Editor's Notes: Delegitimizing the deligitimizers

A sparkling speech by Melanie Phillips.

Melanie Phillips 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Bruno Sharvit)
Melanie Phillips 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Bruno Sharvit)
Although Melanie Phillips is well-known as a stalwart supporter of Israel, she is also a sharp critic of the way it presents its case to the world.
“Israel has allowed itself to be painted as the villain of the region by persistently behaving as if it were the guilty party,” she insists. “This is because its position is essentially defensive. The most it ever says is, basically, that the libelous allegations being made against it are not true.”
Phillips is one of the most articulate Israel advocates around, and when she speaks, her Queen’s English gives her an air of authority.
The 60-year-old, award-winning British Jewish journalist and author has become famous (she self-mockingly refers to her “infamy”) through her controversial column in the Daily Mail and some provocative books on social issues, including Londonistan.
In her B’nai B’rith World Center’s “Jerusalem Address” delivered to a packed and adoring audience at The Jerusalem Great Synagogue on Monday night, Phillips proposed that Israel change its diplomatic tack by adopting an offensive rather than a defensive position.
“By playing along with the peace process, Israel has gone along with the ‘Big Lie’ that the Middle East conflict is about the division of land between two equal and rival claims.
But because this is actually not the case and the conflict is, in fact, about an existential threat to Israel, it cannot allow a terrorist state to arise on its doorstep,” she said, to warm applause. “So it has inevitably allowed itself to be painted dragging its feet and obstructing a solution. I suggest this is the wrong strategy altogether.”
Phillips suggested that Israel should, rather, see “the great opportunity” it now faces to harness the ideals of law and justice for its own.
“We must reframe the narrative so that Israel becomes seen for what it really is: the champion and defender in the world of truth and justice, life and liberty,” she said.
“And we must also show that those who stand against Israel stand for illegality, aggression and lies. We must delegitimize the delegitimizers!” Deligitimizing the deligitimizers entails what Phillips calls “restarting the historical clock.”
“At present, for Britain and other Western delegitimizers, the historical clock starts either in 1967, when Israel committed what they see as the crime of occupying Palestinian land, or in 1948, when, as they see it, European Jews with no connection to the land were parachuted into Palestine as a result of Holocaust guilt and drove out the indigenous Palestinian Muslims, whose land it had been since time immemorial.”
“Every part of that story is untrue,” Phillips declared. ‘The problem is that not only do people in the West not know it’s untrue, but even many Diaspora Jews and Israelis don’t know it’s untrue.”
Instead, she said, Israel should be telling the world that “the Jewish claim to the land was recognized by the international community after World War I as an overwhelming claim from historical right, and that as a result, a binding international treaty required Jews to be settled throughout what is now Israel and the disputed territories.
“I am not suggesting that Israel should forever retain control over all this territory; the eventual shape of the region is a different discussion. I am talking about changing perceptions by identifying Israel’s cause as one of truth and justice, and holding publicly to account all those who promote lies and injustice.”
How does Phillips advocate deligitimizing the deligitimizers? “This should be done by forcing them onto the defensive by attacking them,” she said. “And that includes Israel’s self-styled but treacherous friends. Like the Obama administration, which gives Mahmoud Abbas a free pass while falsely accusing Israel of jeopardizing the peace process. Like Britain, denouncing Israel’s ‘attack’ on the Turkish terrorist ship, the Mavi Marmara, and thus misrepresenting as aggression Israel’s right to defend itself against attack.
“Israel’s side should be asking Britain, the US and the Europeans very publicly why they are forcing it to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority while the PA repeats it will never accept Israel as a Jewish state.
“It should be asking why they continue to fund PA incitement to hate Jews and murder Israelis, and why they support the PA’s claims against Israel in the light of this racism. And it should call it ‘racism.’” After receiving more appreciation from the audience, some of whom stood up, she continued: Israel, she said, “should be asking very publicly why, in supporting the PA in its campaign for a Palestinian state in which it states no Israeli will be permitted to live, Britain, America and Europe are backing the racist ethnic cleansing of every Jew from such a future state of Palestine.
“It should be asking, very publicly, why Britain, the US and Europe persist in treating the UN as a legitimate global referee when it is dominated by tyrannies and rogue states.”
Phillips is an exceptionally persuasive writer and orator, while conceding that her views are often described in the media as extremist. However, she also believes that just like Israel itself, she has the support of a “vast mass of people outside the intelligentsia and ruling elites.”
“In a small way, my own situation mirrors that of Israel. I seem to have made an entire career out of stating the obvious – and then finding war breaking out around me. The noise and fury of the enemy is truly deafening.
But I am also aware that a huge number of people support me, because they tell me in droves that I am saying things that accord with their own feelings and lived experience.”
She enticed the audience by announcing a plan to “tap into that great groundswell of the beleagured middle ground,” saying only that the idea “will become clearer in the months ahead.”
“Those who would like to follow me in this direction are welcome to register for my updates on my website – melaniephillips.com – where I hope to show how both Israel and the West must be defended in the same way, by standing up for truth against lies, justice over injustice, and right over wrong.”
Following a standing ovation, Phillips patiently signed copies of her new book, The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power. One might not always agree with her clear-cut division of the world into right and wrong – with almost no gray area in between – but there’s a lot Israel can learn from her.