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Media Analyses

EYE ON THE MEDIA: Economist Scrimps on Truth

Britain’s influential Economist magazine, with a global readership, sulked loudly at the election of Ariel Sharon, announcing in a cover headline, “Sharon’s Israel, the world’s worry.” In opinion and news pieces, the magazine betrayed an obtuseness about the causes of Israeli voters’ preference that is symptomatic of the publication’s chronic misreporting of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Thus, while conceding in a February 10th piece that Israelis were experiencing a certain “personal insecurity” in the current violence, the magazine airily dismissed national existential fears, declaring that “Israel has long since stopped feeling threatened as a nation-state.” On the contrary. A Gallup-Maariv poll taken in January found that 78% are concerned about the future of the state. That figure was actually higher than the 65% who said they were concerned about their personal security.

The same ignorance of public opinion was reflected in a claim that Israelis voted for Sharon because they were angry at Palestinians for having “spurned” Ehud Barak’s offers at the Camp David negotiations and, with their continued “bombings and ambushes” having “made patsies” of them. In fact, polls had shown a broad rejection of many of the concessions offered by Barak, including the division of Jerusalem and the relinquishing of the Jordan Valley. The unprecedented violence that ensued when Arafat refused even these radical offers compounded a sense of the nation being endangered – not, as the Economist suggests, a nation expressing pique.

Consistent with its cavalier errors about Israeli attitudes, the magazine made distorted and inaccurate statements about Sharon’s past. Of the general’s legendary contribution to saving Israel from Egypt’s surprise assault in 1973, the Economist offered a startling misstatement: “Mr. Sharon ...flouted a ceasefire during the 1973 war, counter-attacking across the Suez Canal to turn Egypt’s initial success into near-defeat.”

Sharon crossed the canal at the height of the war on October 16, six days before the ceasefire on October 22. Egyptian accounts perhaps seek to explain away the spectacular encirclement of the Egyptian 3rd Army as resulting from Sharon’s violation of a ceasefire. But the Economist should know better and report the facts.

The Economist recites other Arab grievances against Sharon without any corrective information, including reference to the Israeli’s having destroyed the village of Qibya in 1953, “leaving 69 civilians dead.” The magazine does not mention that Israel had suffered more than 450 civilians murdered in terrorist attacks in the prior three years and had been ineffectual in countering the onslaught that reached every part of the nation. A particularly vicious murder of a Jewish mother and her two infants by attackers from Qibya prompted retaliation that, in fact, intended only to demolish buildings. Unbeknownst to the Israelis, Arabs apparently hid in the stone houses being dynamited, believing the action against the village would entail only the harmless destruction of a few outbuildings as had been the Israeli practice. Where Sharon’s unit discovered Arabs in the houses – a boy and a baby, for example – it rescued them.

The same distorted themes of Israeli culpability and Arab victimization have often extended to tortured explanations on many other issues. The collapse of the Camp David peace talks at which Arafat was reportedly offered nearly all the West Bank, Eastern Jerusalem, the “return” of at least 150,000 Palestinian refugees into Israel, as well as monetary inducements is blamed by the magazine on Israel. Rather than evince astonishment at the Palestinians’ failure even to present a counter-offer, the Economist opined that “Mr. Arafat was presented with a take-it-or-leave-it package and, not surprisingly, he balked.”

One can only imagine what the magazine would deem sufficient to assuage such balking.

At every turn the magazine presents events from the vantage of the Arabs, with the aggression by them hidden and the Israeli response amplified and denounced. A January news story deplored the sad condition of the Palestinian economy, citing Freih Abu Medein, the PA “justice minister” who said, “we are at war, a war declared by Israel against the Palestinian people.”

“Few Palestinians,” declared the Economist, “would disagree with that description...”

But that description turns reality on its head. The war was launched by the Palestinians and is renewed by them every day, when they shoot at Israeli checkpoints and outposts, and at Israeli commuters, school children and apartment-dwellers.

Virtually 100% of the shooting and the mob activity has been initiated by the Palestinians.

Yet the Economist devoted an entire article to Israeli counter-measures that obscured the Arab provocations, equating Jewish victims of premeditated attacks with Arab casualties suffered in clashes launched by Arabs against Israel. The magazine lamented Israel’s policies of clearing land adjoining roads that had been shelter for snipers and other terrorists preying on Jews. It admonished Israel in a January piece for “sowing seeds whose harvest will be more hatred and destruction.”

Likewise in a March news story about the U.S. State Department’s accusations against Israel for allegedly using “excessive force,” the magazine was chagrined to note that many Israelis have shown little sympathy for the Palestinians. Most Israelis, according to this rendering, believe they are involved in a war. The Economist dismisses this, however, as a “piece of casuistry” – or equivocation, continuing to suggest that the Israelis have no legitimate fears or legitimate grievances against Arafat and his lieutenants.

Like many European news publications long on partisan bias and short on facts, the Economist has painted itself into a corner, having to distort realities to sustain its pro-Arab perspectives. Readers seeking full and accurate coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict should look elsewhere.


Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on March 16, 2001

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