discuss Biden’s visit to Israel this week, how his policy towards the Middle East borrows from Trump and Obama, and how we can discern between the public posturing and private desires of Middle Eastern states. 

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

Europe needs to step up on Ukraine

Vasyl, a burly, tattooed infantry commander who lost a leg to a Russian mine on the eastern front, sits swinging his remaining leg on the edge of the treatment table in the ‘Unbroken’ rehabilitation clinic in Lviv. He’s been inside the Russian trenches 50 times, he tells me. His stories are reminiscent of the first world war. I ask him what Ukraine needs for victory. Answer: ‘Motivated people.’ His T-shirt proclaims ‘no sacrifice, no victory’. After we shake hands and I wish him luck, he suddenly jumps off the table and starts skipping at amazing speed, his blue skipping rope whizzing around under his one foot, while he looks at

Ukraine’s fight has been eclipsed by the ‘Other War’

The first indication that this was a literary festival like no other came with the request to provide ‘proof of life’ questions in case of kidnap. I’ve been to some unusual festivals – earlier this year I found myself discussing war-rape, ancient and modern, with the classicist Mary Beard on a barefoot island in the Maldives – and had some unusual festival encounters, such as the woman who asked me to sign a book to her dead husband, adding that he was reading it when he died. This, however, was my first in a war zone. There was a polite warning from the Lviv Book Forum organisers: ‘If there is an

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

Portrait of the week: Starmer’s stall, high treason and the horrors of Hamas

Home At the Labour party conference, cheerful in the hall but overshadowed by the war in Israel, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said that in government he would build 1.5 million homes and a host of ‘Labour new towns’. He wanted to spend £1.1 billion a year on higher overtime payments within NHS England to reduce waiting lists. A protestor poured glitter over him. Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, also said Labour would ‘rebuild Britain’. ‘Rachel Reeves is a serious economist,’ said Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England. Labour took Rutherglen and Hamilton West in a by-election that the Scottish

What Iran gains from the conflict in Israel

A little more than a week before Hamas carried out its Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, the US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, said: ‘The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades.’ Sullivan was expressing a consensus view, one apparently shared by the Israeli government. Then came the attacks of last weekend and, as the Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, said, ‘Not since the Holocaust have so many Jews been killed in one day.’ The surprise attacks have been called Israel’s 9/11, its Pearl Harbor, and so the question Israelis are asking is: how could this happen? And of more consequence, perhaps: who was really behind it?

Five of the worst responses to the Hamas attacks on Israel

Tragedies are often the moment when statesmen are at their best. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen from the response to yesterday’s attacks by Hamas on Israel, they can also show politicians at their worst. Below are five of the more insensitive, tone-deaf and even downright offensive reactions to the tragedy that is unfolding in the Middle East… Jeremy Corbyn Where else to start? Step forward Jeremy Corbyn, the man who sinks to every occasion. The Right Honourable Member for Islington North reacted to the Hamas attack with his signature blend of cynicism and equivocation, declaring that: The unfolding events in Israel and Palestine are deeply alarming. We need an immediate ceasefire

Is Israelophobia the latest form of anti-Semitism?

Israelophobia addresses an anti-Semitic mutation ‘evolving out of reach’: the demonisation of the Jewish state. Its author, Jake Wallis Simons, is the editor of the Jewish Chronicle. His antennae are primed for anti-Semitism and he finds plenty of it. In France, 60 per cent of religious abuse is directed at Jews and in Germany anti-Semitic incidents have doubled in a decade. In his telling, Israelophobia – Leon Pinsker’s Judeophobia transformed – is the descendant of the deicide myth, the blood libel and the Shoah. Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was a fanatical admirer of Hitler You can hear it in the quality and narrowness of the discourse,

Violence in Silicon Valley: The Wolf Hunt, by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, reviewed

‘I believe it’s the writer’s job to force the reader to look where they usually avoid looking,’ Ayelet Gundar-Goshen has said. The Wolf Hunt, her fourth novel translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston, shines a light on racial tensions in America. Israeli-born Lilach and Mikhael Shuster live in Silicon Valley with their 16-year-old son Adam. Like many men in the community, Mikhael works in tech, although rather than developing apps his company makes weapons. Having given up an academic career to follow her husband, Lilach works as a cultural coordinator at a retirement home. ‘Most of the women here coordinated something,’ she observes wryly. When a man with a

The increasing irrelevance of Benjamin Netanyahu

Jerusalem The most tedious question in Israeli politics is: ‘Will this be the end of Benjamin Netanyahu?’ It has come up again in recent weeks as Israel has found itself on the brink of chaos over his coalition government’s attempts to pass laws weakening the independence of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. And while the civilian unrest is unprecedented in the country’s history, anyone who has spent even a moderate amount of time observing Israel in the past decades should know by now that the answer, as long as Netanyahu is still breathing, is ‘no’. Netanyahu can’t discipline or sack his ministers. To do so would almost certainly cost