- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

Is the prestigious, widely-read Economist anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli or neither of the above? Answer from the English-language Jerusalem Post: Yes, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli. Answer from the Economist: No in thunder. A torrid debate between the two publications has just been published in the Israeli daily which on July 4 led off with an indictment of the globally influential London weekly as guilty of an "aggressively pro-Palestinian bias" in its coverage of the Middle East and for its circulation of an "anti-Semitic canard."
In turn, the Economist (highly profitable worldwide circulation of 838,000) did something unusual. Normally aloof from critics, the magazine's foreign editor, Peter David, this time replied with a sharp repudiation of the charges leveled against it by the Jerusalem Post's editor-in-chief, Bret Stephens. The debate closed with a counter-rebuttal by the Israeli newspaper.
The Economist has a large Washington circulation. Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly took a copy of the British weekly with him on September 11 when he moved into the White House bunker. Its correspondents have entree to decision-makers of all levels. The Economist's matchless reputation began with Walter Bagehot, who took over the editorship in the mid-19th century. A great stylist and astute man of letters, Bagehot can still be read with profit today.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a subscriber to the Economist for many, many years and have learned to ignore its idiosyncratic editing. For example, its book pages seem to be edited by a left-liberal, but its editorial pages endorsed George W. Bush for president whom they praised with faint damns. The same pages have long been favorable to Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair. Its editorials, however, are so cleverly written they could just as well have been endorsing Al Gore or the British Conservative Party. In any case, the Economist in its June 27 editorial condemned President Bush's speech as "the dampest of damp squibs which could just as well have been written by Ariel Sharon."
However, I agree with the Jerusalem Post: The Economist has long been anti-Israel and pro-Palestine, sometimes sounding like an Arafat PR flack. Most Economist editorials and articles are usually written in what sounds a reasonable manner so one is inclined to nod one's head in semi-agreement and skip to the next page. But not when it comes to Israel and the PLO.
Mr. Stephens, who has done a content analysis of the magazine over the years, pointed out an incredible error made by the Economist during the Yom Kippur war: "Egyptians remember that it was Mr. Sharon who flouted a cease-fire during the 1973 war, counterattacking across the Suez Canal to turn Egypt's initial success into near-defeat." That's a real howler since Mr. Sharon crossed the canal at the height of the war on Oct. 16, six days before the cease-fire on Oct. 22. The Economist has an almost visceral dislike of Mr. Sharon who, it has written, represents Israel's "uglier face," is a calculating liar, a "snake-oil salesman" whose modus operandi is "calculated brutality." His election as prime minister demonstrated that the Israelis were in a "Bolshie mood."
To my mind the most damaging quote from an Economist editorial written last April sounds as if it could have been written by Susan Sontag, an apologist for the Twin Towers destruction. Said the Economist: "Yet Palestine does not fit the September 11th template. For this is terrorism harnessed to a deserving cause: the independent statehood that America itself has taken pains to say it supports."
In his reply to the Jerusalem Post, Peter David, who describes the Stephens article as a smear, argues that the above quote was taken out of context and he provides the full text. I'm afraid the full text does not explain away the cold meaning of "terrorism harnessed to a deserving cause."
Mr. David's rebuttal is tactical. He deals with only one of the many citations from Economist articles on the assumption that if the Jerusalem Post article is wrong on one point, all its other points would be in doubt.
The tactic doesn't work.
I have another explanation for the Economist's anti-Israeli editorial pattern. I base my explanation on a 4,000-word George Orwell essay titled "Anti-Semitism in Britain." Orwell's findings could also apply to Continental Europe where, reports Robert Fulford in the National Post, more than 1,000 professors have signed on to two petitions, one calling for a boycott of Israeli scientific institutions, the other for breaking cultural links with Israel. Wrote Orwell:
"There has been a perceptible anti-Semitic strain in English literature from Chaucer onwards. I can think of passages which if written now would be stigmatized as anti-Semitism, in the works of Shakespeare, Smollett, Thackeray, Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, and various others." And, of course, G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc published tirades against the Jews without much damage to their reputations.
"If, as I suggest, prejudice against Jews has always been pretty widespread in England," Orwell wrote, "there is no reason to think Hitler has genuinely diminished it. One can assume, therefore, that many people who would perish rather than admit to anti-Semitic feelings are secretly prone to them."
Orwell's essay was published in 1945. Has much changed since? On Oct. 7, 2000, The Economist wrote: "Israel is a superior country with superior people: Its talents are above the ordinary. But it has to abate its greed for other people's land."
Mr. Sharon's predecessor, Ehud Barak, at the last Camp David negotiation offered Yasser Arafat nearly all the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the return of at least 150,000 Palestinian refugees to Israel. Mr. Arafat turned it down and instead instigated the now two-year-old Intifada. "Abate its greed for other people's land"? Peter David, please note.


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