As we passed through late summer and Bibi Netanyahu endured a summit in London, the distinguished British journalist and broadcaster Melanie Phillips — known as “Mad Mel” to the left — took on Alan Dershowitz in a debate on Obama in the pages of FrontPageMag.com. I do not intend to go into a protracted discourse about the argument but will put the cat among the pigeons right here at the start: I think Dersho is right-on.
The debate began when Melanie, a staunch anti-Obamaite, launched a challenge to Dershowitz after he had published a piece in the Wall Street Journal voicing his unease over the suggestion by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that tackling a nuclear Iran was linked to a cessation of Israeli settlement expansion. Dershowitz made it clear from the outset that he had supported Obama. Needless to say I find it amusing that anti-Israel activists who confront me lump Dershowitz with Phillips as promoters of Zionism. (He tells us that he has gotten used to being called a “Ziofascist,” “Zionazi,” and “right-wing fanatic,” which of course Melanie has also been called.) Four years ago I attended the electrically charged appearance by Dershowitz at the hotbed of anti-Zionist activism, the London School of Oriental and African Studies, watching him defend Israel to the hilt in front of the most hostile audience anyone could organize this side of the English Channel.
So here we are in late summer 2009, with Barack Obama about to announce his “Middle East peace initiative,” and two brilliant advocates of Israel are squaring off in a protracted debate held on the columns of FrontPage. Why is it important to make note of this confrontation? The content of the long discourse is in itself a meticulous exposition of the issues all of us must learn how to express with care when we are confronted by Israel-haters. Phillips implies that this may be the last time the world has a chance to stand up for the survival of Israel. In essence, Dershowitz and those she calls “Jews with stars in their eyes” are so blinded by Obamania that the little Zionist state may disappear before those very starry eyes if its defenders do not make a strong public stand against appeasement of the Ahmadinejads of this world.
The Dershowitz-Phillips debate is historic because it exposes the wide range of argument spilling out into every aspect of society at present. The Gaza incursion of December 2008-January 2009 created a new wave of Israel-hatred that appears at dinner parties, in the office, at universities, and at school, to the point that many British parents I know have decided to move their children to Jewish schools rather than subject their progeny to the abuse heaped upon them by non-Jewish pupils this past spring.
Notwithstanding the anger Dershowitz and Phillips evince in their stunning, epic argument — he calls her a “strident, right-wing ideologue” and “paranoid and hateful” while she accuses him of “character assassination” and of promulgating “ignorant and absurd bluster about Britain” — the points they raise are crucial if we are to understand the path Obama is destined to take and the relationship Britain and Europe will have with the new administration vis-à-vis Israel.
First, Dershowitz argues that he, like Israeli intellectuals Amos Oz, Aharon Barak, and others, has been critical of Israel’s settler policies. He feels that expansion of the settlements will make it harder to implement the two-state solution. Later, however, he repudiates Rahm Emanuel’s “disturbing linkage” between Jewish settlements and tackling the Iranian nuke program. He concludes “you can be a strong supporter of Israel and yet oppose the settlements and favor a two-state solution.” Dershowitz adds that Phillips is a strident, right-wing ideologue because she vehemently opposes the concept of liberals supporting Israel. He wryly observes that Melanie is allying herself with Noam Chomsky when she refuses to accept that liberals can also be Zionists.
Phillips, in turn, goes ballistic. She points out that Dershowitz would likely abandon Israel if it did not support stem cell research, gay rights, and abortion, and observes that “such support is shallow, meretricious, and narcissistic.” Even more pointedly she accuses Dershowitz of endorsing “libertinism or brutal and anti-human totalitarianism,” but to be honest I cannot find any evidence of this in the huge screed. Does she mean his support for Obama is “anti-human totalitarianism”? Maybe so.
Melanie Phillips then offers a powerful defense of a Jewish presence in the West Bank: “Israel is being demonized on the false claim that the settlements … are illegal.”
She continues: “If Israel were to leave the West Bank, it would turn Islamist overnight and become an Iranian proxy on Israel’s doorstep. That is why I cannot support a state of Palestine.”