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Israel is not fighting a just war

July 29th, 2014 Comments off

Obvious, really – with a thousand dead on one side, including many non-combatants, and only one civilian on the other side, and 45 military men.

But the argument is becoming so muddied with claim and counter-claim, with allegations that Hamas routinely and callously hides its rocket launchers in schools and hospitals, that an examination of the basics of just war theory should be made.

A just war is a proportional war: if one boy steals another boy’s pocket money, then he should be punished. But not beaten to a pulp by a gang of six men, we would all agree.

If a member of a diplomatic mission is found to be a spy, it is fair enough for him or her to be expelled – but not for the home country to sit a tank outside the offending embassy and fire short-range missiles into it.

Israel has a grievance and legitimate security concerns. But the answer to its problem is not to wipe the Palestinian people off the face of the earth, no matter how much many of its political leaders and supporters would like this to happen.

Some years ago I attended an academic Middle East conference in Madrid. By halfway through the second day I, like many of the ‘civilian’ observers, was frustrated and astonished by the pointless invective, the shrieking arguments, that most sessions dissolved into. There are zealots on both sides – and people who have suffered great grief.

The Palestinians suffered a vast and egregious injustice when their homeland was summarily taken from them in 1948. The Jewish people suffered the horrors of the Holocaust. But two wrongs don’t make a right – and it wasn’t the Palestinians who ran the concentration camps.

Israel currently (July 27) has hit 3,289 targets in Gaza, according to The New York Times. (The figure apparently does not include all missiles launched, unlike the figure for Gaza-launched rockets, which is 2,325.) There are 1,023 dead in Gaza, and 46 in Israel, of whom only one is a non-combatant.

Under just war theory, a response to violent provocation has to fulfil these four criteria: just cause (a reason for taking up arms, such as an invasion or widespread murder and torture); right authority; right intention; and reasonable hope of success.

Proportionality emerged centuries ago as a key determinant for the justice of a war. From St Augustine, one of the fathers of the Catholic Church, who wrote and thought much about the possibility of a just war, to the modern philosophers such as Michael Walzer and Paul Ramsey, the justification for war has been thoroughly examined and discussed.

A good Jew, like a good Christian or Muslim, should be prepared to go to war to defend his loved ones, and restore social justice. The problem for Israelis is that the massive social injustice has been done, and continues to be done, to their enemies.

The hackneyed cry that “Israel is fighting for her survival, surrounded by enemies” rings hollow because of the geopolitical realities. Israel has a handy friend in the superpower United States – despite the distaste felt by many, including the President, for the way Israel comports itself. In addition, the countries surrounding Israel which are theoretically about to crush her to dust are disorganized, poverty-stricken, and prone to internal revolutions and wars which take up all their time and energy. Egypt, Syria, Jordan – which of these is a feasible threat?

And amid all this terror and pain and destruction, the negotiators who have tried and tried, and failed so often, to get the antagonists to lay down their weapons and make a long, hard, considered attempt to stop the violence for good.

John Kerry, the US Secretary for State, appears to have been making great and heart-felt attempts. The European Union man in the Middle East, Tony Blair, has been nowhere to be seen (except at a reception in London to celebrate the anniversary of him becoming leader of the British Labour Party). However, peace negotiation is not, I am told, part of his brief. So what on earth is he, or the post, for? The central issue of the Middle East is peace.

A speaker on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s PM programme is, as I speak, stating that 70 per cent of Israelis, in polls, regularly support a two-state solution. Yet, simultaneously, a majority supports the punitive actions against Palestinians, and Hamas in particular.

Someone, somewhere, has to exert influence on the Israelis. This is not a just war. Israel is not despised for what it is – but for what it does.

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Rebekah – the speculation continues…

June 25th, 2014 Comments off

Sorry, more about Rebekah B…

When I left News International at Wapping in 1991, a young woman 11 years my junior was just starting her career there. Maybe we passed on the stairs? She most certainly would have been the one going up!

Rebekah Wade, as she was then, the “flame-haired temptress” in the joke cliché beloved of British satirists, was not a journalist but a secretary. In the law, medicine, other professions, an unqualified person cannot take on the role of the practitioner. But journalism is one of the few fields where a person can literally work their way up from sweeping the floor or running errands – it happened a lot in the 20th century and is still possible today. It’s a good thing, but does undermine the claims many of us, including me, would like to make for journalism being regarded as a profession.

But Rebekah Wade/Kemp/Brooks’s talents cannot be classified in a traditional way – other than that of the courtesan, the wildly successful female enchantress of men of power.

For the unusual thing about Brooks, it appears, is that she has succeeded with charm and grit, and seduced [not, of course, in the physical sense] all those around her from mogul Rupert Murdoch to former PM’s wife Sarah Brown.

The moment when Murdoch, having flown to London because of the Milly Dowler hacking scandal, was asked his priority and replied “This one”, indicating Brooks, has become one of the most famous, extraordinary and puzzling, aspects of the whole business.

Descriptions of her effect on powerful people echo comments on Bill Clinton, in that the beam of her gaze seemed to indicate that the person she was meeting was the most fascinating, important, and possibly sexy, individual in the world. However, this effect seemed only to be deployed on VIPs, and not, as a politician would have to, on ordinary plebs.

Brooks’ image to the world consisted of her sex-flag of hair and As the 2012 Vanity Fair profile of her by Suzanna Andrews described it, a “Mona Lisa smile…as if she knows something she’s not telling.”

While social media erupted with astonishment at Brooks’s acquittal on all phone-hacking conspiracy charges on June 24, even Nick Davies of The Guardian told the BBC’s Newsnight that “I sat in the court room for nearly eight weeks, and I would have acquitted her”.

Brooks seems able to enchant just about everyone – no doubt it is all very studied, yet comes across as completely natural. Otherwise savvy operators such as David Cameron, Tony Blair and Piers Morgan would see right through her with their fake-detecting antenna, right?

Removing my tongue from my cheek, it’s only left to list Lily Langtry, mistress of the Prince of Wales and loads of other toffs 100 years ago; Mathilde Kschessinskaya, who did much the same sort of thing in Russia; Madame Pompadour or even, er, Wendi Deng? But these ladies played a role chiefly as sexual partner and fascinator, whereas Brooks was – and may well be again – a figure of power and achievement on male terms. She was the archetypal irresistible female, but with her hands on the lever at the most important media group in Britain – or not, as her not guilty verdict seems to suggest.












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So what will we do between 55 and 70?

June 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Retirement age is being pushed back in countries all over the world, with the latest being the Australian government’s plan to make 70 the life-point when the old-age pension begins.

There’s no doubt people are living longer, with the average span now being in the mid-80s for both men and women, in the west.

And many people would be happy to remain in the labour force, and earning a reasonable income, till their late 60s.

But colliding with this scenario, and not being addressed anywhere by governments, is the problem of what to do with these older workers, in a world where looking for a job over 50 is like the famous needle-in-a-haystack quest.

Evidence is everywhere: in Britain, the 2013 Commission on Older Women report found that a government programme to get people into work had a 28 per cent poorer result for the 55-64 cohort than the under 55s.

[The recession was particularly unkind to older women, with a 41 per cent rise in unemployment among the 50-64 age group between 2010 and 2013. In the population as a whole, the rise was just one per cent.]

Read more…

50% turnout? Politics needs more ‘Hell and Maria’ types

May 28th, 2014 Comments off

POINTLESS is an enjoyable early evening quiz show on BBC One. In it guests aim to decide which answer to a question would have had zero correct answers out there in the real world.

It’s hosted by Alexander Armstrong, with the wonderful, bespectacled Richard Osman as his sidekick. And last week there was a fascinating fact which appealed to me particularly. It was that Calvin Coolidge’s vice president on the 1924 ticket, Charles Dawes, was the same man who wrote the music for the hit song “All in the Game” in the 1950s. (“Many a tear has to fall, But it’s all, In the game…”.)

And to top his achievements, Charlie won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925. He was, according to the Nobel website, known as “Hell and Maria” Charlie.

Now there’s a multitasker/polymath par excellence, which leaves one musing via the cliché “They don’t make ‘em like that any more.” At least, not in our dull western democracies, where high office seems reserved for the superhumanly bland, setting aside an Obama or two.

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Longform journalism is dead! You read it here first

May 20th, 2014 Comments off

Longform shmongform. If you’re emulating Marcel Proust, don’t do it online.

“Why do you spend so much time reading those long boring articles in the New Yorker?” my husband inquired sniffily, before resuming his enjoyment of Neatorama.

Why indeed, I ask myself – well, not when it’s an instructive account of Berlin’s hipp-est clubs , as in a few issues back, or Lizzie Widdicombe’s fascinating “The End of Food” in the May 12 issue.

But sometimes you (that is, I) find the finger sneaking forward to scroll down – and there’s more – and more- and more – and for heavens’ sake, I have a life to live! Part of which includes reading all the other interesting stuff on the internet, and keeping up with the latest viral rabbits-eating-raspberries genre.

Another quote: “Longform is dead,” proclaimed the slender, sensitive, journalism graduate by my side as we quaffed institutional wine and celebrated the surprisingly good magazine which he and his peers had produced as a final-year assignment.

The magazine was both on paper and online – there was more content online, but the editor, my companion, assured me that it didn’t run on and on like Beowulf. “Always loved reading,” he said, “but I’ve realized there’s no point in putting long articles on my own website. It’s all about music, and I can see from the views and hits that people will watch the video, but just about nobody reads the equivalent article.” Read more…

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