The Economist Strikes Again

By Elliot Jager
Friday, January 7, 2011

The Economist is a curious publication.  A weekly newsmagazine published in London, devoted to international politics, business news, and social trends, it largely hews to a classical liberal (or libertarian) line in economics and a correspondingly conservative line in politics. In contrast to most newsmagazines today, it is also a rousing success: while the moribund Time and Newsweek are tightening their belts, the proudly highbrow Economist has more than doubled its circulation (now at 1.6 million, half in the U.S.) in the past decade and continues to wield great influence in the world of ideas and opinion.

As reputable and sophisticated as the Economist's coverage has been, however, its political stance lends credence to charges of bias. This is particularly true in the case of Israel, where the magazine consistently drops its façade of cool detachment and recklessly scatters diagnoses and accusations like daisies.  The current cover story, "Please, Not Again: The Threat of War in the Middle East," is the latest case in point.

According to the Economist, war could break out at any point this year over Iran's "apparent" desire to build atomic bombs, the arms race "between" Israel and Hizballah (presumably, the two share an equal thirst for aggression), or "miscalculations" on the Gaza border. The solution to these frightening scenarios? The Obama administration must exert "tough love" on Israel by imposing a settlement that will establish a Fatah-led Palestine in the West Bank. For, the article reasons, once this is done, Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas in Gaza will all find it "much harder" to attack Israel.

Economist editorials and feature articles are published anonymously—though the newspaper's Israel correspondent, former Haaretz editor David Landau, would likely have contributed to the latest barrage. Landau is on record as asserting that Israel is begging for "more vigorous U.S. intervention" and in fact "wants to be raped" by Washington. In the Economist report, an unappreciative Israel is now pocketing billions in American aid even as it rebuffs pleas to "pause in its building of illegal Jewish settlements." The reasons for this supposed obstinacy are Israel's "thriving economy" and "America's pro-Israel lobby"—hence the need for muscular and determined action by the White House.

One despairs of rehearsing the fatal flaws with this argument, to the extent that it is an argument at all rather than an unsubstantiated rant. Suffice it to say that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has latched onto any pretext not to negotiate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. But it is hardly any wonder that relative moderates like him are fearful. Coddled by the international community, Hamas is solidifying its grip on Gaza, and with Syria's support Hizballah has for all intents and purposes usurped Lebanese sovereignty. Iran may soon provide the rejectionists with a nuclear umbrella. In this geopolitical climate, Abbas would be pilloried if he negotiated in earnest with Netanyahu.

The implication is clear: unless the international community first tackles the jihadists and rejectionists, moderates will be afraid to make the compromises necessary for a settlement. But don't tell that to the Economist.  Indeed, in its survey of the entire Middle East, from Afghanistan to Iran to Iraq, the "biggest headache" the editors can find to name is not the metastasizing evil that, in its latest incarnation, inspired the terror bombing of a New Year's eve mass at a Coptic church in Egypt but rather "Jewish colonization in the West Bank." Swept aside as evidently beneath consideration is the possibility that disputed territory captured in a war of self-defense, of immense strategic value to Israel's survival, and deeply rooted in Jewish civilization ought at least to be the subject of direct negotiations between the parties.

All this is par for the course. Reading the Economist, one learns that Israel perpetually, and lethally, magnifies and then bungles even legitimate security threats; that it obdurately "colonizes" the "Palestinian side of the 1967 border"; that its harassment of Arabs extends to setting traffic lights in Palestinian areas to flicker green only briefly. Such "reporting," which falls somewhere on the grid between the false, the farcical, and the fabricated, lends a sobering relevance to the words of billionaire CEO Larry Ellison, quoted in one of the magazine's canny ad campaigns: "I used to think. Now, I just read the Economist."   

One trembles to imagine how many among its 1.6 million readers let the Economist do their thinking for them.

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