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Media Analyses





Economist Bias, Again


The prestigious British magazine The Economist, with a global readership including "top business decision-makers and opinion leaders," continues to deliver inaccurate and unbalanced reporting on Israel and the Middle East. While numerous CAMERA analyses have exposed a pattern of bias in Economist coverage, former International Editor Stephen Hugh-Jones repeatedly failed to address these documented concerns. Instead he turned his energies to denigrating his critics with responses such as "perhaps your organization should stick to the fabrication and smear that are its business in life, and leave journalism to those who know and care something about the honest reporting of fact."

A scan of seven months of Economist reporting (February 1997-August 1997) reveals persisting bias. In particular, Economist coverage continues to characterize inaccurately Israeli Government actions, hold Israel alone to the commitments set forth by the Oslo Accords, and downplay Palestinian terrorism.

Distorting Israeli Government Actions

The Economist frequently misrepresents Israeli government actions by parroting Arab positions and omitting relevant details. A four-sentence "blurb" in the February 22 issue captured the animosity and carelessness with fact commonplace in the publication. It read:

Housing crisis: Binyamin Netanyahu, back from Washington, denied reports that he had promised the Americans to freeze a plan to build 6,500 Jewish housing units on land seized in 1967 between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. 'Illegal,' said Yasir Arafat. Separately, 90 Bedouin were evicted from their West Bank homes to allow expansion of a Jewish settlement. 'Racist,' said an Israeli peace group.

The housing units in question were those proposed for Har Homa. Perhaps because The Economist routinely depicts Israel as the aggressor, this land, which Israel acquired in the context of its defensive war with Jordan, is said to have been 'seized'. In the same way, readers are not informed that three-fourths of the land at Har Homa was owned by Jews, and that Jewish ownership over much of this land predated the 1948 war. The Economist quotes Arab charges that the neighborhood is "illegal" without comment and without any reference to the Oslo Accords, which place no restrictions on Israel concerning Jerusalem.

The same four-sentence brief managed to misrepresent another story, that concerning the Jahalin Bedouin. Some members of this tribe were squatters on land they did not own and did not even claim to own. They had lived on the land rent-free since their arrival in the early 1980's, and the Israeli government had already resettled most of the group, giving them title to state-owned land and spending over $100,000 to bring water and electrical services to their new home. By ignoring such details The Economist casts Israel, once again, as oppressive.

The final sentence of the newsbrief illustrates the Economist concept of balance: Palestinians critical of Israel are paired with Israelis critical of Israel!

Oslo Accord Compliance—For Israelis Only

The Economist employs a striking double standard regarding Israeli and Palestinian Oslo Accords commitments. In particular, the magazine typically invokes the Oslo Accords only in situations where Israeli actions are said to violate its provisions while widespread Palestinian breaches are ignored entirely.

This discrepancy in how Israelis and Palestinians are judged is likely the result of The Economist's skewed definition of the Accords themselves. The Economist calls Oslo "a step-by-step process of confidence-building" in which "Israel would withdraw from most of the territory it occupies" and subsequently "the two sides would slide into an arrangement of permanent peace" (April 12). This interpretation insinuates that the primary Palestinian obligations are simply to accept land from Israel and "slide" toward peace. Israeli action which interferes with this scenario is branded a violation of the Accords.

Consider The Economist's treatment of the first of three proposed Israeli territorial redeployments. Israel's offer to transfer 9% of West Bank land and authority is termed "niggardly" (March 15) and the magazine exhorts the nation to produce a "genuine" redeployment (August 16). When a Palestinian leader denounces the Israeli proposal as "a grave violation of the agreements" The Economist concurs that it is a violation—"not in word maybe, but in spirit" (March 15).

The Economist detects similar violations of "spirit" in the building at Har Homa. The Jerusalem housing project, we are told "crudely contravenes the spirit of earlier agreements" (June 28).

The "spirit" of the Oslo Accords, however, is not invoked as the standard of compliance when discussing Palestinian actions. Neither, for that matter, are Oslo's written provisions. Palestinian conduct which clearly violates the Accords is simply not designated as such.

For example, following the July 30 double suicide-bombing in Jerusalem, readers are not informed that Arafat's incitement to violence—likely a contributing factor in the attack—violates the PA's foremost obligation under Oslo—to combat terrorism and violence. Instead, readers are told of the suspension of monetary payments "that Israel owes the PA and is bound under the peace agreements to remit" (August 16). The security measures required of Yasir Arafat, such as the dismantling of terrorist organizations in the territory under his control, are not presented as Oslo Accord obligations. Rather, they are cast as an affront and an imposition—"what Israel, echoed by the United States, demands that he does now" (August 9).

Similarly, readers are informed that the Palestinians "refuse...[to] extradite men to Israel" without being reminded the Oslo Accords require extradition (March 29). Instead the Israelis are once again said to be "demanding the impossible."

The Economist routinely reports PA actions without identifying them as Oslo Accord violations. In particular, instances of PA complicity in violence are mentioned without reference to their significance.

  • An April 5 report spoke of "protests...led by Fatah, which has an unwritten agreement with the Palestinian police that stones may be used but not guns." Stone-throwing protests tolerated by PA police are not consistent with Oslo.

  • A March 1 report informs readers of "the first public get-together of pro- and anti-Oslo Palestinian factions, including the Islamist movement Hamas...since the Oslo accords split the organization in 1993." Oslo requires the PA to dismantle terror organizations such as Hamas.

  • A July 19 report discloses that "national and Islamic institutions in Hebron called on Palestinians to protest ?by all means.' The 400 or so Palestinian police authorized to be in the city vanished from the frontline." Again, The Economist was uninterested in the PA's failure to uphold its side of the Oslo bargain and subdue violence.

Also virtually ignored are the incessant statements by PA officials, broadcast on PA media, in praise of suicide bombers and the "armed struggle," the incitement of Palestinian youth to Jihad and emulation of their "martyrs," the crude anti-Semitic diatribes, and the assurances to their constituents that the Palestinian leadership's goal remains the annihilation of Israel—all, obviously, in gross violation of Oslo and all part of a pattern that predated the current Israeli government.

By ignoring the PA's routine violations of core elements of the Oslo Accords, The Economist can claim, without similar incrimination of Arafat, that Netanyahu "has done nothing" since the Hebron agreement "to indicate that he wants that [peace] process to succeed" (August 16). The Economist laments that "concessions do not, at the moment, seem part of his [Netanyahu's] vocabulary."

Palestinian Terrorism, Israeli Culpability

A central tenet of the Oslo Accords, notwithstanding its absence from the Economist interpretation, is the cessation of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis. Yet The Economist obscures Palestinian failings in this regard, even while Arafat's encouragement of terrorism yields Israeli casualties. Indeed, the Israeli government is said to be partially responsible for these Israeli deaths.

Accordingly, Israel is not blameless for the Hamas terrorist attack at a Tel Aviv cafe which killed three Israeli women. The Economist instructs Israelis that "some of the anger should be reserved for their own rulers," observing that Netanyahu's "short-sightedness does not justify terrorism, but it did, and does, make it predictable" (March 29).

An August 2 report is even more twisted. In the aftermath of the bloodbath at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market in which 16 Israelis were killed, The Economist absolved the PA of its responsibility to fight terrorism while hectoring Israel for demanding that Israeli civilians not be slaughtered. The writer opined that "any further peacemaking by Israel will be linked to action by the Palestinian Authority to crush terrorism...In practice, such linkage could spell the end of peacemaking for the foreseeable future" (August 2).

Thus it is Israel's "linkage"—not the Palestinians' "terrorism"—that would doom peace. The same Economist piece actually denigrated the Israeli victims of the market attack, casting them as undeserving of reader sympathy because "the stall-holders are traditionally a bastion of loyal and raucous support for the Likud party, with a penchant for jingoistic, often racist views readily triggered by political tension or acts of violence."

The report also focuses critically on supposed Israeli recalcitrance following the Jerusalem bombing. The magazine laments that "Israeli hardliners are in full cry" and that "the Israeli government, now furiously defiant, is not listening to the Americans." The Economist deplores "the depressingly instinctive Israeli decision, taken after each such act of carnage, to close off the West Bank and Gaza." Evidently the editors do not find the "carnage" Israel endures "depressing," only the protective actions taken in response.

In other instances Arab attacks are barely mentioned. In March a Jordanian soldier gunned down seven Israeli schoolgirls and injured a dozen more. The following issue of The Economist devoted almost two full pages to Israel and the Palestinians, yet allotted a mere four sentences to the attack (March 15).

Despite the grim record of terrorism against Israelis, the magazine has also lectured Israel about its "new, partly irrational, anxieties." The Economist deplores the Israelis' "cooked-up fear" which is said to be "fed by the current government's constant harping on terrorism...and on the sinister intent and behavior of unchanged Arabs" (June 7).

Israel and "Ethnic Cleansing"

So distorted is the Economist's view of the Jewish state that even internecine struggles among Palestinians are blamed on Israel. Recently a number of Palestinians were killed by fellow Arabs for selling land to Jews. An impetus for the killings was the PA Justice Minister's call to reinstate a Jordanian law mandating the death penalty for such land-dealers. The Economist conceded that while such severe action might be inappropriate, the Palestinians were only "following an Israeli example" in "unearthing useful legislation" (May 24).

A July 19 photograph similarly advances the theme of Israel as oppressor. An IDF soldier is shown with his gun apparently aimed directly at a Muslim woman and a young boy. A caption reads "everyday encounter in downtown Hebron." But the reality is not that Israeli soldiers daily menace or shoot women and children; the reality is that in the period represented in the photo Israelis had been on the receiving end of intense, orchestrated riots by Arabs who had hurled some 600 Molotov cocktails, dozens of acid bombs and 15 explosive devices. A more accurate image of an "everyday encounter" would have shown those scenes.

Finally, lest readers have any doubt about Israel's supposedly nefarious character, a July 19 article on the so-called "new historians" questions the events surrounding the birth of the Jewish State. It endorses the Arab depiction of Zionism, claiming that "whatever the original intentions of Zionism's leaders, their project turned out to have calamitous consequences for the Arabs of Palestine" (July 19). The piece ignores early Zionist efforts to establish cooperative ties with the Arabs and excludes the disastrous actions of the Palestinian Arabs themselves, particularly those by the leadership class that fled Palestine in 1948. Again the Arabs are absolved of any responsibility for their difficulties and blame is shifted to the Jews.

The same article then asks whether the Zionists saw "all along the need for ethnic cleansing." The Economist terminology is both abhorrent and indifferent to the historical record. David Ben-Gurion's writings, for example, elaborated on the importance of the emerging state's obligation to address the needs of the Arab citizens who would be part of Israel—clearly anticipating they would remain in Israel. And the Arabs who did not flee are citizens of Israel—they were not "ethnically cleansed." Ignored as well by The Economist were documented efforts by the Zionists to halt the flight of Arabs during the 1948 war.

On the other hand, the Arabs did engage in ethnic cleansing in 1948 when they killed or expelled every Jew from areas they seized, including from the ancient Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem.

The severity of the bias against Israel in The Economist is striking, as is the near hysterical response to criticism by editors such as Stephen Hugh-Jones. The combination suggests reader concerns will continue as the magazine flouts basic standards of accuracy, balance and fair play.



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