Economist Defends Jerusalem Article

The Economist’s Middle East editor responded to CAMERA’s complaint about the magazine’s March 6, 2010 article on Jerusalem, stating that he was “deeply conscious of the complexities of the argument concerning Jerusalem.” Despite this claim and the editor’s assertion that the Economist “always strives to present a fair picture,” his defense not only ignored “the complexities” about Jerusalem but just reinforced the article’s unfair, partisan attitude.

Echoing the the article’s central theme, the editor pointed to Israeli actions in Jerusalem as the issue that “makes the prospect of a final settlement more difficult,” but refused to acknowledge any Palestinian role in complicating a resolution to the conflict.

“It seems obvious to me,” he wrote, “as to virtually all international peace-seeking bodies (such as the UN) and international lawyers, that Jewish settlement and Israeli efforts to refashion Jerusalem’s status will prejudice its final status, which must be decided through negotiations.”

But while the editor invoked “Israeli efforts to refashion Jerusalem,” he showed no such concern about the fact that Arab families, too, have moved into Jewish neighborhoods whose status is to be decided, not to mention the illegal building, encouraged and funded by the Palestinian Authority, throughout the disputed territory. There was no indication or recognition – either in the article or in the editor’s response – that these actions by Palestinians are meant to “refashion” and “prejudice the final status of the area.”

As for the editor’s claimed adherence to the notion that Jerusalem’s final status should be decided only through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, this contradicts the very same article he defended. As CAMERA noted in its complaint to the Economist, the article prejudges the result of negotiations by labeling disputed territory as “Palestinian ground.”

According to the Economist editor, the magazine’s editorial viewpoint is that Jerusalem should be shared, with the Holy Basin perhaps internationalized. But while describing, with thinly-veiled contempt, Israel’s supposedly nefarious plans to preserve the area’s archeological treasures, the magazine’s one-sided article does not so much as mention the Islamic Waqf’s destruction of Jewish artifacts there.

For example, there is no mention of the Waqf’s construction on the Temple Mount, its use of heavy bulldozers and trucks on this sensitive site, or its dumping of 6,000 tons of earth containing thousands of historical artifacts from the archeologically rich area. An examination by archeologists of the debris dumped by the Wakf in Nahal Kidron has uncovered thousands of rare and important artifacts from the First and Second Temple periods, as well as from Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Early Arab periods.

Indeed, this large-scale, unsupervised construction of new mosques on the Temple Mount was criticized by the head of the Israeli Antiquities Authority as “an archeological crime” while the attorney general called it “an assault on Jewish history.” A non-political, volunteer committee comprised of prominent archeologists, judges, lawyers, literary and other public figures from across the Israeli political spectrum called for an immediate halt to the Waqf’s work which they said is causing “grave harm to archeology.” Yet to the magazine, whose article deems Israeli conservation efforts in this area as a harmful attempt to “refashion Jerusalem’s status,” the Palestinian destruction of archeology is apparently of no matter.

Rather than address the article’s unfair double standards, or CAMERA’s complaints about the consistent Palestinian denial of Jewish heritage in the Holy Basin, the editor chose instead to underscore Palestinian propaganda points. He insisted that promoting “Israeli claims to its holy places” and educating Jewish youngsters about Jerusalem’s Jewish history is “worthy of comment” – apparently more so than anything Palestinians have done to deny Jewish heritage. His response went into considerable detail about Israeli “ideologues” supposedly in cahoots with the government and involved in “Temple-related activity”:

Temple-related activity has increased in recent years sponsored by official and semi-official agencies promoting Israeli claims to the eastern part of the city and its holy places. These include the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, a government-run association, which seeks to “preserve and develop the Western Wall and its Tunnels, and to develop educational frameworks that make Jews everywhere feel closer to Jerusalem” and…to the Temple Mount. Its e-learning website includes an interactive programme in which “the child ‘builds’ the Temple on the Temple Mount”. Visitors to its tunnels…are similarly treated to models of a reconstructed Temple in place of the existing mosques…

The implication that it is an affront to Palestinians, and therefore wrong, to expose Jewish students to a historical reproduction of the Jewish Temple, to teach them how the Temple was constructed, or to encourage a Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site is extremely disturbing. Are Jews not entitled to be connected to their heritage and central religious tenets?

Similarly, the editor’s implied criticism of the Elad Association’s stated dedication to “continuing King David’s legacy and strengthening Israel’s current and historic connection to Jerusalem” through archeological excavations, among other initiatives, demonstrated a lack of regard for Jewish heritage.

By conveying the attitude that it is somehow sinister to strengthen Jewish knowledge about and connection to Jerusalem, the editor reflected the article’s double standards, where Palestinian rights and connection to the Holy Basin are a given, but Jewish rights and connection to the area are considered a threat.

This same attitude is demonstrated when the article refers to the Temple Mount only by its Muslim name and describes it as Islam’s third holiest site without ever mentioning its status as Judaism’s holiest site. (The editor’s response did not address CAMERA’s complaint about this.) And it is this mindset that is revealed when the article portrays as “encroachment” Jews moving into legally purchased homes in eastern Jerusalem but justifies illegal Arab building on Holy Basin land slated for centuries to be conserved.

In another attempt to defend his magazine, the editor recounted that the article faults Israel for “not maintaining services for non-Jewish residents.” His evidence? Israel has begun a project to improve the sewage infrastructure for Palestinian residents of the Muslim Quarter.

If that seems contradictory, that’s because it is. But the editor insisted that because some “ideologically-driven” groups hope to halt the project at its current stage – the mandatory pre-excavation of the construction site – it somehow proves that Israel’s project is really meant to harm rather than help the Palestinians.

While there may indeed be critics of the sewage project, it is entirely beside the point. Municipal projects anywhere in the world will have their critics. The fact is, the authorities have not changed their plans to complete the work.

Not only does the editor’s bizarre logic fail to prove his point, it also further demonstrates the Economist’s confusion — or attempts to confuse — about Israeli, and indeed international, policies about construction in archeologically-rich areas. Paying attention to archeology in such a historic area as the Old City is a matter of law to which all new construction is subject.

British law similarly states that an exploratory excavation must be carried out before construction can be done in sensitive areas in order to preserve historic heritage. For example, there are archeological digs currently taking place in Mildenhall, England in advance of the expansion of a Royal Air Force base. These preliminary excavations were mandated by the British Department of the Environment in order to preserve historical artifacts. But when Israel mandates the same type of thing, the Economist takes a negative view.

The editor went on to address the article’s assertion that “Israeli ambulances have sometimes been told not to venture into Palestinian areas to answer emergency calls,which falsely implies that Israeli ambulances are directed not to help Arabs in need of urgent medical care.

In the original complaint to the Economist, CAMERA pointed out that ambulances are not barred from administering to sick Arab patients, rather they are directed to await a police escort before entering Arab neighborhoods deemed a security threat. The article, however, made no mention of police escorts, nor of the reason for them – that is, Israeli ambulance crews have been attacked in such neighborhoods.

In his defense of the Economist’s misleading assertion, the editor cited criticism of the police escort policy which noted that it did not apply to ambulances traveling through Arab neighborhoods en route to Jewish neighborhoods.

While this is true, it is completely irrelevant. The police escort policy is based solely on the level of threat to Israeli ambulance crews. Indeed, it does not apply to Israeli ambulances entering historically friendly Arab neighborhoods – for example, Abu Ghosh. Moreover, an ambulance speeding through even a hostile neighborhood is not in the same danger as one that stops and parks in such a neighborhood. The editor, however, did not feel that the article’s misleading statement required any correction or further context. .

In response to CAMERA’s challenge about the article’s claim that traffic lights in Jerusalem “flick green only briefly for cars from Palestinian districts while staying green for cars from Jewish settlements for minutes,” the editor provided a list of intersections at which this discriminatory behavior purportedly takes place.

However, a CAMERA field investigation determined that the timing of red and green lights at these and other Jerusalem intersections is related, as in cities across the world, to street size and traffic flow — not ethnicity. (See CAMERA’s full discussion of this topic here.)

Despite the numerous examples CAMERA provided of partisan reporting in the Economist’s article, the editor nonetheless took offense at CAMERA’s characterization of it as “parroting the Palestinian narrative.” He contended that because no Palestinian literature and no Palestinians were interviewed or quoted, the article could not possibly have reflected the Palestinian perspective.

Of course, this is absurd. The dismissal of Israel’s perspective, the omission of the Palestinian role in complicating negotiations, the invocation of Palestinian terminology, and the author’s own editorial statements amounted to a subjective presentation of the Palestinian case, rather than a “fair” and “fastidious” piece about Jerusalem, as the editor claimed. With statements like “Can the Palestinian Authority, which runs a fledgling state on the West Bank, do anything to salvage its putative capital, other than plaintively cry ‘theft’?” the Economist had no need to cite “Palestinian literature” or interviewees in order to embrace a Palestinian viewpoint.

Comments are closed.