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[Below is Melanie Phillips’ address to the Ariel Conference on Law and Mass Media on December 30, 2010.]
As we all know by now, Israel has lost the battle for public opinion in the West. Even the Israel government is now acknowledging this fact. Israel and its defenders have been outclassed and outmaneuvered in a war of the mind being waged on a battleground it never even acknowledged it was on.
Calls for more and better hasbara, however, are meaningless if the message or narrative promoted by Israel and its defenders misses the point of the attack being waged upon it. And it does miss that point, by a mile.
You cannot resist or overcome a threat unless you first understand its nature.
The first thing to say is that this phenomenon is characteristic not just of the media animosity or economic or academic boycotts. It goes across the intelligentsia and political class, spreading well beyond the normal suspects on the left into the mainstream middle-classes.
In Britain, the universities, the established church, the theatrical and publishing worlds, the voluntary sector, significant elements within the Foreign Office, members of Parliament across the political spectrum, as well as the media have overwhelmingly signed up to the demonetization and legitimization of Israel.
The scale of this phenomenon is nothing short of a multi-layered civilizational crisis.
The West is experiencing a total inversion of truth evidence and reason. A society’s thinking class has overwhelmingly subscribed to an immoral, patently false and in many cases demonstrably absurd account of the Middle East, past and present, which it has uncritically absorbed and assumes to be true.
In routine, everyday discourse history is turned on its head; logic is suspended; and an entirely false narrative of the conflict is now widely accepted as unchallengeable fact, from which fundamental error has been spun a global web of potentially catastrophic false conclusions.
This has led to a kind of dialogue of the demented in which rational discussion is simply not possible because there is no shared understanding of the meaning of language. So victim and victimizer, truth and lies, justice and injustice turn into their precise opposite.
This madness is being promulgated through a global alliance between state and non-state actors and diplomats and journalists, politicians and NGOs and websites. Many of these are waging war not just against Israel but against the West.
There are two preconditions for an effective fightback. First is to form effective structures of resistance. Those structures, however, depend in turn on a correct understanding of the nature and scale of what we are up against.
So far, the structures are not in place, and more important still, what Israel is up against is grossly — and fatally — underestimated and misunderstood.
The problem is that we are dealing with a pathology — to which we nevertheless respond as if it were rational behaviour.
What happened is a pattern of thinking in the West which turns reality upside down. Remarkably, this in turn echoes a very similar inversion of reality within the Islamic world, where such inversion has a theological base.
Because Islam is considered perfect, its adherents can never do wrong. All their aggression is therefore represented as self-defense, while western/Israeli self-defense is said to be aggression.
So in this Orwellian universe the enslavement of Muslim women is said to represent their liberation; democracy is a means of enslavement from which the West must be freed; and the murder of Israelis is the purest form of justice.
Furthermore, this is overlaid by the phenomenon of psychological projection in which the Islamic world not only denies its own misdeeds but ascribes them instead to its victims.
So while Muslims deny the Holocaust, they claim that Israel is carrying out a holocaust in Gaza. Antisemitism is central to Jewish experience in Europe; Muslims claim that “Islamophobia” is rife throughout Europe.
Israel gives all Jews the “right of return” to Israel on account of the unique reality of global Jewish persecution; the Muslims claim a “right of return” not to their own putative state of Palestine, but to Israel. They even claim that the Palestinians are the world’s “new Jews”.
These and many other examples are used within the Islamic world to negate Jewish experience and appropriate it for itself to obtain what Muslims want in terms of status, power and conquest.
What is remarkable is that instead of treating this as a pathological deformity of thinking, the western progressive intelligentsia has largely embraced it as rational and true. And to a large extent this is because that same western intelligentsia has itself supplanted rationality by ideology or the dogma of a particular idea.
Objectivity, evidence and truth have been ditched for ideologies such as moral and cultural relativism, multiculturalism, feminism, environmentalism, anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, transnationalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism.
Across a wide range of such issues, it’s no longer possible to have a rational discussion with the progressive intelligentsia, as on each issue there’s only one story for them which brooks no dissent.
This is because, rather than arriving at a conclusion from the evidence, ideology inescapably wrenches the evidence to fit a prior idea. So ideology of any kind is fundamentally anti-reason and truth. And if there’s no truth, there can be no lies either; truth and lies become merely “alternative narratives”.
Moral and cultural relativism holds the belief that subjective experience trumps moral authority and any notion of objectivity or truth has turned right and wrong on their heads.
Because of the dominant belief in multiculturalism, victim culture and minority rights, self-designated victim groups — those without power — can never do wrong while majority groups can never do right. And Jews are not considered a minority because in the hateful discourse of today’s culture, Jews are held to be all-powerful as they “control” the media, Wall Street and America.
So the Muslim world cannot be held responsible for blowing people up as they are the third world victims of the West; so any atrocities they commit must be the fault of their victims; and so the US had it coming to it on 9/11. And in similar fashion, Israel can never be the victim of the Arab world; the murder of Israelis by the Arab world must be Israel’s own fault.
So the way has been opened for mass credulity towards propaganda and fabrication. The custodians of reason have thus turned into destroyers of reason, centered in the crucible of reason, the university.
All these different ideologies are utopian; in their different ways, they all posit the creation of the perfect society. That is why they are considered “progressive,” and people on the progressive wing of politics sign up to them. That helps explain the distressing fact that so many Jews on the left also sign up to Israel-hatred, since they too sign up to such utopian ideologies.
But when utopias fail, as they always do, their adherents invariably select scapegoats on whom they turn to express their rage over the thwarting of the establishment of that perfect society. And since utopia is all about realizing the perfect society, these scapegoats become enemies of humanity.
For Greens, such enemies of humanity are capitalists; for anti-imperialists, America; for militant atheists, religious believers. Anti-Zionists turn on Israel for thwarting the end to the “Jewish question”: the redemption of western guilt for the persecution of the Jews — a guilt which can never be redeemed as long as the wretched Jews continue to make themselves the targets of attack.
In short, therefore, the West cannot defend itself against the Islamic jihad because it can’t itself even think straight any more.
But this lethal muddle in the minds of the intelligentsia must be viewed in turn in the context of a global diplomatic process which itself embodies upside-down thinking, which fans the flames of bigotry and defeatism and in which Israel itself has been tragically, and suicidally, complicit.
It cannot be stressed enough that the reason why those promoting genocidal bigotry are winning is that the western world has not sought to defeat them but instead has appeased them from the very start.
In Palestine under the British Mandate, when the Arabs used terrorist violence to frustrate the will of the League of Nations in restoring the Jewish home, Britain rewarded them by offering them part of the Jews’ legal and moral entitlement. When the Arabs started hijacking planes, the West’s response was to invite them to the UN to plead their cause.
And despite the Arabs’ repeated refusal to accept the two state solution, offered in the 1930s, in 2000 and under Ehud Olmert, and their current refusal to negotiate at all, America punishes Israel for not making enough concessions to them — while giving a free pass to those who still refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist.
It is astonishing that the West expects Israel to make any concessions to such attackers at all. After all, forcing a country which has endured more than six decades of existential siege to give any ground to its attackers amounts to forcing such a victim to surrender. This is expected by the civilized world of no other country.
Yet we are repeatedly told even by certain supporters of Israel that the Palestinians have a right to a state. Why? In any other conflict, such aggression forfeits any rights at all.
I am not saying that Israel should retain all the disputed territories; it may well be in its own interests to give some of them up. But the point is that Israel has made all the concessions over the years while the Arabs have made none, yet it is Israel, not the Arabs, that is under pressure from the West.
This is diplomacy as scripted by Franz Kafka.
The single greatest reason for the endless continuation of the Middle East impasse is that Britain, Europe and America have continuously rewarded the aggressor and either attacked the victim or left it twisting in the wind.
That’s what needs to be said by Israel and its defenders. But Israel and its defenders themselves have been crippled or cowed by the false analysis of the enemy’s narrative.
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