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The gospel on Israel by Melanie Phillips

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.

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    1. interestingly enough, if you approach this video without previous knowledge of “whose side she’s on”, only after a minute and a half, when Eilon asks her if Israel is defenseless, do you actually realize which side she’s putting on each side of her arguments.
      on a side note, as an Israeli that’s been exposed to the Israeli media and way of thinking for decades, her initial claims of Israel ignoring the “Battleground of the mind” sound pretty ridiculous. To me it seems that Israel has spent a majority of its time and money on military hasbara RATHER than on actual military achievements in the name of physical defense.
      The hardest part to listen to is her claim that Hasbara is a joke because Israel hasn’t properly grasped that concept- not only is that a false assumption, its also pretty insulting to tell us jews (that have been doing hasbara for over 2000 years) that we’re crap at it.
      She speaks earlier of people simply not being able to rationally grasp things, but its exactly THAT which makes Israeli hasbara a joke- the fact that Israel can’t rationally graps that no matter how many people you indoctrinate with hasbara, some things the Israeli govt. and military do, simply can not be explained rationally. Not because we dont know HOW to do hasbara, but because there IS NO hasbara for those things.
      Couldn’t get past minute 4. This lady hit the ridiculous button in my brain already at minute 1:31.

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    2. BlightUntoNations

      ……………………………Phillips is a fruitcake

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    3. Ex Israeli

      At least one Phillips screw is missing.

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    4. Peter

      Don’t listen to anything “Mad Mel” says. She is a fruitcake!

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    5. Michael

      No one here in the UK likes or believes her either. Israel, keep her! And hopefully that will stop her publishing her trash in the New Statesman. She manages to be wrong on every issue, not just this one.

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    6. Ben Israel

      I am sorry to say that “972” which started out as a forum for pretty intelligent discussion is now degenerating to what MONDOWEISS, Richard Silverstein, TPMCAFE and others have become, an endless list of comments saying “so-and-so is truly a moron”, “idiot”, “fascist”, “hasabarist liar”, etc.

      I suggest to those who run this site intercede to restore order, or “972” will soon become nothing more than yet another irrelevant Israel-bashing site.

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    7. So, Blight: You’re a sexist, too. ‘Demented females’? FFS!

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    8. one

      Well, I for one think that Roi may have missed the point. She seems to stipulate that the only discourse in Britain is anti-Israel – not just anti-Occupation, but anti-Israel – no “objecting to Israeli actions”, but “objecting to Israel”. And you know what, Roi? She’s nearly right.
      I have been watching British media – both online and conventional, academic papers and various politicians’ and NGO statements for the past few years – and anything you consider in your article as a rudimentary fact (all the “Yes, BUT”) they don’t seem to accept as truth or even be aware of.

      So there.

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    9. Roi Maor

      @One – Really? The British media has never reported on the recruitment of Palestinians and Muslims to commit terrorist attacks? All the other elements relate to history, and I doubt that history gets discussed a lot in the UK media.

      What is your basis for saying the media is anti-Israel? What kinds of stories, statements, characterizations count as anti-Israel? You can claim that they are too critical of Israel’s policies (and Palestinians complain it is the other way around). But anti-Israel? What is your evidence?

      There is, however, no doubt that the UK government is strongly pro-Israel, and it has not suffered politically as a result. In fact, this policy is a consensus among all significant parties in Britain.

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    10. ONE,

      When you look at the evewnts at Arakib, or at the notorious “Vaadot Kabalah” legislation, or at many other gangrenes of the apartheid cancer, you realize that anti-occupation criticism should naturally extend to criticism of Israel’s foundations (even if one is a two-stater, like yours truly)

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    11. Dani Levi

      Mel is spot on. She speaks the truth and the comments in this section are the proof. The half truths and racism that is voiced here outline the wide spread ignorance about what Israel is about.
      The sad thing is that +972 is turning into another hysterical anti Israel forum, ironically run by Israelis who which to see a change for the better.
      many of the above fools give credence to PRECISELY what Phillips is saying, that there are rabid elements out there who think Israel is a racist state. Any person who has actually ever walked down street in Tel Aviv knows that Israel is a more diverse place than most European/Arab countries. From African to Blond all walk the streets. The languages spoken are Russian, Hebrew, Arabic, French, English, Dutch, Yiddish, Turkish, Spanish and Portuguese Thai and Tagalog.
      Many left wing Israelis are forced into a rightist stance by the BS that permeates these discussions dribbling with ignorance. please see Asaf Avidan in a recent JPost piece regarding this topic.

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    12. D Peters

      @Tahel Ilan

      As a British Jew who is heavily involved in the advoacy movement, I can firmly say that she is 100% correct when she says “Hasbarah is a joke”. It is.

      The advocacy movement is stuck in this idea that they started in, although it worked then, it does not work now. Hasbarah needs to be updated and reformatted for the modern times.

      Melanie Phillips sums up precisely the problems and frustrations those working in Israel Advocacy face and I must say new organisations such as StandWithUs are the light at the end of the long dark tunnel…hopefully, advocacy organisations will start to realise that in order to effectively combat the masses of anti-Israel propaganda and sentiment, they need to work together as a united front. Just as the Palestinian advocacy groups do.

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    13. “masses of anti-Israel propaganda and sentiment” that in itself is a propaganda line, its a simple way to dismiss anything critical that is ever said.
      demonstrating against the war on iraq was not considered anti-American, demonstrating against the Greek govt. was not considered anti-Greece, so let me get this straight- only in Israel when people demonstrate against their govt. its anti-State?
      the BDS movement does not delegitimize israel, nor do any of the Palestinians and Israelis involved in the non-violent resistance against the occupation.
      so far, the only people I can tell that are anti-Israel are people passing laws that go against the very declaration of the country as democratic. Our own govt. is delegitimizing the country on a daily basis, but it is ever so convenient to find some scapegoats and lay ridiculous claims on them.

      I agree that hasbara needs to be updated. Excusing a 3 year occupation for “security reasons” is much easier than excusing a 40 year occupation for religious reasons.

      Good luck explaining to the world why in Israel, the roads you can drive on and the place on the bus you can sit are classified by race and gender.
      I am looking forward to the hasbara about that.

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    14. Dani Levi

      @ TAHEL Ilan
      the BDS “movement” delegitimizes Israel in a crass way. The polemics on its website is incredible and it uses public shaming and emotional blackmail of artists and others it targets. If anybody wants to come to Israel and do what ever, it should be up to them ( DEMOCRACY ). I have seen the “letters” they write and they are misleading and equate performing in Israel with an acceptance of the situation in the WB which is the sort of logic the Soviets used. Then again hardly surprising since it is HQ’s in the WB. Hardly a place where we may expect to find rational argument.

      @ D Peters,
      I agree with you 100%, we must find a way to engage in a powerful debate and bring it up to speed. This should be no problem, considering the brain power and creative talent& $$ that is available. One thing StandWithUs has going for itself, would be a simple analysis of hate sites such us EI, mondoweiss/scheiss etc. their arguments and frankly hyperbole hysteria is easy to confront. Especially when you coax these people into the open and shine a light onto their lies and yes, sadly, often anti semitism. Their ideological proximity to the PLO or Hamas, and their double standards.
      Great piece and thread about mondoscheiss here…..

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    15. Dani Levi

      the UK media is heavily anti Israel, that is a forgone conclusion my friend. The Guardian, Independent and the BBC, outdo themselves in covering one side of the story, and the English lap it up, ask any Jew in the UK what it is like. I know many. The Guardians coverage is legendary and its Jew-baiting in Comment Is Free is a torrent of NAZI comparisons and GAZA=Warsaw Ghetto stuff.
      London is the International nerve centre for anti Israeli drivel with all the Islamists and left wingers ( Galloway etc ) masturbating over every last bit of info. hamas and Hamas straw organizations all have their EU offices in London. making use of the “free speech” laws there. Many Islamist preachers have made London their main base, these people do not go there because of the lovely weather and the good food.
      Recently a Liberal MP was kicked out of her job in the party because of the lies she was spewing.
      Trust me, the UK is where Hamas feels at home. UK universities are infamous for their Islamist meetings and many students have been radicalized on UK campuses. This does not happen in a media vacuum.

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    16. @dani:
      (1) “it uses public shaming and emotional blackmail” funny, i would think its more appropriate to say that about holding hundreds of 13 year-olds in detention (something that no one in Israel denies, btw).
      (2) “…equate performing in Israel with an acceptance of the situation in the WB” so, for an artist to appear in a war zone is disassociated from reality? could you equally disassociate a performance in saudi arabia where women wouldn’t be allowed to attend from the realities there and support the artist performing there?
      (3) “…WB. Hardly a place where we may expect to find rational argument” right, as opposed to the Knesset where only rational decisions are made, such as funding of parties that don’t allow women to run, parties that wouldn’t shame the taliban and parties that no one in the world accepts as holding a legitimately moral democratic point of view.
      why is it so hard for some to understand, that just because a country is defined “democratic”, doesn’t automatically translate into all of its actions being democratic?
      and why do modern day Jews have such a hard time accepting criticism? The Talmud wouldn’t have turned out that way without it… (although, for women to be considered as equals in Judaism would probably have required a lot more arguing… but hey, we need to be a Jewish country to protect ourselves right? so what if we abuse Jewish women in the name of our superior Jewish morality and put them behind shower curtains on the bus, we’re better than those primitive Arabs anyway).

      last, let me just butt in to your conversation with peters: “hyperbole hysteria” of the alternative media? if your kids had no access to running water, were arrested in the middle of the night, and you were a farmer with no land (none of these are denied by anyone in Israel)- i would think you would probably find yourself also in this state of “hysteria”. I guess they’re hysterical just like women that are sexually abused, black slaves and sudanese refugees.
      man! why are so many people just acting crazily hysterical? I don’t get it either!
      but then again, they’re Palestinians. they’re liars. they’re the enemy. they kill us all the time. they don’t want us to exist. they don’t even reach the toes of our enlightened Jewish morality.

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    17. max

      Right, the jews claimed for 2000 years, that Israel is their homeland.
      But this justifies anti-smitism. The anti-semites never wanted the jews to be amongst them. After 2000 years they anti-semite simply lost his patience and killed the jew. This argument is utterly ridiculous, as much as Melanies argument, that if Israel was always the homeland of the jews the palestinians can be ignored by the zionists. No zionist thinker ever thought what to do wit the palestinians and this is the root of the problem.

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    18. Alex Colquhoun

      Melanie Phillips rants about the Islamification of Britain much in the same way her employer,(The Daily Mail.)published articles in the thirties about the influx of stateless Jews arriving from mainland Europe. She appears regularly on the BBC’s Question time, and never shuts her mouth long enough to listen to another opinion.

      Reply to Comment