Ian McEwan on Israel: “a self-evident injustice”

Author attacks the nihilism of the suicide bomber and the nihilism of the occupation.

After the controversy, the speech. The British author Ian McEwan had been urged first not to accept the Jerusalem Prize for literature and second not to attend the awards ceremony. McEwan did both, but during his acceptance last night he acknowledged that he "couldn't escape the politics of my decision".

He used the opportunity – before an audience that included Israel's president, Shimon Peres – to attack "a great and self-evident injustice".

In the most overtly political passage of his speech, McEwan dwelt on the destructive nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. First, he said:

Hamas, whose founding charter incorporates the toxic fakery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has embraced the nihilism of the suicide bomber, of rockets fired blindly into towns, and embraced the nihilism of an extinctionist policy towards Israel.

Before adding:

[It] was also nihilism that fired a rocket at the undefended Gazan home of the Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish in 2008, killing his three daughters and his niece. It is nihilism to make a long-term prison camp of the Gaza Strip. Nihilism has unleashed the tsunami of concrete across the occupied territories.

McEwan attacked the "continued evictions and demolitions, and relentless purchases of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the process of right of return granted to Jews but not Arabs". He concluded:

These so-called "facts on the ground" are a hardening concrete poured over the future, over future generations of Palestinian and Israeli children who will inherit the conflict and find it even more difficult to resolve than it is today, more difficult to assert their right to self-realisation.

The author is donating his prize money (around £6,000) to Combatants for Peace, an organisation that brings together Israeli ex-soldiers and Palestinian ex-fighters. These ex-combatants go about in pairs, speaking in public to make the case that there can be no military solution to the conflict.

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Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.