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December 24, 2001


International Commentary

British Polite Society Has Found a Not-So-New Target

By Melanie Phillips,
a columnist with the Daily Mail in London.

SINCE the war against terror started, polite British society has found an enemy to target. It's neither the Taliban nor al Qaeda, however -- it's the state of Israel and Jews in general.

That's because a common belief has suddenly emerged in Britain that the Middle East is the cause of world terror and that Israel is to blame for the impasse there. This leads to anti-Zionism, which is consequently used as a thin disguise for anti-Semitism. People now make remarks that would have been inconceivable just a few months previously.

In an article in the Spectator magazine, the writer Petronella Wyatt recounted that she had been asked recently whether she thought there was an international Jewish conspiracy. She also reported on a member of the House of Lords of impeccable liberal credentials saying, "Well, the Jews have been asking for it and now, thank God, we can say what we think at last."

These are not isolated incidents. I came up against the phenomenon when I was a panel member on the BBC's flagship current affairs program Question Time. On the panel with me was the writer Will Self, the Labour backbencher Diane Abbott, the Tory politician Ken Clarke and the Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey.

'Terrorism on Both Sides'

An Israeli member of the audience asked why the Americans could go halfway round the world to root out terror when the Israelis were condemned for doing the same in their own back yard. The other panel members seemed to subscribe to precisely that double standard. Mr. Davey said Yasser Arafat couldn't be expected to deal with the terrorists in his midst. Ms. Abbott implied that Israel was inflicting emotionally incontinent brutality and vengeance on the Palestinians. And Ken Clarke deplored the "terrorism on both sides" (he later remembered that there was a distinction between terrorism and the reaction to it).

The audience was clearly hostile to Israel and America. One man said the Palestinians were the victims of Israeli injustice. Another said Mr. Sharon was a war criminal. A woman said that if terrorism was the indiscriminate bombing of innocent people, we need look no further than what George W. Bush was doing in Afghanistan, to great applause. I took a very different line. Yes, I said, there definitely was a double standard; I wondered why people were sympathetic when Israelis died but not sympathetic when they tried to prevent themselves from dying. I added that the Palestinian Authority was a sponsor of terror and incited violence daily against Israelis and Jews across the world.

As I spoke, I was aware of a low hissing from the audience. I looked at their faces and saw disbelief and hostility. I glanced at the woman who had made the George Bush point; her face was contorted with what can only be described as hatred.

Then Will Self asked the question that had clearly formed in his mind after he read through a selection of my articles on the train from London to Bristol, where the show was being taped, as he told me later he had. Where, he demanded, did my own loyalties lie? If Britain declared war on Israel, whose side would I be on? I could scarcely believe what I had heard. Will Self (who claimed to be Jewish himself) was seeking to make the wider world aware of two things: first, that I was a Jew, and second, that therefore my views on Israel could be disregarded since Jews had double loyalties. I replied that British Jews were immensely patriotic. It was also inconceivable that Britain should attack Israel since Israel was a salient of democracy in the Middle East. But if the inconceivable were ever to happen, this would represent such a turning against Jews that some of us British Jews might feel we had no alternative but to live in Israel. That of course was entirely different from being a traitor to one's own country.

When I said, however, that Israel was a democracy, there was an astonishing reaction from the audience. They laughed. That incredulous laugh was more shocking even than Will Self's attack. It revealed that however many Israeli teenagers are blown to smithereens by suicide bombers, the British have seen the pictures of Israel's tanks demolishing Palestinian houses and above all seen the pictures of those Palestinian children being killed by Israeli soldiers, and they have formed the view that Israel is a tyranny and the Jews are the real terrorists.

The program discussion lurched from bad to worse. From the audience came the considered view that Israel was the source of terror in the Middle East, that what it was doing was as bad as what was done to it, and that it was responsible for ethnic cleansing.

Just a show? I believe that the visceral hostility towards Israel and Jews displayed by both the panel and the audience are indicative now of much mainstream British opinion. Indeed, the British government appears to believe that if only the United States would put pressure on Israel, there would be peace in the Middle East.

Such opinions are marked by such blatant double standards and an inverted sense of right and wrong that one has to ask the reason for such perversity. Why is Israel portrayed as murderous when it is clearly attempting -- however misguidedly -- to defend itself against terror? Why do these upstanding British citizens omit to mention that the Palestinian Authority daily pumps out through its mass media Nazi-style anti-Jewish libels and incitements to murder and martyrdom? There are several likely explanations. The British instinctively side with the underdog. At home, they resent the fact that the Jews punch well above their numerical weight by being overrepresented in the professions. In Israel, they see the Jews, with the might of America behind them, pulverizing Palestinians armed only with stones.


Then there is the fact that the establishment, that is, Labour MPs, the liberal broadsheet newspapers and in particular the BBC -- are also dominated by the thinking of the New Left, the Marxist revisionism that that replaced the class struggle by the culture war. The New Left is characterized by an abiding hatred of Israel, America and a self-loathing about Western values. The result is that the British intellectual classes are an all-too willing conduit for anti-Jewish and anti-Israel poison and propaganda. In the face of all this, British Jews are astonishingly silent, probably because they are hardly less horrified by the scenes of Palestinian misery that unfold daily across their TV screens.

"war criminal"But one does not have to be a fan of Ariel Sharon to see that criticisms of Israeli tactics are almost beside the point. For Israel's very existence is threatened. The Palestine Authority makes it abundantly clear in all it says for internal consumption that it regards the whole of "Palestine" as occupied and will be satisfied with nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish state.

Israel has never troubled to make its case effectively to a world which it assumes will always be hostile or indifferent. But it never foresaw that Palestinian terror--whose purpose was to provoke a counter-reaction that would turn the world against Israel and destroy the Jewish state's very soul -- would be financed by the Western world. But this is what has happened. The West, especially in Europe, has fallen for the propaganda of victim culture. The EU, of which Britain is a member, is the largest supplier of funds to the PA. The result is that the British, far from making common cause against global terror, have succumbed to the very prejudices that lie behind it.



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