The Economist Blog: Short on Facts, Long on Venom

On March 6, 2012, The Economist published under its imprimatur an online blog entitled “Israel, Iran and America; Auschwitz Complex,” unsigned except for the initials, M.S. Disconnected from the facts and venomous in tone, it was evidently authored by Matt Steinglass, who posts on his Twitter page that he blogs for The Economist‘s “Democracy in America,” the same blog that featured the odious piece. The article is one more example of a mainstream publication that ostensibly adheres to journalistic norms totally disregarding professional ethics on its Web site.

Though it may not have the cachet of the print edition, according to the latest Economist Group circulation numbers, the online version may have more reach. The Economist print version has a circulation, including both hard copy and digital readers, of roughly 1.6 million. The Economist online has more than seven million unique monthly visitors. For this reason, and for the sake of journalistic integrity, The Economist should pay close attention to the material it sanctions under its banner.

The writer makes three main points:

  • Israel is an imperial venture refusing to relinquish territory
  • Iran is not a serious threat to Israel
  • Jews are wedded to a “Jewish national playbook” that harps on existential threats to the Jewish people

The first two points are flat out wrong. Israel has never sought empire and is one of the only nations in modern history to cede territories captured in wars it did not seek. Israel relinquished territory captured from Egypt in 1967, returning the Sinai Peninsula, including its oil wells, air fields and resort city of Taba, even dismantling Jewish towns like Yamit. Likewise, Israel returned to Jordan Naharayim, also known as the Island of Peace.

Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005. Both actions, regrettably, enabled creation of terrorist havens on Israel’s borders and subsequent launching of thousands of rockets and missiles. Of course, most recently in 2000 and in 2008, Israel made peace offers to the Palestinians within the framework of the Oslo accords that would have resulted in the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In this blog post, M.S. writes, “Israel is unable to sustain its imperial ambitions in the West Bank, or even to articulate them coherently.” It is not surprising that Israel cannot articulate imperial ambitions that don’t exist. As Victor Davis Hanson writes in “The National Review Online“:

Israel fought three existential wars before the 1967 borders were altered. Where was the “empire” then — and what were the wars fought over? And when its forces stayed in place after defeating its enemies in the Six-Day War, as I also recall, Israel gradually relinquished its “empire” in Sinai, Lebanon, and Gaza, areas from which still arise calls for its destruction. The so-called settlements in the West Bank will have to be negotiated, but the dismantling of them in Gaza brought no peace; and it remains a fact that roughly a million Arabs are currently treated far better inside Israel than were the roughly 500,000–600,000 Jews who were ethnically cleansed from their homes in the now Judenfrei major Arab capitals — not to mention that Arab Israelis enjoy rights not granted under most Arab autocracies. Somewhere in this polemic full of moral equivalences, the unsigned author seems to have forgotten that Israel is a consensual democracy unlike all of its front-line Arab rivals. As far as lands occupied after war, I suppose the author is just as worried about global “imperial” tensions arising over the Polish possession of former German East Prussia, or the current Turkish occupation of Greek lands in Cyprus, or the Russian occupation of islands off the Japanese coast?

The only point in the blog where the author mentions the terrorism to which Israel is subjected comes as a criticism of Israel’s response. He writes:

Violent clashes and provocations erupted whenever the peace process seemed on the verge of concrete steps forward; the most charitable spin would be that the Israelis failed to exercise the restraint they might have shown in retaliating against Palestinian terrorism…

Though M.S. admits that when peace seemed achievable, terrorists sought to derail it, he frames his narrative passively. “Violent clashes and provocations erupted,” as if on their own out of thin air and not as the active choice of various Palestinian leaders. Petra Marquardt comments in her “Jerusalem Post Blog“:

The reader is left to guess who should be held responsible for the “eruption” of “violent clashes and provocations,” but there is probably a hint in the formulation that it would be “the most charitable spin” to blame the Israelis just for failing to exercise restraint in the face of the bloody terrorist campaign of the so-called Palestinian Al-Aqsa intifada. Every reader is invited to fantasize what a less “charitable spin” would mean…

Rather than acknowledging the serious threat a nuclearized Iran poses to Israel, to American interests, to its neighbors and to the global community, M.S. trivializes such a possibility by saying “An Iranian nuclear bomb would not be a happy development for Israel.” This grossly understates the gravity of the issue, which President Obama described thusly:

No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.

And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu, and Eh ud Barak and all of Israel’s leaders. A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States.

Indeed the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. A nuclear armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the nonproliferation regime that we’ve done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions. It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people. And it would embolden Iran’s proxies who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to Southwest Asia.

In their own words, the leaders of Iran have said of Israel:

• “Iran’s position, which was first expressed by the Imam [Khomeini] and stated several times by those responsible, is that the cancerous tumor called Israel must be uprooted from the region.” – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, December 15, 2000, on Iranian TV

• Israel is a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut.” – Khamenei, February 3, 2012

• “Our dear Imam [Khomeini] ordered that this Jerusalem-occupying regime [Israel] must be erased from the page of time.” – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, October 26, 2005 at the “World without Zionism” Conference in Tehran

• “Soon this stain of disgrace will be cleaned from the garment of the world of Islam, and this is attainable.”- Ahmadinejad in the same speech. He later clarified on his website that by “stain of disgrace” he meant “Esraiil” (Israel).

• “Israel’s days are numbered… the peoples of the region would not miss the narrowest opportunity to annihilate this false regime.”- Ahmadinejad, May 14, 2008, in Gorgan, in northern Iran

This banner (below) appears on the building which houses the Center for the Basij Resistance in the Judicial Branch, which is part of the Basij Resistance in Government Ministries and Departments.

To say Iran is anything less than a credible existential threat to Israel is to completely disregard all the evidence, including the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The third claim of the Economist piece — that Jews are excessively and inappropriately concerned about imagined existential threats to the Jewish people — conveys animus and contempt toward Israel, Judaism and Jews that one can hardly imagine the Economist allowing to be directed at any other religion.

The overall thrust of the M.S. screed leads the reader to believe M.S. is perfectly sanguine about the destruction of Israel. How else to explain that M.S.’s vitriol is lavished not on repressive regimes that abound from Asia to Africa, not on despots and dictators, but is saved only for a tiny democracy whose citizens freely elect their leaders? Though the writer deems these leaders “panicked,” “desperate,” and “hysterical,” it must be noted that in this free democracy, in Israel, Israelis who agree have every right to say so and often do. Not so in the states that escape M.S.’s rancor.

M.S. cites “the eliminationist anti-Semite” as “a familiar trope from the Jewish national playbook.” To say there exists a “Jewish national playbook” is to say that Jews have an overall plan. This idea ofthe all-powerful Jew pulling strings behind the scenes in furtherance of some plan is an anti-Semitic libel spelled out most notoriously in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

To call the idea that anti-Semites have throughout history sought to destroy the Jewish people a “trope” is to say it is merely a metaphor, not fact. M.S. cites the “Ve-hi she-amdah” paragraph in the Passover Haggadah, “In every generation they stand against us to destroy us.” According to scholars, the Passover Haggadah was written in the third or fourth century: before the blood libels, before the ghettos, before the many expulsions, before the Crusades, before the Inquisition, before the pogroms, before the Tzars, before the Holocaust, before the Communist purges, before the invading Arab armies, before the waves of terrorist attacks. This is no trope. If anything, it is a prophecy.

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