My favourite books of 2016

There are some chaps who are no good for anything but books. I plead guilty to being such a chap. EM Forster, A Room With A View

Indeed. Here are ten books I particularly appreciated this year – though not necessarily published in 2016 – listed in alphabetical order. I reviewed quite a few of them for various online magazines, and where applicable have provided links to the versions archived on this site.

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Zionism, anti-Semitism and the Left

How can political progressives who have dedicated their careers to principled opposition to racism possibly be guilty of anti-Semitism, one of history’s darkest and most ancient forms of discrimination?

The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism by Dave Rich is a lucid and sensitive exploration of how well-intentioned anti-racism can nonetheless generate specifically left-wing expressions of this most protean of prejudices.

The book could not be more timely. Dozens of Labour members have been suspended in the course of the party’s ongoing anti-Semitism row, including prominent figures such as Ken Livingstone, MP Naz Shah and Momentum Vice-Chair Jackie Walker. The long-standing association of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell with anti-Zionist movements continues to be subject to forensic scrutiny, and Jewish support for the party has plummeted.

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Seventeen horizons

There is nothing here that I haven’t photographed many times, and shared on this blog and elsewhere.

But this week I had the opportunity to view the Sea of Galilee from a different perspective – from the middle of the lake itself during a brief boat trip.

Once again, of course, I attempted to capture something of the light through a hundred photos. The overwhelming impulse is to want to simply step into the blue, as with a Rothko painting.

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Blue and gold

No photograph can capture the luminous light here, an intense blue and gold. A couple of days ago I drove along the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, across from Tiberias.

Here are images of the lake, the Golan, and a lookout that affords a wonderful view of the north shore, the little strip of land where most of the Gospel stories are set.

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One land, two states

Sometimes it may only be possible to solve an impossible problem by proposing an impossible solution.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a question that by definition appears to have no answer: two peoples, each wanting their own state, on the same small land, which – after some 70 years of diplomatic stalemate – it seems they are not willing to share.

Since moving to Israel some six months ago I’ve made my way through a number of tomes analysing the dispute (there are only a few hundred remaining on my list), read hundreds of commentaries, news reports and blog posts, and been fortunate to be able to hear quite a few viewpoints firsthand, from both Israelis and Palestinians.

Sadly, the voices I tend to find most persuasive are also the most pessimistic: those with a sure grasp of the conflict’s tortured history, capable of imaginative sympathy for each side’s narrative, and unsentimental about their mutual capacity trust and compromise. The best of what I’ve read and heard recognises and presents fairly the issues of existential importance to both sides, issues that any conceivable solution must acknowledge and seek to navigate.

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