Sunday, 21 September 2014

Priority

Today is Saint Matthew's Day. Consider that that erstwhile tax-collector is the Patron Saint of Bankers.

Consider also that that strange and increasingly unfashionable thing, Biblical criticism, purports to read the Bible "as if it were any other ancient text", yet in fact subjects it to a series of methods that would be laughed out in any other literary or historical discipline.

Those methods are carefully constructed to "prove" the presuppositions of that strange and increasingly unfashionable thing, liberal theology.

Thus, if two Biblical books are word for word alike, as Matthew, Mark and Luke certainly are in parts, then they must have been copied from each other, since there is no way that God could have inspired them all and, funnily enough, done so in such a way that they confirmed each other's accounts.

Hence the theory of Markan Priority, that Saint Mark's Gospel was the first to be written, and that Saint Matthew and Saint Luke copied out great chunks of it word for word. And hence the theory of Q, the compendium of the material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark; no copy of Q exists anywhere.

Jesus simply did not claim divinity for Himself, so that rules out John at a stroke. Miracles simply do not happen, a position not even compatible with agnosticism. Style simply does not develop (seriously), so Saint Paul cannot have written several of the Epistles beginning with the words "From Paul".

And so on, and on, and on.

Academia is at last moving away from this sort of thing. When will the Church in practice, since of course She has never adopted it, and cannot do so, in principle? Perhaps a gentle fillip from the wider culture might be in order?

Although they differ in length, the different structures of the Gospels mean that they could each be dramatised in 12 episodes of one hour apiece, perhaps running from January to March, i.e., more or less from Christmas to Easter. The order ought to be as in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – exactly as if any other ancient text were the subject.

That might even provide an opportunity to do some taking apart of the ridiculous theories of Markan Priority, of the interpolation of Mark 16, of "the Gospel of Thomas" and other such Dan Brown drivel, and of the historical unreliability of Saint John's Gospel on the grounds that Jesus "never claimed to be divine", the "proof" of which is held to be the historical unreliability of Saint John's Gospel.

All of these pieces of nonsense continue to be peddled by half-formed schoolteachers, and by clergy too old to have been part of the traditionalist revival among Catholics or the Evangelical revival among Protestants.

Markan Priority was disproved a very long time ago by Saint Augustine, whose Wikipedia page in Slovene is a significant source of traffic to this site, as is the page on U and non-U English. Make of those facts what you will.

Acts could also be dramatised in this way, and has some great stories in it. But it looks as if they would do the Ramayana first, and stick to the text if they did.

That is not treating the Bible as a work of world literature, which is what they would claim that it was, and which, among other things, it is.

Why not dramatise the Ramayana, exactly as it is? Why not dramatise the Odyssey, exactly as it is? And why not dramatise the Four Canonical Gospels and Acts, exactly as they are?

Of what are the television companies afraid? Of what would the Church, in practice even though not in principle, be afraid?

An Integral Part

The City of London's first ever Labour Councillor, the Reverend Dr William Taylor, writes:

Along with some colleagues, I recently lent someone the money to buy a swimming pool.

I can't say precisely how much it will cost (commercial confidentiality, you understand), but suffice it to say they're not going to be able to make a splash for much less than £6m.

The money comes from something called the City's Cash, and it is the private money of the City of London Corporation. Sort of like our North Sea oil account.

I say private money, but that's debatable.

Some say, myself included, that it's actually money held in trust for the citizens of London, starting with those in my ward.

Our argument is that the Square Mile is not some independent city state, an offshore drilling platform for international capitalism, but an integral part of the United Kingdom, not to mention the 32 boroughs of our capital city.

They say we should share the spoils.

That's all very well, say the City Fathers, but the City has patiently built up this pot of money up over many years and don't intend to lose control of it now.

It comes from centuries-old taxes on food and fuel, from charitable bequests, from fees for citizenship and income from the enclosure of lands around the City.

It's actually an enormous slush fund, though obviously they don't refer to it like that.

The City certainly uses it judiciously. It pays for some London parks and for its private schools (and their pools).

Also, for lobbying: it is used it to pay a chap called the Remembrancer to promote the financial services in Westminster and to organise banquets in Guildhall and Mansion House for visiting heads of state and captains of industry.

That way, we stay close to the levers of power.

After all, if it weren't for the contribution that the financial services make to our GDP we'd all be screwed. Or so the argument goes.

Anyway, this month, we are also using the City's Cash to ensure that we can pay our lowest-paid workers a living wage – at least, where there is a shortfall in existing contracts.

At the same council meeting where the City agreed to help one of its schools retain its aquatic pre-eminence, the leader of the council confirmed that the City of London is seeking accreditation for the City of London Corporation as a living wage employer.

This is good news and marks a milestone along the journey of this nationwide campaign.

Only six years ago, the City refused to seek accreditation because of fears that, in doing so, it would lose its "traditional position of independence".

This was how the then chief executive put it in a letter to the local Labour party in 2008.

Isn't it interesting, given the results north of the border, how highly the City values its independence?

But now, as the first-ever Labour member of the Court of Common Council, I received an assurance that "an application to the Living Wage Foundation for accredited Living Wage employer status will be submitted by the end of this month".

And the world hasn't come to an end.

Not yet, at least. Suddenly, there is renewed interest in the politics of self-determination and the governance of London itself.

In a recent poll, we were told that one in five Londoners wants the capital to become "independent".

There is talk of devolving further powers to major British cities as we regenerate our ancient democracy. Maybe it is time to revisit the role of the City of London Corporation within the capital.

Already there is a new campaign group calling for the incorporation of the whole of London as a single united city.

Among other things, this group is claiming that the City's Cash belongs to all Londoners and not just the Square Mile. Codswallop!

My colleagues in the City Corporation will certainly suggest they take a running jump. They might even provide a pool for them to do so.

The City should be a London Borough, like the City of Westminster. It could continue to have all the charity and pageantry that it liked. That is normal in normal local government.

Even the separate lieutenancy and constabulary could, should and would remain, with the latter's distinct red and white check, and brass badges and buttons. Why not?

This Day and Age

I am still not convinced about lowering the voting age, into which we are being bounced because 16 and 17-year-olds have voted in the Scottish referendum.

I continue to believe in the force of the many arguments that I have advanced against it in the past. But my mind is no longer entirely closed to that change itself.

With the introduction of individual registration, I suspect that the proportion of the extremely elderly that remained on the electoral register would be hardly, if at all, higher than the proportion of those all the way up to the age of about 25.

Of those registered, if 16 and 17-year-olds were able to be so, then I strongly suspect that a higher proportion of them would actually exercise the franchise. than of the over-90s, who are also a very small cohort overall.

I have seen the way in which candidates press the flesh in nursing homes when there is an election coming up. Some of the residents know exactly what is going on. Others are decidedly confused. Others again hardly know Christmas from Tuesday. 16 and 17-year-olds would be very much the same.

(By the way, I am wholly unshocked by the practice of activists filling in postal voting forms on behalf of the institutionalised elderly who ask them to vote for those activists' candidates. If that did not happen, then those electors' clearly expressed preference would go uncounted. If the Conservatives did not do exactly that in such staunch areas as they retain, then I should be speechless. Nor do I blame them in the least. Very far from it, in fact.)

Like a lot of my vintage, I see one third of bus passes used to commute, for much of the year from and to homes heated by the Winter Fuel Allowance, and then I consider that there will be none of those things for us, even though the people now coming into them no more fought in the War, and were no more on this earth while the War was being fought by anyone, than we were.

In my more mean-spirited moments, I ponder that people who "worked all their lives" were paid to do so, and ought not to have spent it all, as of course many of them did not, with the result that they are now loaded.

Or I ponder that they have not in fact "worked all their lives" if they have retired a mere two thirds of the way through the probable length of their lives.

I make no apology for seeing no War-like debt to be repaid to those whose formative experiences were sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, full employment, cheap housing, student grants, public ownership, municipal services, the explosion of mass consumer affluence, and the felt need to demonstrate against another country's war because this country was not waging one.

However, I believe in full employment, cheap housing, student grants, public ownership, municipal services, and opposition to American wars of liberal intervention.

I am by no means averse to the finer things in life. I fully recognise that few are those who could really manage without their bus passes or their Winter Fuel Allowances. I support the principle of universality to the very marrow of my bones.

No, the question is one of balance.

Balancing generational interests is as important as balancing class interests, or regional interests, or urban and rural interests, and so on. Only social democracy can do those. Only social democracy can do this.

The sheer size of the ageing Baby Boom is such that the democracy in social democracy might require a modest reduction in the voting age.

While that case has not yet been made sufficiently convincingly to justify the change, I am less and less decided that it simply never will or could be.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

#The45, Indeed

Oh, the serendipity!

Look out for the denunciation of the cuts as the Clearances. Not without cause, and this time not being inflicted by Scots themselves, indeed by or on behalf of the great majority of them, as was the case after 1745.

The Whig Revolution of 1688 led to very deep and very wide disaffection among Catholics, High Churchmen, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers and others.

Within those subcultures, long after the death of the Stuart cause as such with Cardinal York in 1807, there persisted a feeling that Hanoverian Britain, her Empire, and that Empire’s capitalist ideology, imported and at least initially controlled from William of Orange’s Netherlands, were less than fully legitimate.

This was to have startlingly radical consequences.

First in seventeenth-century England and then in the eighteenth-century France that looked to that precedent, gentry-cum-mercantile republican absolutism was an inversion of Jean Bodin’s princely absolutism, itself an Early Modern aberration.

But what of the creation of a gentry-cum-mercantile republic in the former American Colonies? Did it, too, ultimately derive from reaction against the Stuarts, inverting their newfangled ideology against them?

No, it ultimately derived from loyalty to them, a loyalty which regarded the Hanoverian monarchy as illegitimate.

Since 1776 predates 1789, the American Republic is not a product of the Revolution, but nevertheless sits under a radically orthodox theological critique, most obviously by reference to pre-Revolutionary traditions of Catholic and Protestant republican thought.

On the Catholic side, that is perhaps Venetian. On the Protestant side, it is perhaps Dutch. On both sides, it is perhaps to be found at cantonal level in Switzerland, where it is possible that such thought might hold sway even now.

There simply were Protestant Dutch Republics before the Revolution. There simply was a Catholic Venetian Republic before the Revolution. There simply were, and there simply are, Protestant and Catholic cantons in Switzerland, predating the Revolution. The literature must be there, for those who can read the languages sufficiently well..

Furthermore, there is no shortage of Americans whose ancestors came from the Netherlands or from Italy, and there may well be many who assume from their surnames that their bloodline is German or Italian (or possibly French) when in fact it is Swiss.

It is time for a few of them to go looking for these things, with a view to applying them as the radically orthodox theological critique of that pre-Revolutionary creation, the American Republic.

Within that wider context, far more Jacobites went into exile from these Islands than Huguenots sought refuge here.

The Jacobites founded the Russian Navy of Peter the Great. They maintained a network of merchants in the ports circling the Continent. Their banking dynasties had branches in several great European cities. They introduced much new science and technology to their host countries. They dominated the Swedish East India and Madagascar Companies. They fought with the French in India.

And very many of them ended up either in the West Indies or in North America. New York seems the most obvious place to look for them, being named after its initial proprietor as a colony, the future James VII and II.

The Highlanders in North Carolina spoke Gaelic into the 1890s, but in vain had the rebellious legislature there issued a manifesto in that language a century earlier: like many people of directly Scots rather than of Scots-Irish origin or descent, they remained loyal to the Crown during the Revolutionary War.

However, there were many Jacobite Congregationalists, such as Edward Roberts, the exiled James’s emissary to the anti-Williamite Dutch republics, and Edward Nosworthy, a gentleman of his Privy Council both before and after 1688. There was that Catholic enclave, Maryland.

And there was Pennsylvania: almost, if almost, all of the Quakers were at least initially Jacobites, and William Penn himself was arrested for Jacobitism four times between 1689 and 1691.

Many Baptists were also Jacobites, and the name, episcopal succession and several other features of the American Episcopal Church derive, not from the Church of England, but from the staunchly Jacobite Episcopal Church in Scotland, which provided the American Colonies with a bishop, Samuel Seabury, in defiance of the Church of England and of the Hanoverian monarchy to which it was attached.

Early Methodists were regularly accused of Jacobitism. John Wesley himself had been a High Church missionary in America, and Methodism was initially an outgrowth of pre-Tractarian, often at least sentimentally Jacobite, High Churchmanship. Very many people conformed to the Established Church but either refused to take the Oath or declared that they would so refuse if called upon to take it.

With its anti-Calvinist soteriology, it high sacramentalism and Eucharistic theology, and its hymnody based on the liturgical year, early Methodism appealed to them. Wesley also supported, and corresponded with, William Wilberforce, even refusing tea because it was slave-grown; indeed, Wesley’s last letter was to Wilberforce. They wrote as one High Tory to another.

Wilberforce was later a friend of Blessed John Henry Newman, whose Letter to the Duke of Norfolk constitutes the supreme Catholic contribution to the old Tory tradition of the English Confessional State, in the same era as Henry Edward Manning’s Catholic social activism, and the beginning of Catholic Social Teaching’s strong critique of both capitalism and Marxism.

Whiggery, by contrast, had produced a “free trade” even in “goods” that were human beings. The coalition against the slave trade contained no shortage of Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists or Quakers.

Yet the slave trade was integral to the Whig Empire’s capitalist ideology. If slavery were wrong, then something was wrong at a far deeper level. James Edward Oglethorpe, a Jacobite, opposed slavery in Georgia. Anti-slavery Southerners during the American Civil War were called “Tories”.

Radical Liberals were anti-capitalist in their opposition to opium dens, to unregulated drinking and gambling, and to the compelling of people to work seven-day weeks, all of which have returned as features of the British scene./ Catholics, Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers fought as one for the extension of the franchise and for other political reforms.

It was Disraeli, a Tory, who doubled the franchise in response to that agitation. To demand or deliver such change called seriously into question the legitimacy of the preceding Whig oligarchy.

It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of Catholicism, of the Anglo-Catholicism that High Churchmanship mostly became at least to some extent, of the Baptist and Reformed (including Congregational) traditions, and, above all, of Methodism, to the emergence and development of the Labour Movement.

Quakerism and Methodism, especially the Primitive and Independent varieties, were in the forefront of opposition to the First World War, which also produced the Guild of the Pope’s Peace, and which had a following among Anglo-Catholics of either of what were then the more extreme kinds, “English Use” and “Western Use”. Each of those included Jacobites among, admittedly, its many eccentrics.

Above all in Wales, where Catholic sentiment was still widely expressed in the old tongue well into the eighteenth century, Quakers and Methodists had very recently stood shoulder to shoulder with Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists, including Lloyd George, against the Boer War.

Paleoconservatives who would rightly locate the great American experiment within a wider British tradition need to recognise that that tradition encompasses the campaign against the slave trade, the Radical and Tory use of State action against social evils, the extension of the franchise, the creation of the Labour Movement, and the opposition to the Boer and First World Wars.

All of those arose out of disaffection with Whiggery, with the Whigs’ imported capitalist system, with their imported dynasty, and with that system’s and that dynasty’s Empire.

A disaffection on the part of Catholics, High Churchmen (and thus first Methodists and then also Anglo-Catholics, as well as Scottish and therefore also American Episcopalians), Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers and others.

Behind these great movements for social justice and for peace was still a sense that the present British State (not any, but the one then in existence) was itself somehow less than fully legitimate.

In other words, the view that there was ultimately something profoundly wrong about this country and her policies, both domestic and foreign, was a distant echo of an ancestral Jacobitism.

Radical action for social justice and for peace derived from testing the State and its policies against theologically grounded criteria of legitimacy.

It still does.

Let England Speak, Indeed

Try a referendum on an English Parliament.

It would pass in the South East, by rather less in East Anglia, and perhaps in the not too far south-western South West.

But it would not get a third of the vote anywhere else, or a quarter in very many places.

Unknown No More

Rod Dreher writes:

Father Andrew Stephen Damick wonders why Americans are so ignorant of and indifferent to Christians in the Middle East. Excerpts:
I am married to an American of Palestinian ancestry. People sometimes ask me if that means my wife is Muslim. She is not. She is an Orthodox Christian. Her father is an Orthodox Christian. His father was an Orthodox Christian. And so on.

They’re actually not really sure how far back their Christianity goes, but the family originally came from Antioch (which is now in Turkey but was a major Syrian capital in the Roman Empire). 

I once asked when the family became Christian. One of my wife’s relatives answered, “When Jesus rose from the dead.” There’s a good chance that that’s roughly correct.
When the Apostles made their missionary journeys to the uttermost parts of the earth, history doesn’t say that they skipped the rest of the Middle East and headed straight for Europe. No, they immediately began founding Christian communities right in their own neighborhood.

Two major Syrian cities—Antioch and Damascus—figure quite large in early Christian history. They are mentioned in the New Testament. They are still home to Christians.
More:
American Christians’ inability to see Middle Eastern Christians for who they are—not just fellow Christians, but human beings who are suffering and dying—contributes to the marginalization of some of the most persecuted people in the world, hastening their erasure from history.
Read the whole thing. I suppose I can thank Ted Cruz for making me more aware of my responsibilities to these people than I was before he mouthed off.

My friend Peter Lawler worries that I have “obsessed a lot more than is good for [my] our our mental health” about the Cruz speech and what it means. He may be right.

But given the life-or-death stakes for the Middle Eastern Christians, and given how ignorant and/or indifferent Americans are to their presence and their fate, I think we have a long way to go before we can be accused of obsessing too much, or even “obsessing” at all, about this issue.
In case you missed it, here’s Ross Douthat’s final word on the controversy. It’s quite good. Excerpt:
And so yes: In the best of all possible worlds, Maronite and Coptic and Assyrian Christian would indeed all be standing shoulder to shoulder with Israelis (and moderate Muslims) in the struggle against terror.
But in this world, most Middle Eastern Christians are in one of the following three positions relative to Israel:

It’s an occupying power, at best a lesser evil (compared to Hamas) but certainly not a benevolent ally by any reasonable definition of the term; it’s an erstwhile ally which they feel left them to reap the Islamist whirlwind after years of loyal cooperation; or it’s a far-off country with few ways to aid them and which they stand to face a great deal of immediate danger for being associated with in any way.

Combine these positions with the stark reality of ongoing genocide, and I think it should be clear why so many of us think Cruz was wrong to address an audience of Middle Eastern Christians as he did:

Because the propositions he was advancing are a description of how an ideal world might be, not of the world they actually inhabit, and because it’s unreasonable to ask people whose communities are on the knife’s edge of destruction to pay homage to a vision that they either have good historical reasons to dissent from, or feel they cannot endorse for fear of making their own situation worse.
Do not miss Yair Rosenberg’s excellent piece in Tablet about the controversy. He points out that prominent Jews like Ronald S. Lauder and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks have been speaking out against anti-Christian persecution. And the list goes on. We Christians must not forget the witness of these Jewish brothers of ours. Excerpt:

The takeaway from all this should be clear: Whether or not one thinks Cruz was justified in his walkout, the tempest in the tea party over his actions must not be allowed to obscure the pressing plight of Christians in the birthplace of their faith, and our Jewish obligation to stand in solidarity with them.

Ready?

I have been observing the sheer difference of Scotland all my life. But this one takes the biscuit. Rioting because you have won? What? I mean, what?

With the Government wholly committed to the Barnett Formula, which has no statutory basis but which is presumably now to be given one, there is no such thing as a purely English item of parliamentary business.

Every piece of spending in England has effects in Scotland and Wales. "English votes for English laws" cannot, simply as a matter of fact, be done in its own terms. What "English laws"?

Based In Lanchester, County Durham

People have been having some trouble with the Labour Uncut link, so here is my article in full; those who have been able to read it have been very impressed:

There is no West Lothian Question. The Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate supremely in any policy area for any part of the country. It never need do so and the point would still stand, since what matters is purely that it has that power in principle, which no one disputes that it has.

The grievance of England, and especially of Northern and Western England, concerns cold, hard cash. What, then, of those who bellow for an English Parliament to bartenders who cannot follow everyone else and leave the room? They fall into two categories. There are the Home Counties Home Rulers. And there are those wishing to live under the Raj of the Home Counties Home Rulers.

On the one hand are those from the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Their definition of England is the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, or at least a certain idea of that area. Give them something for that, and they would be perfectly happy, at least until the votes started to be tallied up. Everyone gets a vote. Even the people whom they have bawled out.

On the other hand are those from everywhere else. Their definition of England is also the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, or at least a certain idea of that area. Although they are often professionally “local” to elsewhere, especially in Yorkshire but also in pockets of other parts of the country, the basis of their political position has always been that they were a cut above their neighbours.

That made them Conservatives until recently, and it increasingly makes them UKIP supporters. That is who the UKIP supporters in the North and elsewhere are. They were never Labour. That is also the context for the fact that there has been a UKIP MEP in Wales for some years and that there is now a UKIP MEP in Scotland, too.

They may never have elected an MP or even a councillor in their lives, or they may live in the only ward or constituency for miles around where their votes ever elected anyone. But enough MPs were returned from elsewhere to make the Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister. That suited them down to the ground.

Quite wrongly, since it would be run by Labour as often as not, they see an English Parliament in the same terms. Their more numerous and concentrated brethren elsewhere would deliver them from the rule of their neighbours. It is very funny indeed that those brethren think that they are those neighbours.

In 1993, 66 Labour MPs voted against Maastricht, far more than the number of Conservatives who did so. Yet there were far more Conservative than Labour MPs at the time. Of those 66, at least three campaigned for a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum, including that campaign’s chairman, Dennis Canavan.

While it is true that several of those from Wales went on to be among the strongest opponents of devolution, the 66 also included the late John McWilliam, one of the first campaigners for a North East regional assembly.

So much for the dissolution of the United Kingdom as some kind of EU plot, and I write as an inveterate social democratic Eurosceptic and Unionist. If anything, the pressure for that dissolution is a reaction against the effects of Thatcher’s Single European Act, of Maastricht, and of the Stability Pact to which we are pretty much adhering despite not being in the euro. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership looms large.

If there is one group of people to be avoided at all costs, then it is the ones who go on about some EU map with England divided into regions. If anyone had paid any attention to them, then the toothless and Tyneside-dominated regional assembly would have been set up in the North East, purely and understandably in order to spite them.

City regions are what used to be called metropolitan counties, which Thatcher abolished because she did not like Ken Livingstone. No, that never did make any sense. But that was what she did. Similarly, many unitary authorities bear more than a passing resemblance to county boroughs. These things have to keep going around and coming around, in order to justify the salaries of the people who write the research papers.

But since city regions are now to be revived under that name, whatever powers are proposed for them must also extend to a body covering each of those 40 English ceremonial counties which are neither Greater London, nor the City of London, nor any of the former metropolitan counties.

In many cases, the obvious body already exists. Where it no longer does, then that raises the question of why it no longer does. And where, as here in County Durham, the legacy of the last Government is such as would leave that body unbalanced, with existing local government responsibilities for part but not quite all of its area, then that, too, would be called into question. Leading to the restoration of the former district councils.

This promise of significant devolution to rural communities might go some way to making up the support that Labour has been too lazy to build up during this Parliament by properly opposing cuts in those communities’ services, and by selecting strong local campaigning candidates, with or without prior party allegiance.

Whatever the conurbations are getting, as well they might, then so must the counties. The loyally Labour old coal and steel belts of County Durham, South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are among the places that will need to be convinced that our, as often as not Conservative or Lib Dem, urban neighbours quite deserved all of this city regions carry on.

At the very least, we are not having the powers of our own local authorities transferred to them. In fact, since we are fairly populous, we may reasonably demand that whatever they got, then so should we. At least that money and those powers would always be under the control of members of Ed Miliband’s own party.

Will Devo Max really be opposed only by implacable Tory ultras? What about implacable Labour ultras? Or implacable Lib Dem ultras? Labour MPs for Scotland hold the Scottish Parliament in extremely low regard, and they did so even before it fell under the control of the SNP, as it did quite some time ago now.

Labour MPs from the North of England have spent an electoral generation voting powers to Scotland and to Europe, to Wales and to London, to Northern Ireland and to the judiciary, to everyone but themselves or their constituents. It is not as if Scotland has proved loyal to Labour in the way that the North very largely has.

All these years after devolution, Lib Dem MPs see that the Highlands and Islands are the only part of Scotland among the 11 parts of the United Kingdom that are poorer than Poland. Although Cornwall and Devon are both also on that list, as well as both being among those nine out of the 10 poorest parts of Northern Europe which are in this country.

Bringing us to the Barnett Formula, which has been elevated to the status of an article of the Constitution. Lord Barnett has long been on record that it was only ever supposed to last for one year. It is an outrage against social democracy and even against basic justice, being not remotely needs-based.

The canonisation of the Barnett Formula imperils the Union by raising serious questions among the Welsh about why they should bother with a State that treated them so shabbily. Heaven knows, it does no good to the poorest people in Scotland. Their condition is as abject under Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon as is that of their counterparts under David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith.

Labour MPs from Wales and the North of England need to band together with Lib Dems from Wales and the West Country, and indeed from the North of Scotland, so that, perhaps even joined by Plaid Cymru and undoubtedly alongside all parties from Northern Ireland, they might propose a long-overdue replacement, based on need and organised through direct funding to localities without reference the Nationalist nomenklatura in Scotland.

The areas of Scotland that would benefit most from such a new approach are those which suffer most as a result of the old one. Outside the rural Lib Dem strongholds, those are mostly the areas that return devosceptical Labour MPs to Westminster. As much as anything else, this offers the possibility of taking Holyrood seats from the SNP, by correctly presenting it as the party that hordes money away from the communities that need it.

Devo Max will pass. In order to force these concessions in the course of that Bill’s parliamentary progress, there should be 200 votes against it at Second Reading, perhaps even 250, and possibly even 300. There ought to be. But will there be? If not, why not?

With any luck, it now adds, “David Lindsay is a writer and activist based in Lanchester, County Durham.”

Friday, 19 September 2014

Wondering Arameans

Israel seeks to entice the ancient indigenous Christians within her internationally recognised borders, where they are the founders and mainstays of Arabism, to reclassify themselves as Arameans (don't the "Judea and Samaria" lot object to that, and insist that they are the real Arameans?), with a view to serving in the IDF.

The tiniest take-up of this nonsense will be screamed to the skies as a triumph.

But Israel supports the ethnic cleansing of the ancient indigenous Christians, again and not coincidentally the founders and mainstays of Arabism, in Syria and in Iraq, a small number of whom even continue to speak Aramaic as their first language.

Of those Arameans, and of all the Christians in Syria and in Iraq, Israel refuses to accept a single one as a refugee from Islamic State.

Cries From The Heartlands

For all the concentration on Glasgow, the Labour heartlands mostly held up for the Union.

The areas of Lib Dem strength, even those currently with Nationalist MSPs, indicated the extent to which they regarded Holyrood, Westminster and doubtless also Brussels as much of a muchness, to none of which would they ever vote any additional power, even at the expense of one or both of the others.

One underestimates the extent to which the Liberal redoubts of England, Scotland and Wales alike are consciously out of sorts with the politics of the last hundred years.

And the SNP's supposed citadels collapsed. Yes won Dundee by far less than had been expected, while the No votes poured in from Clackmannanshire, Perth and Kinross, Angus, Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Western Isles (delivered in Gaelic, a vote for the Union), and so on.

There are Labour and a few Lib Dems Westminster and Holyrood seats to be held and to be won back. But most of those areas have rarely or never been Labour. They were the heartlands of the old Unionist Party.

Ruth Davidson has had a good war. Reports of the death of Tory Scotland may turn out to have been greatly exaggerated, especially in view of the precise electoral arithmetic of many parts of rural and semi-rural Scotland.

Reports of the death of the SNP, on the other hand, seem more realistic by the hour.

A Poor Exchange

Peter Oborne writes:

Every government has its favourite think tank.

These sometimes shadowy and poorly-defined organisations provide the intellectual muscle and policy guidance which all prime ministers need. Maggie Thatcher favoured the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies, while Tony Blair drew on Demos and the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Policy Exchange has long been David Cameron’s favourite. This organisation has helped to generate some daring ideas, particularly in the field of Whitehall reform.

Its recent chairmen include my colleague Charles Moore (accurately described in July by the writer Ed West as “the spiritual leader of Britain’s 15 million conservatives”) and Lord Finkelstein, the Times Columnist whose writings have a habit of reflecting government thinking with uncanny accuracy.

Now comes the news Policy Exchange has got a new chairman, in the shape of David Frum.

I once spent a day with David Frum in Beirut. We went, in the pouring rain, to the Roman ruins in Baalbek. He was a highly intelligent man and good company, though very dogmatic.

In Beirut he created the strong impression that he had come to the Lebanon to broadcast his own firmly-held opinions, rather than find out what was really happening on the ground.

Obviously we disagreed about almost everything.

Mr Frum is a Republican Party supporter and former speech writer to George W Bush. He was responsible for the notorious phrase in the president's 2002 State of the Union address: “axis of evil”.

This was the speech which set the United States off on its disastrous path of invasion and conquest whose consequences are still being felt today.

This brings me back to David Cameron.

Isn’t it fascinating that the Prime Minister’s favourite think tank should have hired as its new chairman one of the most powerful propagandists for George W Bush’s disastrous war on terror?

What Now?

This. My article for Labour Uncut. Yes, 1500 words, published this morning. Sleep is for separatists.

Gordon Brown is now a part of the Constitution. When he speaks, then that is the policy of all three parties, because he has spoken. Don't expect that to stop after this. Having been struck down, he has become more powerful than those who did so could possibly have imagined.

Is Brown going to propose the Devo Max Bill from the Government Despatch Box? Why not? And it bears his marks, anyway: you can see where he used to jab his pen into it.

In other words, Brown to run the country while Cameron gets to be foppish on the telly. Brown has done this one before.

However, as I conclude in the link above (having begun, "There is no West Lothian Question."):

Devo Max will pass. In order to force these concessions in the course of that Bill’s parliamentary progress, there should be 200 votes against it at Second Reading, perhaps even 250, and possibly even 300. There ought to be. But will there be? If not, why not?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

David Cameron, Watch and Learn

This is what a real Prime Minister looks and sounds like.

A towering political figure from his early thirties (from his mid-twenties in Scotland) until he became Prime Minister, and again now. It is very odd.

The Confidence To Say No

Alex Massie writes:

We hold this truth to be self-evident: we are not an oppressed people. We have some liberty to chart our own course. We are, after all, choosing our path this week.

We do not crave self-determination because we have always had that power. And many others besides that significant liberty. We are a free people.

This is obvious yet also something worth recalling in these final hours.

I have my own reasons for voting No on Thursday and, in truth, they have little to do with very much that has been said by the official Better Together campaign.

But this kind of choice, this kind of referendum, inevitably prods one towards endorsing one team or the other.

It is Rangers or Celtic and, in the end, there’s no room for Partick Thistle or Queens Park or anyone else.

I think, like Peter Jones, that the economic prospectus peddled by the Scottish government is a fantastical, deplorable, deception. At least in the short-to-medium term

 But that’s, perhaps, only what one might expect from a campaign that has to promise the earth. A necessary reason to vote No, you might think, but not necessarily a sufficient one.

So it comes down to mood and feel and gut and heart and all these other intangible prompts. What kind of country are we? What kind of country should we wish to be?

For many Yes voters this is an easy matter.

Scotland is a country; it should be a state too. A simple view, easily-grasped. And not an idiotic one either. 

Yet it does not, in the end, quite persuade me. Perhaps because I don’t much care for borders (while being fiercely partisan towards the Borders).

Perhaps, too, it’s because I see little prospect of my preferred kinds of politics thriving anywhere that I’m unimpressed by appeals to vote this way or ‘tother to advance any specific political end or sentiment. I hanker for a reason to vote that’s bigger, less self-regarding, less-convinced-of-its-own-righteousness, than that.

In any case I can condemn the No campaign’s imaginative deficit without being required to accept the Yes campaign’s rosy-hued alternative. Especially since that alternative is not always so cheerful in any case.

I was reminded of this by reading the Yes campaign’s official twitter feed.

It paints a picture of a land I scarcely recognise. A land half-in-love with the daftest scare stories peddled my the more witless members of the Unionist coalition; a land that too often settled for the comforts of victimhood.

Consider these examples, culled from just the last couple of days.

Here’s Alan Cumming, as promoted by the Yes campaign: Fed up of being told you’re not good enough by people who are not good enough and have failed you?

It is, of course, a neat trick to call for assuming responsibility for your glorious future while absolving yourself of any responsibility for the inadequacies of our present condition.

They have failed You and all that remains is to decide if you wish to be an accomplice to their – and your – failure.

Their failure is so great it even covers those parts of public life – some 60% of state spending, no less – that are the responsibility of the Scottish parliament.

Above all, however, here’s a ressentiment that craves a certain kind of oppression. Who are these people telling Scots they’re not good enough?

Not David Cameron. Not Alistair Darling. Not Gordon Brown. Not even wee Nicky Clegg.

The idea Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid to make a decent fist of independence is almost entirely a myth created and propagated by people who will vote Yes.

It is not a straw man, more of a straw bairn.

Cumming is not alone. Yes Scotland also ask if we are Tired of being told what Scotland can’t do?

Not really, though some of us are tired of being asked to believe that we believe Scotland is some poor and feeble backwater that can never hope to amount to anything.

Tired of it because we know it is not true. Tired of it because we ken fine well that, as the Yes campaign keeps telling us, Scotland is a prosperous country that can, in the long-term, cope with the challenges of independence.

Just as, you know, we can cope with the challenges – and shortcomings – of the Union too.

But what about the future?

Ah: A ‘No’ risks a Tory-UKIP coalition with 49% of the vote. No it doesn’t. Still, good to be reminded of the positive case for independence.

That positivity is infectious: If we vote Yes David Cameron is part of our past. But if we say No he is part of our future.

Don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking the campaign has anything to do with Alex Salmond or even the SNP. That would be personalising the issue and we’ll no be having that.

Of course we don’t object to David Cameron. Only to his views.

After all, Tory views will be welcome in an independent Scotland. They may even be necessary. At the very least the centre-right can look forward to a revival after independence.

We want to run some Tories out of Scotland but others may yet be welcome. So is it the man or his views that are the problem? It is hard to say. Perhaps it’s both? Perhaps it’s his nationality too.

Remember: A Yes vote is not Nationalist or anti-English. It’s our one opportunity.

Of course, though I can’t help but wonder if some Yes votes might be nationalist and a few might be anti-English too.

Meanwhile, admire the optimism of contrasting our one opportunity with the implied pestilential future that awaits us if we vote the wrong way.

Because, you see, Team Westminster doesn’t work for the people of Scotland. Another spin on the victimhood merry-go-round.

Not only do these people – a number of whom may be English – not work for the people of Scotland they very possibly deliberately seek to harm Scots. Other people too, perhaps, but chiefly Scots.

Still: Nationalists? We’re the people’s movement. Which leaves open the question of who are your opponents? Not the people, evidently.

And if they’re not the people, they must be trampling upon the peoples’ hopes.

Not that we are nationalists, of course, merely the voice of the people. Not like those Other people. Though, of course, it’s not about Them and Us. Except when it is.

After all: Scotland must never ever again get governments the majority of us rejected.

Perhaps not, though it depends upon who us is. After all, just as David Cameron was elected on a minority of the vote so was Alex Salmond.

But the rules are the rules and we agree to abide by them.

The democratic-deficit argument is superficially persuasive until you realise is also demands independence for Wales and lord-knows-what for Northern Ireland.

Sure, Scotland is a country but so is the United Kingdom.

So there’s no need to Imagine a country where our leaders are here all the time because we have such a country and it is called the United Kingdom.

In fact, my leaders (if you must call them that) are here all the time in both my countries.

Chafe against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland by all means, imagine a different, more glorious future all you want but at the very least – and it should not be a large thing to ask – recall, just for a second, that your opponents are not motivated by a willingness to sacrifice Scotland or do her down or oppress her or lead her to some kind of dystopian future.

Deep down most Yes voters know this.

Deep down they know that if Scotland is a half-decent place to live today it will remain a half-decent country on Friday even if Scots vote No.

If it is large and smart and rich enough to be independent it is also – must, in fact – be large and smart and rich enough to remain a part of Britain.

Confidence, in other words, is a two-way street and while there are a hundred, even a thousand, reasons to vote Yes or No it remains the case that many Scots are confident enough in our collective future to vote No.

Don’t let them tell you what to do is all very well and good but it rather depends on whom you mean by Them.

We are not a small people and don’t let them persuade you otherwise.

OK?

NATO's Reckless Russia-Baiting

Tim Black writes:

Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, speaking as fighting continues in eastern Ukraine despite the putative ceasefire, clearly knows his audience in the West.

‘[Russian president Vladimir Putin’s] aim is not just to take Donetsk and Lugansk’, he said at the weekend. ‘His goal is to take the entire Ukraine… Russia is a threat to the global order and to the security of Europe.’

This, you see, is the familiar narrative of the conflict propagated in the US and Western Europe: namely that Ukraine is a victim of Russia’s grand imperial designs, of Putin’s desire to resurrect a Russian empire to rival the Soviet version to which he remains stubbornly, fatally in thrall.

As one US magazine put it, ‘the Empire strikes back’.

But these dark-ish, Star Wars-inspired imaginings couldn’t be more misleading.

It’s not Russia’s delusions of empire that are the problem here; rather it’s the confusion of that Western remnant of US imperialism, NATO, that has helped foment the conflict in Ukraine.

Ever expanding its membership eastwards towards the Russian border, showing a willingness to intervene in territories picked almost at random, from Kosovo to Afghanistan, and regularly announcing its intention to ‘promote’ security and stability throughout ‘the globe’, NATO has acted increasingly provocatively and recklessly towards Russia.

And what’s more, it has done so not because it has a clear strategy to ‘encircle’ the old enemy, as some critical commentators have speculated; rather, its two-decades’ worth of hyperactivity is born of a crisis of purpose, an absence of strategy.

Confused about its role, it has had to search for and invent one instead – a process that is now causing havoc in Ukraine.

Up until the 1990s, of course, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was far from confused.

Established in 1949 to forge a cross-Atlantic military alliance between the US, Canada, the UK, France and eight other European states, its reason for being was clear: to contain the putative threat of the Soviet Union.

Over the next 40-odd years, NATO’s role was defined by the Cold War it helped to frame. Consequently, it didn’t really do or change much during that period.

Yes, West Germany joined in 1955. And France left in 1966. But that was about it. It didn’t try to enlarge itself to any great degree, and it didn’t launch any military action. 

The fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Cold War, changed things; it deprived NATO of its reason to be.

Yet – and this is the twist – NATO continued to be.

That is, after the end of the Cold War, after the demise of the threat it was ostensibly set up to ward off, it continued, as a military alliance in want of a purpose.

Over the past 20 years, then, NATO, once a front for US interests, has become a front for working out what exactly US interests are.

And as such, it has become a walking, shooting expression of the profound crisis of purpose that has gripped Western political elites since the demise of the Soviet Union.

Just look at NATO’s reckless, Russia-baiting development over the past couple of decades.

When the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union finally disintegrated, NATO’s role was the subject of high-level talks between Western leaders and Russia.

At the time, then Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev was insistent that ‘any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable’.

From a Russian perspective this was understandable; it didn’t want the US and its allies rolling through the now-defunct Eastern bloc. Aware of Russian anxieties, and not wishing to provoke its long-time adversary, Western leaders agreed.

Then US secretary of state James Baker told Gorbachev in 1990 that ‘there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east’.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister, went further and told his UK counterpart, Douglas Hurd, that NATO should issue a statement saying ‘NATO does not intend to expand its territory to the East’.

By the mid-1990s, however, NATO was not only still in existence – it seemed intent on doing exactly what its leading members had told Russia it was not going to do: expand eastwards.

Speaking at his first NATO summit in 1994, US President Bill Clinton announced that ‘it was no longer a question of whether NATO would enlarge but how and when’.

By 1997, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic had signed up, with Clinton continuing to insist: ‘The bottom line is clear: expanding NATO will enhance our security. It is the right thing to do.’

That last clause is telling: NATO, no longer an anti-Communist protectorate, was redefining its role along new, but vague lines – this was ‘the right thing to do’.

NATO members still talked of the organisation’s role in terms of security, of safety, but the threats were now seen as nebulous and proliferating, and as such, demanded a more active, interventionist orientation.

After all, if the ultimate objective is simply ‘security’, then for as long as there are threats, let alone the infamous unknown unknowns of Donald Rumsfeld, then there needs to be action.

‘We must not fail history’s challenge at this moment’, wrote Clinton in 1997, ‘to build a Europe [that is] peaceful, democratic, and undivided, allied with us to face new security threats of the new century – a Europe that will avoid repeating the darkest moments of the twentieth century and fulfil the brilliant possibilities of the twenty-first.’

So, fresh from interventions in the former Yugoslavia against the Bosnian Serbs in 1994, and then in Kosovo against Serbia in 1999, NATO continued its activist, expansionist trajectory.

This wasn’t a surprise: NATO was no longer justifying itself on the grounds of protecting a limited group of nations against a definite, specific threat; it was justifying itself on the grounds of protecting a rapidly expanding group of nations against an unlimited, indefinite series of threats.

Hot on the heels of the NATO invasion of Afghanistan, former Soviet satellites Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were admitted in 2004, and, in 2009, Croatia and Albania joined.

It wasn’t a surprise when, in an interview in 2010, Ronald Asmus, a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs, voiced what many in the Kremlin already feared.

‘We should be investing more, we should be more present and active on the ground in Ukraine, in Georgia, and all these places’, he said, before adding, ‘without triggering the Russian hyper-reaction’.

A 2012 strategy statement echoed Asmus’s sentiments: ‘[NATO’s] goal of a Europe whole and free, and sharing common values, would be best served by the eventual integration of all European countries that so desire into Euro-Atlantic structures.’

You don’t have to be Vladimir Putin to see the problem such a goal poses to Russia.

NATO’s development has been something of a paradox.

When its role was clear, it did very little. But during the period in which its role has become increasingly unclear, indeed, during the period in which it has been confronted by its own obsolescence, it has done far too much.

Expanding here, and intervening there, it is now, with its promise to integrate Ukraine, almost unwittingly provoking a conflict with Russia.

After all, it is doing so not because it has concrete, material objectives, but because it is trying to answer vague, almost existential questions about its, and by association, the US-led West’s role in the world.

So at last week’s NATO summit in Wales, UK prime minister David Cameron even talked of the crises in Ukraine and Iraq as an opportunity to ‘reinvigorate and refocus’ the alliance.

Continuing this rather introspective, navel-gazing theme, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that ‘Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a wake-up call’, a prompt for NATO-allied nations ‘to reconsider defence investment because it’s now obvious that we cannot take our security for granted’.

The immediate result of such feelgood posturing will be a 4,000-strong rapid-reaction force based in ‘Eastern Europe’ ‘to reassure existing members near Russia that the principle of collective defence remains sacrosanct’.

So much for the ceasefire.

Having poked and prodded Russia for the past two decades, offering invitations to its one-time allies to join the West’s military club, it sometimes seems as if NATO is intent on reinvigorating that old Red-hued enmity. 

But that is to give NATO too much credit.

It is NATO’s quest for its own purpose, which, having mutated into an unlimited, interminable demand for security and safety, has led it almost unthinkingly into a confrontation with Russia.

It is blundering rather than belligerent; clueless rather than calculating.

And that, in many ways, is far more dangerous.

Mainstream and Mainline


What is there to add to the extremely rich vein of commentary elicited by Ted Cruz’s  shameless Israel lobby pandering at a Washington forum intended to call attention to the plight of Mideast Christians in the age of ISIS?

The pieces by Ross Douthat, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and the several posts by Rod Dreher say a great deal of what needs to be said, making many points I would likely never have thought of.
One takeaway from the controversy, which continues to reverberate around the conservative blogosphere, is how many socially conservative/Christian/Republican-leaning thinkers have sensed, perhaps for the first time in their relatively young careers, how morally flawed is the entire Christian Zionist/McCainist/Commentary/Washington Free Beacon/Likudnik group, whose views have long driven “mainstream” conservative foreign-policy opinion in Congress and the GOP presidential primaries.

I think this may grow into an important schism on the right, one that weakens neoconservatism, to the Republican Party’s long-term benefit.

I don’t want to ascribe views to people who don’t necessarily have them, but when I see young conservatives reacting viscerally against the tweets from the Breitbart site and other movement conservatives, tweets putting scare quotes around the word “Christian” in order to denigrate the Mideast patriarchs and bishops and other figures who attended the gathering, attacking them because they failed some sort of “stand with Israel” litmus test, it feels like a kind of Kronstadt moment.

This sentiment also comes when I see the disgust felt when Weekly Standard editor Lee Smith implies that Mideast Christians are simply a kind of ISIS lite.

I witnessed personally a comparable repulsion a year or so ago, when an old friend, long a prudently neocon-friendly author and Wall Street Journal writer, reacted to the smearing of Chuck Hagel by the same group.

It’s as if the Israel lobby has grown so accustomed to the deference accorded it by everyone else in the American political system, it has lost any sense of its own limits.
Still there are other points to be made.

Several of Cruz’s critics responded as if the Mideast Christians who came to the gathering deserved a sort of indulgent understanding for their lack of enthusiasm for Cruz’s admonition that Israel is their greatest friend.

It was sometimes noted as historical fact that most Palestinian Christians live under Israeli occupation, and that others were ethnically cleansed by Israel in 1948; that the Lebanese Christians had once been Israel’s allies, which had not worked out well for them: in other words, all these groups had understandable excuses for their chilliness towards Israel.

These Christians are, according to this discourse, genuinely vulnerable—they can be forgiven for not loving Israel. But this argument—and there are elements of it in most of the conservative pieces which chastized Cruz—scants the fact that Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestine is also opposed, often quite publicly and with increasing energy, by ever growing numbers of non-Mideast Christians.
I wonder if Cruz would similarly walk out and denounce Pope Francis as an anti-Semite, considering the new Pope visited the Holy Land and expressed his wishes for dignity and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians and said a prayer outside the Israeli wall that severs Bethlehem from neighboring Jerusalem and has largely rendered the town of Jesus’s birth a walled off ghetto.

(The Israeli right went into conniptions about the Pope’s visit, with the incomparable Caroline Glick accusing the Pope of licensing “Holocaust denial” by his prayer at the Bethlehem separation wall.)

If there is an argument that the Pope, with his stand in support of peace and dignity for both peoples in the Holy Land, is some kind of outlier among Catholics, I have not yet heard it.
Then there are the Presbyterians, who last summer voted to divest from several American companies profiting from the Israeli occupation, and the United Methodists, who nearly did so two summers before and are edging towards a successful divestment vote in good time.

These are mainstream and mainline American Protestants, not the historic peace churches.

Lutheran World Service runs a hospital in Jerusalem, designed to serve Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, that is engaged in a constant tension with the Israeli authorities who want to isolate it from the population it is meant to serve.

One could go on: consideration of the European or South American churches would hardly alter this analysis.
Simply put, the Mideast Christians who gathered in D.C. to express their fears and ask for support when threatened by an inflamed Muslim fundamentalism are—in their nuanced attitudes toward Israel—far more representative of Christian opinion as a whole than is the belligerent Christian Zionism expressed by Ted Cruz.
Finally, I see that one avenue of response to Rod Dreher in Commentary is to tar him with association with the views of other TAC writers, including yours truly, who are accused of “clear anti-Israel bias.”

I probably should resist taking this as an invitation to respond, but I won’t, and my guess is that Rod, who is surely less cool towards present day Israel than I am, might welcome some clarification from his colleagues.
Generally my own view of Israel and Palestine is summed up (more pithily than I would be capable of) by Bradley Burston in a recent Haaretz piece:
If somebody tells me that Israel alone should keep the West Bank and East Jerusalem forever because God said so—or even “Just because it’s ours”—my feeling is: This is this person’s honest belief. I don’t share it, by any means. But I respect it as true faith, without an effort to whitewash, misdirect, or misrepresent.
I feel the same way about the opposite side. When someone, usually someone Jewish, says that in their view, there should be no State of Israel because it’s an illegitimate, militarized ethnocracy, I appreciate their candor in spelling out what they want to see, and I respect as an expression of true conviction their telling me what they want to see politically or otherwise euthanized. Even if it’s me.
In that spirit, I make no special claims for my desire to see—and my perhaps messianic belief in the possibility of—partition of the Holy Land into two independent states: Israel and Palestine.
Burston uses these words as a prelude to exposing the dishonesty in a recent piece by Elliot Abrams that attempts to whitewash Israeli settlement building.

But his overall perspective is one I share: that is, I believe in the two-state solution as the most likely way to deliver peace and dignity to Israelis and Palestinians.

I am not sure how I would have felt in 1947 and 1948, but I suppose there is good chance I would have believed as Truman did, that establishing a Jewish state in Palestine would be the source of unending religiously-based strife.

He hoped for some kind of non-faith-based federation that might accommodate Jewish refugees and the Palestinian Arabs then living there. I might also have agreed with George Marshall and other members of the American diplomatic establishment who opposed American support for the creation of Israel for strategic reasons.

Truman eventually threw up his hands and let domestic politics trump his ethical and strategic concerns, which he in any event had no plausible way to forge into policy.
The American diplomats who feared the consequences flowing from the establishment of Israel have been proved partly right, partly wrong.

At this point, that’s water under the bridge: the question is how to seek the greatest measure of peace and justice now and in the future.
In the past 20 years, I have had to recognize that the possibility of a two-state solution has receded dramatically—from, I would estimate, probably more than 60 percent to less than 20 percent.

For this I hold successive Israeli governments far more responsible than the Palestinians.

The latter have revised the PLO charter to recognize Israel, and most of their leaders have told their people and behaved as if they they wanted to build a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza.

The major Arab countries formally put forth a peace initiative in 2002, reaffirmed five years later, offering Israel full diplomatic recognition in return for giving up the occupied territories.

For their efforts, and for America’s long-term diplomatic campaign to cajole the Palestinians into accepting a small state on the 22 percent remainder of historic Palestine, Israel has responded by building settlements and more settlements on the remaining land, slicing it up in non-contiguous cantons, divided by military checkpoints, armed settlements, and Israeli-only roads.

In the process Israelis have elected a right-wing government formally pledged to deny Palestinans a state on the West Bank. In other words occupation now, occupation tomorrow, occupation forever—that is Israel’s current policy.

At the same time, Israel has ignored, refused even to acknowledge, the Arab peace initiative, refused even to discuss it.

Have these developments over the past 20 years influenced my opinion of Israel? Of course they have.

Have they changed my sense of the two-state solution? Well, it certainly seems unlikely, but I’m not sure of a better answer.
There’s another, more self-interested, part of my overall view.

As someone concerned with foreign policy, I cannot help but note that Israel’s self-proclaimed friends in America, and often Israeli officials themselves, play a very large role in lobbying for American to fight wars in the Middle East.

They did so in Iraq—after 9/11, Israeli officials flooded the American media talking about the necessity of destroying the government of Iraq, complementing the efforts of their friends at Commentary and The Weekly Standard.

They got their wish, as they often do—and the destruction of Iraq played no small role stirring up the potentially genocidal crisis Mideast Christians face today.

And now the Israelis are doing it again, trying to foment an American war with Iran.

I understand that Israel feels it to be in its own national interest to have a regional monopoly on nuclear weapons. But I don’t think it’s an American national interest to fight continuous wars to maintain Israel’s monopoly.

So this too makes me less warm towards Israel than I was 20 or 30 years ago.
Of course there are many kinds of Israelis. I’ve taken two trips to Israel and have met quite a few—liberal Zionists is probably the most accurate term—who are actively striving towards a just peace with the Palestinians and believe in an Israel in which the country is fully integrated, peacefully, into its region.

They are, regrettably, a minority in Israel now, and perhaps they never had much influence.

But for me they represent an extremely attractive side of Zionism—sophisticated, broad-minded, non-bigoted people, often possessed of extraordinary courage, energy, and talents.

When I think of being supportive of Israel, they are people I would happily support, and I do and will continue to do.

Others are free to their opinions whether this view constitutes “bias” against Israel or makes me an “anti-Zionist.”

It is certainly based on on far more reading, knowledge, and personal experience with the Mideast than went into the presumably “unbiased” view I held 20 or more years ago, when I was a neoconservative in good standing and a fairly regular contributor to Commentary.