British Journalist Melanie Phillips made a powerful appearance on Israeli TV. She claims critics of Israel’s policies are lying, brainwashed or ignorant. But do her own arguments stand up to scrutiny?
British Journalist Melanie Phillips was interviewed several weeks ago on Israeli TV. In a powerful appearance, she blasted Israel’s critics, and claimed the government was ineffective in engaging them before foreign audiences. But are her own claims as compelling as her style? Ami Kaufman forwarded me a list of questions asked by someone who was quite impressed, and I think these questions merit an answer.
Does the Arab and Muslim “propaganda” spread lies around the world?
Yes, it occasionally does. However, Phillips seems to argue that everything or most of what Palestinians and Muslims say is a lie. That position is both outrageous and silly. Although the IDF has been caught in many falsehoods, I will not automatically dismiss everything it says. Indeed, human rights organizations base much of their criticism regarding Israeli policy on information supplied by the Israeli government itself. One has to adopt a healthy measure of skepticism in regards to claims of both sides.
Is Israel absent from the field of spreading information and convincing people about its cause?
There are certainly many groups that Israel has failed to convince (and the occupation, after all, is not an easy sell). However, Israel is one of the largest recipients of foreign aid in the world, despite being a relatively wealthy nation. It has favored relations with the EU, recently joined the OECD, sells weapons to China and India. It is certainly not treated as a Pariah state. Even if the British intelligencia is critical of Israel, its animosity is clearly overshadowed by the support of much more powerful groups. The Palestinians, I think, would gladly trade their supporters for Israel’s.
Has the proposal for a two state solution been on the table for nine decades?
No. That is either a clumsy error or an outright lie. The first serious proposal for a two state solution was in 1937. It was rejected by the Palestinians, and largely accepted by the Zionist establishment. The offer was made again in 1947, by the UN, with the same response. However, between 1948 and 1988, it was far from clear that a two state option was on the table. Most of the diplomatic thinking on the issue focused on the option of returning the West Bank to Jordanian occupation, and Gaza to the Egyptians. The first Israeli government to officially endorse a two-state solution was Barak’s, in 2000, just a decade ago.
Did the Palestinians escalate violence every time the two state solution was proposed?
No. In 1947, Palestinian violence was a response to the two-state idea itself. However, the next time there was a serious prospect for such a solution, in 2000, the negotiations broke down over questions such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees. Some Israelis have claimed that negotiations broke down because Palestinians demanded the return of millions of Palestinian refugees into Israel’s borders, a move that would supposedly lead to a one state solution. The Palestinian side, some Israeli participants, and most American participants, dispute this account. As to the question of whether Palestinians initiated the violence in 2000, that is also disputed. However, any claim they bear exclusive responsibility to the deterioration is easily refutable.
Were the Jews the only people that called the holy land its homeland for thousands of years?
Yes. However, I cannot see how any decent person would conclude from this fact that people who were born in this country, and have lived here all their lives, should not enjoy fully equal citizenship.
Have the Palestinians only started to regard themselves as a distinct nation, and this place as their homeland, in the past century?
Yes. But now they do. Is the argument here “too late, any claim that has not been around for thousands of years should be disregarded”? If so, it is patently absurd.
Does the Arab, Muslim and Palestinian “propaganda” recruit people around the world to die for their cause?
Yes, though certainly not millions. Zionism has done the same, and continues to do so until this very day. Much more successfully than the Palestinians, by the way.
Is everyone who expresses opinions like those of Melanie Philips labeled an extreme right winger?
No. There are people in the European left who agree with Phillips, though not many. No one labels them as extreme right wingers, just because of their position on the issue of Israel. However, Phillips is indeed an extreme right winger, even if we ignore her opinions on Israel. She is a global warming denier who opposes secularism, just to take two positions.
What Phillips has repeatedly said, throughout the interview, is that she wants her opinions to be regarded as super-partisan, as gospel. Anyone who disputes her claims is lying, brainwashed or ignorant, or all three.
Take, for example, her brazen claim that opposition to the occupation is based on lack of basic knowledge regarding Jewish history. Does Phillips really think she knows more about this topic then the late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, for example? Or all the numerous world renown scholars of Jewish history who agree with him on this issue?
The web magazine in which this piece appears, +972 magazine, was founded by a group of people who want to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. We could have filled this site with vilifications and vague condemnations of those who disagree with us. It might have actually have gotten us more traffic. It certainly worked for Melanie Phillips.
Instead, we believe these important issues merit a serious discussion. When we dispute someone’s version of events, we do not just accuse them of lying and brainwashing: we carefully analyze the other side’s position, and present our reasoning for challenging it. When we think someone has acted unjustly, we do not simply declare it: we explain why we think this way, after serious thought and reflection. There are some serious people on the other side, even on the extreme right, we can talk to – but, evidently, Melanie Phillips is not one of them. If you cannot listen to others, no one should listen to you.