An article in the Fall 1995 Media Report critical of
The Economist's Middle East coverage touched off a storm of protest from
Stephen Hugh-Jones, International Editor of the prestigious British magazine.
Hugh-Jones contacted CAMERA directly and phoned, faxed and wrote to numerous
CAMERA letter-writers to register his indignation at being criticized. A
five-part series in the Jerusalem Post's Eye on the Media column
expanded the controversy.
Prolific (and colorful) as the Economist editor was
in denouncing his critics, he nevertheless thoroughly evaded CAMERA's key
complaints as presented in the Media Report and subsequent
correspondence. CAMERA analyses had concluded that Israeli security concerns
are systematically and consistently minimized, that unabashedly partisan
language reflects a pervasive pro-Arab bias, and that stories essential to
providing an accurate picture are omitted.
Kurdish "terrorists" and Hamas
CAMERA faulted The Economist for failing to report
terrorism against Israeli innocents in a manner that accurately reflects its
character and ferocity. Symptomatic of the downplaying of violence against
Israelis has been the use of sanitized language, including avoidance of the
words "terrorist" and "terrorism" to characterize the
killers of Israelis.
Hugh-Jones took strong exception to this criticism, but also
stressed that The Economist does "not think...'terrorism' is the
right word for each and every incident of armed resistance to military
occupation..." It is instructive to note in which cases the publication
does deem terrorist "the right word." Between the spring of 1994 and
the fall of 1995 (the period of CAMERA's initial analysis of The
Economist) the magazine referred at least fifteen times to "IRA
terrorists." The publication also wrote of Peru's "Shining Path
terrorists," "Kurdish terrorists," and "Basque
terrorists." However, during this same span, when Israel was experiencing
more terrorist losses than during any comparable period since the founding of
the state, there is not a single characterization of those groups murdering
Jews as "Hamas terrorists," "Islamic Jihad terrorists" or
"Arab terrorists." (The only use of "Palestinian
terrorists" is a passing reference in a column about the World Cup to the
murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.)
As CAMERA charged, The Economist has been
"reluctant" to characterize politically-motivated Arab murderers of
Jews as terrorists and such circumvention of the truth is in sharp contrast to
the ready attachment of the term "terrorist" to other groups, such as
the IRA. (Apparently, the spilling of British blood deserves such an
appellation but the spilling of Jewish blood doesn't!)
Instead, The Economist's preferred terms for the
killers are "Islamists," "activists,"
"guerillas," " suicide-bombers," "militants,"
"fighters" and "rejectionists." Thus, an egregiously
deceptive column on October 15, 1994 described an attack by Hamas on civilians
at a Jerusalem cafe that killed two and maimed others as a "burst of
militarism" carried out by "Hamas guerillas."
As refutation of CAMERA's criticism Hugh-Jones cited The
Economist's coverage of the October, 1994, Tel Aviv bus bombing. That
report, however, only confirms CAMERA's point. Though the bombing was at the
time the worst terrorist assault in decades in Israel, The Economist
conveys none of this. The only mention of terror occurred in the first line:
"In a brief pause between terrorist attacks, Israel made peace with
The reporter provided no detail of the horrific assault that
killed twenty-two, turning instead to the anger of the populace. Ezer Weizman
was called the "hot-blooded president" for expressing outrage over
the atrocity and Israelis were reminded not to cause the Arabs "hardship
and frustration" by closing the borders for protection.
The report on the Afula terror attack in April, 1994, that
killed seven and maimed dozens spoke only of "bus terrorism." In the
ten-paragraph article only one concerned the murders; the remainder were
devoted to the aftermath of the Hebron massacre and the "revealed
rot" in the IDF that permitted it. No "rot" was similarly
perceived in Arafat's Palestinian Authority that allowed Hamas to wage a
systematic terror campaign against Jews from training bases in Gaza.
The Hadera bus bombing by Hamas that killed five and wounded
dozens a week later contained no mention at all of terrorism or terrorists. The
murder of two Israelis on May 17 by Hamas was, again, not terrorism in the
magazine's lexicon but rather the action of "Islamic gunmen." The
April 15, 1995, Economist report on the bombing murders of Israelis in
Gaza once again attached no blame to terrorists, and reiterated a relentless
theme of the magazinethat Israeli settlements are the root cause of
difficulties between Palestinians and Jews. A young American tourist was among
the victims of what The Economist called a "resistance
Readers were reminded here, as repeatedly elsewhere by the
magazine, that "what Israel calls terrorists many Palestinians call
resistance fighters." (CAMERA has requested that Hugh-Jones supply the
citations for all those times The Economist has also reminded readers
that the Irish Republican Army is viewed by some people as a resistance
movement. CAMERA has yet to receive those citations.)
A July 18, 1995 murder of two Israeli hikers in Wadi Kelt by
the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was described as the action
of "militants," not terrorists. Other Israelis were stabbed, shot,
strangled and axed to death by Hamas, Fatah, and the PFLP during this same
period without The Economist acknowledging the terrorist intent of the
A July 29, 1995 report was the only one that contained the
straightforward assertion that a bombing, again on a Tel Aviv bus, "was
Even a March 1996 Economist special report devoted to
the whole issue of terrorism was, as the Jerusalem Post wrote, "yet
another exercise in 'moral equivalence.'" Propagating "euphemisms
which would shame Soviet propagandists, it refers to airline hijackings and the
Munich, Ma'alot and coastal road massacres as 'PLO campaigns.'"
Furious salvos from Hugh-Jones denouncing critics of the
magazine's coverage of terrorism reveal a sensitivity to criticism, but whether
the magazine will rectify its blatant double standard is dubious. Again, a
comparison of the coverage of recent IRA terrorist bombings in Britain with
Arab terrorist attacks in Israel is striking. An IRA bombing in Manchester,
England in June 1996 that injured many but caused no fatalities prompted a
somber cover story headlined "The Mirage Of Peace." A blunt lead
editorial (June 22, 1996) referred six times to IRA or loyalist
The writer excoriated both the Irish Republican Army for
causing the violence and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, for failing
to repudiate it. The Economist demanded that the British government
break off any negotiations with the IRA because the bombings had made the
"hard truth finally sink home. Peace has gone. Welcome back to war."
The writer further warned the British not to engage in talks with Sin Fein
without that group's repudiating the bombing and cautioned that it would be
"a fatal mistake" to offer "new concessions" in an attempt
to appease any faction.
The Economist issued a reminder to the people of
Northern Ireland that if British troops return to patrol the streets of their
cities it "must be made plain that it was the IRA" that caused their
Economist comment (March 9, 1996) on the four
suicide-bombings in Israel in late February and early March, 1996 that killed
59 and injured hundreds is of a different order. Although there were references
to "terrorism" and "terrorist mayhem" as well as passages
describing the bombings and the public fear they engendered, there is a
striking refusal to name the killers directly as Hamas terrorists or
Palestinian terrorists, or to hold Arafat responsible.
Where the Economist writer was unequivocal about a
tough stance against all factions in the Irish case, he detected numerous
splits and nuances in the groupings around Arafat and Hamas that required
Israel to be understanding. Whereas Sinn Fein was ordered to sever its
connection to the IRA, Israel was advised to understand why Arafat must
"keep his lines open to Hamas's political leaders."
Although Israel had just suffered fatalities whose number
would equal in proportion the loss of 600 Britons, the magazine lapsed into its
familiar ugly language about Israeli self-defense. Israeli army action,
described as "swarming into West Bank villages," is said to have
"the vengeful smell of collective punishment."
Yet again obscuring the victims and the killers, The
Economist concludes its comment on the carnage of February and March with
the wish that "...Israelis and Palestinians reflect clear-eyed on the
choices before them. For this they need a period of calm. Let us hope they get
one." They?? Does the writer suggest Palestinians too were the target of
Hamas's bombs and Arafat's complicity?
Until The Economist can render the same firm judgment
about right and wrong it sees so clearly in relation to the killers of
Englishmen it will undoubtedly continue to purvey the distorted coverage of
Israel that it does now.
The West Bank as "Palestine"
The Economists' sanitized depictions of Palestinian
terror reflect a broader bias and an explicit political agenda which is neither
secret nor subtle. Hugh-Jones is frankly in favor of creation of a Palestinian
state, as he has informed CAMERA, and editorial advocacy of the Palestinian
position is unabashed and continuous.
Yet, when reproached for using the term
"Palestine" in his news magazine to designate an existing national
entity where none exists, the International Editor protested innocence. He
claimed the publication only used the terminology in subheadings
("flytitles"), not in the text of articles "...so far as I can
recall..." He added that, in any case, "many European papers use
'Palestine' and much more freely" than The Economist, and he
demanded to know whether his critics would also accuse him of inventing a state
called the West Bank when his magazine employed that phrase.
Setting aside the non-sequiturs about other publications and
about inventing a state called the West Bank, Hugh-Jones was factually wrong
about what has appeared in his publication. The Economist has used the
term "Palestine" in the text of reports to denote an Arab political
entity at least twenty times since the Oslo signings. There are repeated
references to "Arafat's return to Palestine" as well as references to
"liberated Palestine," "occupied Palestine" and
In an exchange of letters Hugh-Jones subsequently backed
away from denying the magazine's use of the term. He had discoered that
"an electronic search for the word 'Palestine'... turns up more uses than
I expected" for the year 1995. But he tried to dismiss all but four of
these twenty-four references to Palestine. He was correct obviously in
excluding "Palestine" where it was part of the term "Palestine
Liberation Organization." He was obfuscating, however, when he omitted
such uses as that in, "many of the most hawkish [young Arab men] are
members of the Muslim Brotherhood living outside Palestine."
CAMERA did the same database search over the same time
period and got different results. There were not four but sixteen occurrences
in the text where the use of "Palestine" entailed a current,
political meaning. This excluded all those cases where the word was part of the
phrase "Palestine Liberation Organization" or "Palestine
Mandate" or referred to the Mandate period.
While Hugh-Jones has never conceded The Economists'
misuse of "Palestine" there have been some apparent changes. The
magazine seems to have abandoned using "Palestine" in its
sub-headings to indicate the West Bank and Gaza. (Similarly, The
Economist no longer refers to the "Palestinian National
Authority" instead of the accurate "Palestinian Authority.")
The magazine still, however, lapses into misuse of
"Palestine" within the text of reports. Readers found an April 20th
reference to "Palestine's Hamas" and repeated references to
Promoting Arab Views
In addition to advocating Palestinian statehood, as in its
references to "Palestine," The Economist skews its coverage
toward Arab perspectives in many other ways. Thus:
Israel has been rebuked repeatedly for closing her borders in the aftermath
of terror attacks, this defensive measure being deemed unfair to the Arab
workers. The victims of terror have been accorded little attention or sympathy.
Editorials have regularly forecast doom for peace talksand blamed
Israel. Israeli calls for Arafat to prevent terror assaults have been termed a
Throughout Economist coverage, the central tenets of the Oslo
Accords requiring Arab cessation of terror have been ignored.
The Economist has emphatically supported cooperation between Hamas
and Arafat, indifferent to the illegal and dangerous contradictions inherent in
such a collaboration. The Economist avers that "agreement between
the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is as integral to the peace process as
Israel's redeployment of troops" and laments that if Mr. Arafat acts
against the group it could become an "even more murderous
However inconsistent, The Economist has also applauded Arafat's
supposed crackdown on Hamas, commenting that "for nearly a year, the
Palestinian leader has been acting forcefully against Islamist activists."
The "crackdown" by Arafat came only in the weeks prior to the Israeli
elections. In the previous year, as has been widely reported, Arafat's efforts
were a fictioninvolving publicized arrests of militants followed by
unobtrusive releases shortly thereafter. No attempt was made to dismantle the
infrastructure of Hamas. But none of this information reached Economist
Arafat's intensifying brtality toward his own people was finally reported
by The Economist, but predictably the magazine blamedIsrael. The
January 20th issue observed, "Though he is criticized by his own people
for creating the elements of a police-state, he has been pushed that way by
Israel's insistence that his priority must be to root out terrorism."
Sins of Omission
CAMERA has also protested The Economist's omission of
stories crucial to a full understanding of events, such as its lax coverage of
Palestinian violations of the Oslo Accords chronicled by Peace Watch, an
independent agency monitoring Israeli and Palestinian compliance. The group has
published detailed information about such violations as the PA's failure to
extradite a single Arab involved in violence against Israelis and the repeated
illegal attempts by the PA to establish nationalist institutions in Jerusalem.
CAMERA noted the absence of any stories detailing Arafat's
diversion of funds from infrastructure and job development into creation of
competing security services. The true status of PLO finances has received no
scrutiny by The Economist though the magazine has frequently lamented
the difficult economic straits in which Arafat finds himself. Where was the
story on Britain's National Criminal Intelligence Service briefing which stated
that the PLO is "the richest of all terrorist groups"? Was it ignored
because this and the United States General Accounting Office report revealing
$8-10 billion in PLO assets conflict with the magazine's characterizations of a
Where are the stories about the chilling record of
abduction, torture and repression in Arafat's autonomous areas as reported by
Bassam Eid, the Arab field director of the human rights organization B'Tselem?
Where the report on Palestinian human rights activist Dr. Iyad Sarraj,
initially arrested for telling The New York Times' Anthony Lewis that
"during the Israeli occupation I was 100 times freer" and rearrested
on trumped-up drug charges? Sarraj got one sentence in The Economist
after a two-week imprisonment.
International Editor Stephen Hugh-Jones' response to the
methodically-documented evidence of bias in The Economist? As the
Jerusalem Post wrote, "Hugh-Jones is obviously sorely
irritated...But it is astonishing to find a senior editor of the leading
British news magazine referring to factual, carefully researched criticism as a
"farrago of nonsense," "cod-swallop," "a set of
libels," and "rubbish," announcing that "life is too short
to answer all [the] charges," and calling his critics
"Propagandists...whose job is to distort [the truth]," and "a
bunch of self-appointed guardians of morals."
"I could rebut sundry other...statements, but frankly
life is too short," Hugh-Jones wrote. So short apparently that The
Economist has time neither to present a complete and balanced view of the
region, nor to answer critics substantively when confronted on the shoddiness
of its reporting.