Letters: March 2024

The readers—including Ruth Deech, Ian Paul and Mike Hollingsworth—respond to our Winter Special edition

January 24, 2024
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A disgraceful tradition

In his rancorous survey, Avi Shlaim effectively concludes that Israel may not defend its citizens and should stand by to allow more kidnap, rape and brutal murder. He gives credence to the argument that, if you are genuinely an occupying power, you must by definition be in effective control of the territory and thus be responsible for the welfare of the population.

The premise, however, is false. Israel ceased to be an occupying power when it pulled out of Gaza under Ariel Sharon. Unfortunately, many countries—the UK included—have given credibility to this false premise by caving in to Palestinian political pressure and accepting that Gaza remained occupied even after 2005. By doing so, they have gifted Hamas with an excuse that it has relentlessly exploited in its propaganda: “Gaza is still occupied and the suffering of Palestinians has nothing to do with us”. For example, Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior member of the terrorist group, has declared that although Hamas rules Gaza it is not responsible for protecting the Strip’s civilians. The vast tunnel network underneath the enclave is, he says, only for the protection of Hamas personnel. 

Ultimately, much of the thinking on this issue is just another route to the two key propositions that many feel compelled to affirm: first, that violence (against Jews) has a justification; and second, that the victims (Jews) are not permitted to defend themselves. From the New Testament in the Middle Ages to the Geneva Conventions nowadays, many holy, legal or philosophical texts have been misread to provide support for these two propositions. Shlaim, albeit an Israeli and an historian, is sadly a victim and a perpetrator of this tradition.

Ruth Deech, House of Lords


Avi Shlaim’s article is a devastating demolition of Israel’s actions and intentions. With a powerful mix of anger and intellect, he exposes the disaster of Netanyahu and the settler ambitions he represents. 

The violence of the assault on Gaza is difficult to witness, even from a distance, without despair at the impact on ordinary people and the cities they lived in. If Shlaim’s conclusion about what is needed to resolve the conflict is (consciously) over optimistic, this is not because it is not desirable but because of the magnitude of the change in the mindsets on both sides which would be required for it to work.

Unfortunately, the atrocities carried out by Hamas have massively reduced the likelihood of such a change. Shlaim underplays the impact of 7th October across the entire political spectrum in Israel. Many of those killed in the kibbutzim near the Gaza border were actively committed to partnership with Palestinians and a two-state solution. They were as far from the ideology of settler-colonists as could be. But some Israelis who have spent whole careers working for peace may now find it difficult to contemplate working with the Palestinians. Maybe this is a short-term response to the shock that will pass, but it goes deep.

Prominent activist David Shulman, who continues to work tirelessly with Palestinians to challenge the occupation of the West Bank and is second to none in his condemnation of Netanyahu, insists that “it is important to put an end to the Hamas hold on power” in Gaza. No one, he says, “should make the mistake of thinking… that the Hamas terrorists are some kind of freedom fighters.” Shlaim may be right that in international law there is no right of defence against a territory you occupy, but this sort of legalistic argument hardly meets the violence and depravity meted out by Hamas.

Israel bears a huge responsibility for the current crisis but so, also, does Hamas. True peace is inconceivable under the current Israeli leadership, as it is if Hamas makes the running on the Palestinian side. If there is one possible positive outcome of this horrible mess it might be a loss of credibility on the part of both. 

Richard Crockatt, Aylsham


Excellent article. There has been a huge reluctance in the west to write accurate, factual articles which highlight what is really happening. International pressure must be applied to stop the current military operation by Israel, or there will be no habitable [part] of Gaza remaining.

Caroline, via the website


Taste malfunction

How sad that the first thing I noticed when opening Prospect this month was a misprint. Suella Braverman in the upmarket quadrant?

David Watkins, Bournemouth


Cost of cuts

I wish small-state obsessives like Kemi Badenoch would clarify a few things when they say stuff like this: “[We] can only deliver lower taxes if we stop pretending that the state [can] continue to do everything we are currently trying to do. We need to recognise that it’s not just a matter of doing the same with less.”

First, which taxes would they cut and who would benefit—everyone (if so how?) or just the wealthiest? Second, what evidence do they have that these lower taxes would be good for the country as a whole if it cannot provide the society that people want to live in? Third, specifically which things would their small state stop doing—would it slash benefits, the state pension, social care? What services exactly would they cut?

Fourth, and finally, when the small state withdraws from all these areas, what then? Who will fill the gaps, and how—and if the gaps are not filled, who will deal with the social fallout, the increased domestic abuse, the falling life expectancy, the impoverished children, the sick and the elderly?

Huw Sayer, via the website


Reading Matthew d’Ancona’s article about Kemi Badenoch, I was quite surprised to find the following passage: “Badenoch has had to think hard about the potential impact upon her husband Hamish, now a senior executive at Deutsche Bank, whom she married in 2012, and their three young children. Even with her current responsibilities, she has little time for family life, more closely resembling Margaret Thatcher in her round-the-clock dedication to work than David Cameron…”

I was disappointed to see a female MP who is rising the ranks of a major political party described this way in your magazine in 2023. I can’t imagine that David Cameron’s responsibility for his young children was often speculated about as he rose to power. Rishi Sunak is the father of two school-aged children and I am yet to see questions about how much time he has for family life.

I don’t defend Badenoch because I am a particular fan of hers, but I thought we had endeavoured to move on from asking these types of “but what about the children?” questions of our female politicians. 

Abby Ross, via email

A changing church

Well done Alice Goodman! As Cardinal Newman suggested, how can we be sure that the Christianity of today is the same religion as that envisioned and developed by Jesus Christ and the apostles? Unless you are blindly text-centric, doctrine is always evolving. As poet and songwriter Sydney Carter put it, “Your holy hearsay is not evidence, give me the good news in the present tense.” 

We have to engage with new understandings in culture, in language, in science and so on in dialogue with our best understandings of the mission of Jesus, “that they might have life in all its fullness.”

Ian Stubbs, via the website


It is great to see that priests in the Church of England have already experienced more freedom of conscience, not only to pastorally affirm and welcome same-sex couples but to be able to offer “prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and for God’s blessing for same-sex couples”, as the bishops proposed. 

The Church is not alone. Several churches within the global Anglican Communion have already approved either blessings for same-sex couples after a civil marriage or civil partnership or chosen to legally perform the same-sex marriages themselves.

JC, via the website


It is clear why this is important for the people involved, and for Alice. There are three difficulties here, though. First of all, the decision not to put the words “gay”, “marriage” and “blessing” together in the prayers was deliberate. That formulation is not what the General Synod—the Church’s legislative body—voted for.

Secondly, the Church of England has a doctrine of marriage, and it is expressed in Canon law (which is also the law of the land) and its liturgy. No clergy have the authority to edit that to suit their own ends.

Thirdly, Alice took a public vow, stating she believed the doctrine of the Church—including on marriage—and that she would faithfully uphold, teach and expound it, and offer it as a model for others to follow. Does this vow, made in a cathedral before clergy and congregation, now mean so little? 

Ian Paul, via the website


Simply ask yourself what Jesus would have done. Where he would have been. Which action he would have approved of. Me? I’m willing to face God for loving and accepting people too much. I feel that’s better—and far more likely to be forgiven!—than the alternative.

As for what God would say about rejecting people simply because of hierarchical rules…

Gillian Wallace, via the website


Modest means

As an American who became a British citizen while living in London over the last 25 years, I’ve thought about this issue quite a lot. One cause, I believe, is that although the Brits are brilliant at the research and development phase of commercial development, they seem incapable of achieving economies of scale with their discoveries. Startups get sold off to foreign firms who end up reaping the profits of the idea’s global application... 

Then, of course, there’s the left-­leaning bent of the cultural elite—and most of the population at large—who eye with suspicion and almost loathing anyone who doesn’t assume or affect a humble persona, whatever their accomplishments… This is an attitude that doesn’t foster wealth creation.

Joseph DiProspero, via the website


Bad press

Well said Mr Rusbridger. But you will get short shrift for saying it, because one thing is certain—they can dish it out but they can’t take it. 

Morgan’s pathetic denials of everything a High Court judge said—remarks that were already obvious to many of us—only serve to underline the fact that truth has gone out of the window in a substantial part of the Fleet Street media. There must be a renewed campaign to start Leveson Two and a robust exposure of the crimes of those who, so far, have gotten away with ruining many people’s lives without reprisal.

As a journalist, I strongly regret what has happened to my profession—and the way in which the press are not happy until they destroy all manner of people in public and private life in the pursuit of profit for their paymasters.

Mike Hollingsworth, via the website


Building balance

Rowan Moore perpetuates the misleading habit of referring to those who oppose housing developments as “Nimbies”, as if such opposition is entirely self-centred and all about “Not in My Back Yard”. He writes of a binary struggle between “those who would benefit from new homes and those who want as little change as possible to their views of the countryside.”

That this is an unhelpful oversimplification is clear from Moore’s acknowledgement elsewhere in his article that the big house-building companies prefer to provide lucrative private homes that often do not correspond to priority needs, that much new housing is mediocre and that “the limiting of sprawl and the protection of the countryside are huge successes of the British planning system.” Those successes owe a great deal to the active local citizens who care about those goals, and fight for what they believe is the public interest against inappropriate commercial development applications year in, year out. Dismissing them as Nimbies is inaccurate and insulting.

Moore writes that modern nimbyism has travelled very far from the postwar sense of being all in it together, but the protection of the English countryside featured in wartime propaganda precisely because feelings for it ran so deep; and the cause continues to engender a great sense of national togetherness among those who are determined to maintain our heritage, whether they live in city, town, village or hamlet.

Andrew Purkis, former chief executive, Council for the Protection of Rural England


That’s cricket

After reading about depressing news and events it was a joy to come across Michael Brearley’s thoughts on cricket’s cultural contribution to life.

His account of the ingenious dismissal of Aussie batsman Graeme Wood at Adelaide stirred happy teenaged memories of watching Brearley’s cricketing brain at work. His ability to unpick opponents’ minds was without equal. It was also pleasant to read about how the game’s nuances have captured the imagination of those not naturally drawn to cricket.

I was surprised by the reference to the greats Viv Richards and Shane Warne inspiring each other, since as far as I am aware they did not face one another in test, state or county cricket, but I must take Brearley at his word.

David Rimmer, Hertfordshire


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