20 March 2007 – What’s wrong with the Economist?
The Economist is not only one of the world’s most comprehensive print news sources, but also one of the best, and is committed to the unassailable ideals of liberal thought and free trade. Its Middle East coverage has been spotty on occasion, but in the aftermath of the Jenin “massacre” in 2002, it called such reports “so much nonsense” and demanded that the mainstream British media recant.
So why, then, has the Economist been indulging the same kinds of fiction lately? This week’s issue features a cover story about “America’s Jewish lobby” that combines fiction and prejudice in volatile proportions. The story, in the Lexington column on American affairs, is ostensibly a reflection on the recent conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, D.C.
Firstly, AIPAC is not “America’s Jewish lobby.” It does not speak for the American Jewish community and plays no role in governing Jewish communal affairs in the United States. Its specific and limited mission is to advocate on behalf of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, to which end it enlists the help of thousands of volunteers, many of whom are not Jewish (a significant number are evangelical Christians).
To call AIPAC “America’s Jewish lobby” is to break down the distinction between Jews and Israel; to attack AIPAC as a Jewish front is to bring anti-Israel criticism dangerously close to antisemitism. Critics of Israel and Zionism are at pains to deny the antisemitism charge. But they want it both ways, because criticizing seemingly weak Jews is perhaps easy, while counter-criticism from Israel is seen as bullying.
The article itself features many of the familiar old anti-Jewish symbols and tropes. The title is “Taming Leviathan,” and AIPAC is depicted as a sea monster, a Leviathan (a reference to its supposed political dominance), much as antisemitic propaganda in early twentieth-century Europe and the contemporary Arab world portrays world Jewry as an octopus with tentacles in every realm.
The substance of the article is appalling in its disregard for basic facts. It describes AIPAC as if its goal were to increase the number of Jews in Congress. It claims AIPAC was among the “pro-war hawks” on Iraq, when in fact AIPAC had no official position on the Iraq war. The article even gives credence to the protest of the Neturei Karta crazies, who are described as if they represented a real Jewish backlash.
Lexington describes AIPAC’s “ace in the hole” as “the idea that it represents Jewish interests”—an idea that exists only in the minds of antisemitic conspiracy theorists, who portray a supposedly massive shadow of Jewish power over American politics. The article also describes the fact that most American Jews are left-wing as a problem for AIPAC, when this has in fact been true since well before AIPAC’s founding in the 1980s.
The article concludes by claiming that “it is suddenly becoming possible for serious people . . . to ask hard questions about America’s relationship with Israel”—as if it were ever impossible!—and accuses AIPAC of being “too willing to close down debate with explosive charges of anti-Israel bias when people ask whether this is a good thing.” (I wonder: did the original text of the article read “anti-Semitic bias”?)
What actually closes down debate is news analysis that presents complete fabrications and conspiracy theories as absolute fact and makes use of still-powerful anti-Jewish tropes to drive these spurious ideas home. Accuse the authors of such articles about the “Jewish lobby” of antisemitism, and you will find yourself in the dock; confine your comment to the article’s errors and you are likely to be ignored.
Another article in the same issue, a comparison of Israeli and Palestinian history textbooks, typifies the double standard that the Economist has applied to the two sides. Israeli textbooks that tell the truth about history—albeit with some errors, oversimplifications and embellishments—are equated with Palestinian textbooks that falsify history outright, teach intolerance and call for Israel’s destruction.
The reality is that Israeli children—through studying Arabic poetry, national observances of mourning for massacres in Arab villages, and pedagogical rituals of coexistence—have been tutored for peace for at least a generation. Palestinian children, however, continue to be indoctrinated to hate Jews, to admire suicide bombers and anticipate war, as this disturbing clip from MEMRI (posted on LGF) shows.
Such blatant anti-Israel bias does nothing to encourage peace; in fact, it is objectively opposed to peace. The only article in the Economist this week that deals with a positive effort to promote peace is skeptical, even contemptuous, of a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian project to restore the waters of the Dead Sea and create multiple spin-off projects to boost economic growth in the region.
The article reports that Israel’s “Peace Corridor,” which is being promoted by Nobel laureate Shimon Peres, is being greeted with criticism by economists and environmentalists. Fine—but why is the Economist so dismissive of the idea of the “peace dividend” that such a project might bring to the region? Apparently Israel can do no right, even when it reaches out to its neighbors.
What a disgrace to the Economist’s supposedly high standards of journalism.