Your Guide to Israel’s General Election

Originally posted at Slugger O’Toole

Israel goes to the polls on St Patrick’s Day to elect a new parliament, which in turn will either confirm incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu in office or oust him in favour of the centre-left. The St Patrick’s Day connection? If Netanyahu loses, he will be replaced by a man whose father was born in Belfast’s Clifton Park Avenue and whose grandfather was Chief Rabbi of Ireland.

Polls indicate that it will be a close run thing, with 11 lists, many covering multiple parties, likely to win seats and small shifts in votes making particular coalitions possible or impossible.

Israel is a country that everyone has an opinion on but few have a working knowledge of its politics. So, why not be one of the educated few and show off your expertise the next time you’re involved in an argument in the pub about the Middle East? Crash through the [too long:don’t read] barrier with me as I look at what Israelis are voting on, why they’re voting at all, and take a tour d’horizon of the bewilderingly complex Israeli party system. Continue reading

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Two Tribes, The Winds of Change and an old man’s death

Konstantin_Chernenko

Originally posted at Slugger O’Toole

30 years ago today a man only moderately old died in an élite Moscow hospital; he had smoked incessantly for six of his seven decades and drank heavily for five, and after years of mounting illness, his liver, lungs and heart had all given in. His name was Konstantin Chernenko and he had, for 13 months, been the leader of one of the world’s two superpowers, and he was a gravely ill man for all of that time. Never in history had such a mighty realm had such an anonymous tyrant.

Chernenko’s life started six years before the birth of the world’s first Socialist state and ended seven years before its doom. When he was born as the son of an impoverished miner in smalltown Siberia in what was still the Empire of the Tsars, it would have been unthinkable that he might end up heading up an empire with military might and global reach beyond any Tsar’s wildest imaginings.

For ambitious men from proletarian backgrounds, born in the decades before the First World War, the establishment of Soviet power was a tremendous boon. With the children of the aristocracy and liberal intelligentsia suspect on class grounds, and the peasantry being only slightly less suspect and considerably less educated, the correct proletarian origins provided a lottery ticket to promotion in the expanding middle bureaucracy of the burgeoning Soviet state. Khrushchev and Brezhnev were from similar stock. Young Konstantin joined the Communist Party’s youth wing in 1929 and never looked back, aided by the elimination of countless older and more capable rivals in the madness of the Great Purge and desperation of the Great Patriotic War.

At the time of Chernenko’s appointment in 1984, the USSR seemed to be imperious in its power – secure domestically and in its Eastern European satellites, still glowing in Indo-China after the relatively recent defeat not only of the United States, but the Khmer Rouge and China in succession, and adding new loyal satellites from Afghanistan to Nicaragua. Solidarity had been crushed in Poland. Soviet SS-20s menaced London and Paris – this was the era of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Two Tribes. Soviet misreading of NATO’s Operation Able Archer exercises in 1983 and shooting down of Korean Air Flight 007 saw the world stare over the edge of a nuclear precipice. Continue reading

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Lent

James Tissot, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, c. 1890.

James Tissot, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, c. 1890.

What am I giving up for Lent? I’m going to try giving up cynicism and unhappiness.

Cynicism is worn as a badge of maturity in 2010s Britain. To dare to be optimistic, to dare to hope, is a sign of being a tragically naïve mug; and there’s nothing worse in our oh-so-sophisticated-and-worldly culture than being naïve. Actually things can and do get better; wrongs are often righted and the mistreated ultimately vindicated, often when their cause seemed utterly lost. People do choose to be good and kind and selfless, rather than being mean-spirited and grasping, and they do it all the time. The public narrative that everybody is only out for themselves isn’t just wrong, it’s damaging: if we are convinced that we live in a selfish world then we begin to conceive of living kindly and generously as a dangerous act of rebellion rather than the stance that makes us happiest.

I’m going to spend Lent trying to see the best in people, in institutions, and goodness help me in the run up to a General Election, even in politicians. Call me naïve, but I don’t think there’s anything sophisticated in thinking everyone is heartless and shallow and selfish (except of course for deep and meaningful me). It’s actually incredibly juvenile. How come the material and sexual liberation of the past half-century has made us regress into being grown up teenagers? Continue reading

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Flegs and Anthems

Originally posted on Slugger O’Toole…

On The RoadI was interested to note the Union Flag carefully positioned immediately beside Belfast PUP Councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnson for her interview with BBC NI’s The Viewrecently. “On one hand they tell us the British identity of Northern Ireland citizens is under threat”, she thundered, “whilst at the same time denying British citizens like me access to British laws and British rights.” The openly lesbian Corr Johnson was objecting to the DUP campaign for a ‘religious opt-out’ to equality laws for same-sex couples.

It was interesting, because in Northern Ireland flags aren’t usually identified as symbols of equality or human rights. In particular, those most likely to consider the Union Flag an important political symbol have traditionally been those in Northern Ireland least likely to support gay rights; on gay pride marches, neither Union Flags nor Tricolours are to be seen at all. In that context, Corr Johnson’s positioning of herself with the flag was an interesting and clever subversion of the accepted political order. I’m a Unionist and a Loyalist too, Corr Johnson was saying, and actually people like me are the ones committed to actual British values, not the DUP and TUV.

That sort of cultural positioning and visual imagery is common in the United States, where the flag and Constitution seem to outsiders almost to be objects of worship. Over there, claiming a share in the flag is now a core strategy of not just LGBT activists, but minority activists in general. Was it always thus? Continue reading

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Gay Life in NI if the Conscience Clause Were Enacted

Originally posted on Slugger O’Toole…

It was a summer Friday in 2008, and we were in a provincial town West of the Bann. Jordin Sparks was Number 1 and Ian Paisley’s tenure as leader of Our Wee Country had ended a few weeks before. We’d planned a day trip, but we’d ended up exploring a bit further than expected. It was chilly for June, but the showers from earlier had cleared into that gorgeous, soft, summer evening light that is the thing I miss most from home.

Why drive all the way back to Belfast, we thought? Why not check into a B&B for the evening, have a nice meal out, and explore even further the next day? I had just bought my first car. I could drive with L plates as long as he was in the passenger seat. I’d never driven so far before. It was all very exciting.

The local tourist office helpfully supplied some numbers, and the first number we called was very keen to let us a double room, and we were very keen on the price. There was no rush, so we’d be along in a few hours’ time. After a bit more sightseeing and church crawling, we arrived at our lodgings for the evening.

Our hostess was very definitely a West of the Bann Protestant lady of a certain age and social standing. When I said I was the Mr. Lynch who’d booked the double room a few hours before, she looked positively alarmed.

“Now, you asked for a double room”, she says, dispensing with any pleasantries, “but it’s really a twin room you want, isn’t it?”

No, I insist, we really do want the double room we’d booked. Continue reading

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CONVERSION EXPERIENCE: A poem for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

CONVERSION EXPERIENCE

Voice and light that left him blinded,
     Lashed him like a cattle prod.
“That you do for me is evil!
     That you thought the devil, God!”
‘Did I really intrigue murder?’ –
     Pride that led to such a fall!
Sin in haste, shed tears at leisure,
     O such sorrow, poor St. Paul.

North wind gusts from the Cathedral,
     Through the ring road traffic queue.
Thronging crowds for Sunday shopping,
     Those who cross the church door, few.
Why on earth am I so stupid?
     How could this be true at all?
Do I really think the same as
     Stupid bigots like St. Paul?

Poisoned planet filled with violence,
     While we, yawning, watch TV.
Do we really call this ‘progress’,
     As we laud on bended knee
Self-improvement, home improvements,
     Mammon, iPods and the mall.
Blanking out the hungry billion*,
     Who are we to judge St. Paul?

“As you did it for the lowest!”
     Says the maker of the spheres;
“When you let her die, you kill me!”
     Is it that our era fears?
God the execution victim,
     Refugee born in a stall –
Then, like now, it seemed too silly.
     Follow Christ, still, like St Paul.

* According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, 870 million people are chronically undernourished. This is almost exactly the same as the total population of the European Union, the United States, Canada and Australia combined.

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Thoughts on Bishops who won’t Ordain Women

Philip NorthToday it was announced that Philip North, Vicar of Old St Pancras in London and a prominent member of Traditionalist Anglo-Catholic group Forward in Faith, is to be the new Bishop of Burnley. He is, therefore, someone who will not receive the sacramental ministry of women priests and bishops. Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of Glasgow, has objected to Philip’s appointment on social media today. Although Kelvin is someone I have a lot of regard for and agree on a lot of things with, I simply can’t agree with him here.

For what it’s worth, I am and always have been a supporter of the full inclusion of women in the Church’s threefold orders of ministry. It is one of the main reasons why I moved from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism 17 years ago. I rejoice that I think I can reasonably expect to see a woman as Archbishop of Canterbury well within my working lifetime. More than that, I don’t find remotely convincing either the ecumenical or the ontological arguments on which Traditionalist Anglo-Catholic opposition to women’s ordination rest. But I still don’t agree with Kelvin.

Quite apart from the personal regard in which I hold Philip, there are four significant reasons why. The first and last are specifically related to the current situation in the Church of England, and therefore may not apply so directly to Kelvin’s context. The middle two are, I think, universal. Continue reading

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