'Israel is fighting for civilisation' says Melanie Phillips

Speaking at JW3 event with Tanya Gold, Jonathan Freedland and Howard Jacobson, Phillips said everyone in Israel was touched by the tragedy


Israel was fighting for civilisation in a “seismic event” that would change both it and Jewish people in the diaspora, the journalist and author Melanie Phillips argued in London this week.

“Israel will survive this. It will have changed,” she said in a panel discussion at JW3 on Monday night that featured leading JC columnists and was chaired by the newspaper’s editor, Jake Wallis Simons.

But she added: “We cannot possibly say how it will have changed.”

What Israel had been experiencing since the “terrible day” of Hamas’ attack was an example “of a sickness in the world that has infected[…] the West”, she said.

“Israel is fighting for its survival. It is fighting for the life of its people. It is fighting for itself, but it is fighting an evil that has consumed much of the world.”

What people should realise was that Israel was “fighting for everybody [… ]We, the Jewish people, gave civilisation to the world and now civilisation is turning on itself and turning on the people who gave it civilisation,” she said.

Having flown in earlier in the week from Jerusalem, where she lives, on the way to fulfil speaking engagements in the USA, she spoke of the shock, trauma and grief among Israelis who had been going to “funeral after funeral after funeral”.

But she also highlighted the “indescribable” national spirit that had immediately brought Israel together and was buoying up its people.

“This is Jewish destiny unfolding. Whatever is going to happen, this is the latest seismic chapter in our extraordinary history. I feel my place is there,” she told a packed audience at the centre, in addition to hundreds following online.

Reflecting on some of the reaction to events, the novelist Howard Jacobson said that more frightening than terrorists were the "cheerleaders of terror", adding: "Terrorists you can shoot,” he said. "The more wicked thing is to see babies being shot and then to party about it.”

He also lambasted the 2,000 signatories of the Artists for Palestine UK letter, which denounced Israel’s action in Gaza as a “crime” and “unprecedented cruelty” but which while condemning “every act of violence against civilians”, failed to mention Hamas or what it had done.

“No real artist would have signed that letter,” said Jacobson, who dismissed its reference to "acts of violence" as trite. “Violence is when someone bumps into you in the street and grabs your mobile phone. It’s not what happened on that day.”

If people could not find the words to describe Hamas’ actions, they should say so or keep quiet, he said.

Tanya Gold said she had been “completely shocked” by the silence and reaction to Hamas’s butchery “but at the same time not shocked at all”.

What she had seen was “a return to medieval antisemitism[… ]It has shattered my relationship with Britain."

Jonathan Freedland said the pain over events was “not fading. It is actually deepening as the weeks have passed."

Analysing the reaction on the left, he noted those in power that were standing by Israel’s side, such as United States President Joe Biden and Sir Keir Starmer, and that the latter had paid a political price for his support.

But the response of the hard left had been “alarming” and “chilling” for many in the Jewish community.

Referring to the American writer Dara Horn’s book, People Love Dead Jews, he said that there had been “a glum expectation” that there would be some sympathy for Israelis killed by Hamas. 

“And yet within hours of it happening,” he observed, “there was a sudden thought that people don’t even love dead Jews, that when Jews are butchered in this way, they don’t actually arise sympathy in some quarters.”

People on the hard left saw the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a simple story of power versus powerlessness, said Freedland.

“As a community, we need to do a whole lot more to explain more of Israel’s origins, its necessity and the Jewish past. Because clearly it is not understood and it is very blithely ignored,” he said.

And Jacobson called for a greater effort to educate Jewish children so that they would be able to tell “our narrative”.

"The kids don’t know what to think,” he said.  “We haven’t steeled them enough. We haven’t taught them enough.”

Donations for attendance will go towards JW3’s support for 60 Israeli families in London who have been unable to go back home.

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