In one Middle Eastern nation after another restive populations have risen up against their corrupt and oppressive governments. Yet the upscale British journal, The Economist, remains impervious to what this unrest reveals about what ails the Middle East. Instead, in an editorial piece titled “Bad News for the Jewish State,” published on Feb. 3, 2011, the tumult in Egypt simply serves as a springboard for returning the focus to alleged Israeli intransigence towards the Palestinians. Despite the fact that Israel has been an island of relative calm in a region otherwise bristling with popular fury at ruling regimes, The Economist somehow finds a connection between the demands of the protestors in Arab states and the demands of the Palestinians on Israel. To make this leap of logic, the editorial writer constructs a false narrative from unsupported insinuations and illusory political stances conveyed by unnamed sources.
Imputing motive without evidence or rationale
The piece opens with an unsubstantiated negative characterization of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, divining that “Mr Netanyahu’s sentiments, apart from encouraging Western sobriety, seemed designed to block off awkward thoughts being expressed here and there in the Israeli peace camp.” It provides no description or definition of the “peace camp,” but leaves no doubt that Netanyahu contrives to stifle any effort to make peace. Never mind that Netanyahu has publicly affirmed his support for the two-state solution and repeatedly urged the Palestinian leadership to resume negotiations. At The Economist, right-of-center Israeli politician are presumed to be on the wrong side of the peace process.
Promoting its political agenda through proxies
The Economist advances its argument through unnamed “peaceniks,” employing the editorial device of speaking through proxies to give credibility to its dubious narrative. It also utilizes strawman arguments from unnamed members of the “Israeli right” to bolster its point of view.
The column tells us that “some peaceniks argue that Israel is another Middle Eastern country directly threatened by the wave of democracy emanating from Tunisia, sweeping Egypt and lapping at Jordan.” This statement falsely equates Israel with the Arab states experiencing unrest. Unlike these Arab states, Israel is a genuine democracy in which its citizens participate in free and fair elections, enjoy a free press and may seek recourse from an independent judiciary system. It’s Arab citizens also do not suffer from the economic stagnation experienced by many Egyptians, Tunisians and Yemenis.
Continuing to argue through unnamed peaceniks, the editorial observes, “Mr Netanyahu this week extolled his country as an island of stability and democracy. But Israel, note the peaceniks, rules a large and disaffected population of Palestinians who are learning on their televisions how to topple tyranny.” Here, we have the insinuation that Israel’s actions towards Palestinian Arabs equates to the Arab regimes’ treatment of their own citizens. West Bank and Gazan Arabs clearly resent Israeli interference in their daily lives, but the similarity ends there. Israel does not directly govern the Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza, nor does it represent itself as the sovereign ruler. The Palestinian Authority under Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza collect taxes, assume the responsibilities of governance and adjudicate civil matters.
For The Economist, none of this matters. The Palestinian Authority’s only relevance in the editorialist’s eyes, is as a police force to enforce Israel’s will.
The article states,
On the West Bank the Palestinians are held down with the help of the Palestinian Authority’s police. But some Israelis ask whether Palestinian police units—or Israeli security forces, for that matter—would really crush a mass democracy movement live on world television, after Egypt’s powerful army has set a precedent of forbearance.
To complete its specious narrative, the editorial resorts to the strawman argument. It contends,
Then, as now, the Israeli right refused to recognise that the separate peace signed by Israel and Egypt in 1979, and Israel’s continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories conquered in 1967, rendered the Israel-Egypt relationship both parlous and unpopular among large sections of Egyptian society and in most of the Arab world.
No actual politician or figure associated with Israeli right is cited to substantiate this charge.
An argument built on insinuation is not constrained by facts. Netanyahu’s Likud Party (Israel’s conservative party) receives a rebuke because it “still ignores the flaws in the treaty, talking of a ‘cold peace’ and blaming Egypt’s government for not warming it up.” If Israel deserves criticism for ignoring issues related to the 1979 treaty with Egypt, prominent among these issues would be Egypt’s failure to fulfill the normalization clauses, including trade, tourism and cultural exchanges, that might have fostered people-people relations, rather than strictly government-government communication. Few Egyptians have visited Israel as tourists or in an official capacity. President Mubarak visited just once in thirty years, to attend former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. The Egyptian communications media routinely carry virulent anti-Israel and anti-Jewish tirades. Commercial and tourist trade, the hallmark of relations between nations, is overwhelmingly one-way from Israel to Egypt. Yet The Economist belittles what is obvious to anyone who follows Israeli-Egyptian relations.
After setting up its narrative with proxies and unsubstantiated contentions, The Economist delivers its punchline, rhetorically asking, could Israel “win against masses of peaceful protesters in town squares across the West Bank, Gaza and Israel too, demanding political rights for Palestinians?” The implication, of course, is that the demands of these Palestinian demonstrators would be akin to the demands of demonstrators in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. But the demands of demonstrators in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen are for an end to endemic corruption, the lack of economic opportunity and the absence of responsive governmental institutions. Palestinian Arabs may have similar grievances with their own leadership, but their demands on Israel are of a different nature.