Ranting against Israel at The Economist

At the Economist’s blog on “Democracy in America” – which is supposedly about American politics – one of the respected magazine’s correspondents identified by the initials M.S. has published a post under the title “Israel, Iran and America: Auschwitz complex.”

The post seems to have been written in a fit of debilitating rage.

Right at the outset, the writer quotes Netanyahu stating to Obama that he views it as his “supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel…to ensure that Israel remains master of its fate.”

Everyone knows what this means in the relevant context of the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran: given America’s vastly superior military capabilities, the US can wait with a strike much longer than Israel to see how far Iran will get with its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

But the Economist’s correspondent seems oblivious of this widely noted issue.

Instead, s/he plays (?) dumb and, in an attempt at sarcasm, picks up on the notion of being master of one’s fate:

“News flash: Israel is not master of its fate. It’s not terribly surprising that a country with less than 8m inhabitants is not master of its fate. Switzerland, Sweden, Serbia and Portugal are not masters of their fates. These days, many countries with populations of 100m or more can hardly be said to be masters of their fates. Britain and China aren’t masters of their fates, and even the world’s overwhelmingly largest economy, the United States, isn’t really master of its fate.”

Oh well, then, it seems that for this writer, no country is master of its fate, we are all interdependent, etc. etc.

But unsurprisingly, Israel is quickly presented as a very special case:

“Israel has even less control over its own destiny than Portugal or Britain do. The main reason is that, unlike those countries, Israel refuses to give up its empire. Israel is unable to sustain its imperial ambitions in the West Bank, or even to articulate them coherently. Having allowed its founding ideology to carry it relentlessly and unthinkingly into what Gershom Gorenburg calls an “Accidental Empire” of radical religious-nationalist settlements that openly defy its own courts, Israel is politically incapable of extricating itself. […] Countries facing imperial twilight, like Britain in the late 1940s, are often seized by a sense of desperate paralysis. For over a decade, the tone of Israeli politics has been a mix of panic, despair, hysteria and resignation.”

So here we seem to have a writer who regards him-/herself as a seasoned observer of Israeli politics – even if s/he is condemned to write for the Economist about “Democracy in America:” note the claim about the “tone of Israeli politics” in the past decade, and the somewhat more subtle insinuation that Israel’s mighty West Bank “empire” – that entitles the tiny Jewish state to comparisons with former imperialist powers like Portugal or Britain – results from Israel’s “founding ideology”, i.e. Zionism.

The ridiculous comparisons, the insinuations about the pernicious nature of Zionism and the total disregard for historical context – like the fact that the West Bank was conquered in a defensive war and that Israel has relinquished all other territories won in this war – would seem to indicate that this writer has all the qualifications to contribute to some of the more unhinged anti-Israel blogs out there.

Indeed, the rest of this post only serves to reinforce this conclusion. The reader is not only told that during his tenure as prime minister in the late 1990s, Netanyahu “did more than any other Israeli leader to destroy the peace process,” but there are also truly mind-boggling assertions like these:

“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, had they been truly interested in progress towards a two-state solution.”

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…

Next up is a bit of psychologizing:

“Having trapped themselves in a death struggle with Palestinians that they cannot acknowledge or untangle, Israelis have psychologically displaced the source of their anxiety onto a more distant target: Iran. An Iranian nuclear bomb would not be a happy development for Israel. Neither was Pakistan’s, nor indeed North Korea’s. The notion that it represents a new Holocaust is overstated, and the belief that the source of Israel’s existential woes can be eliminated with an airstrike is mistaken. But Iran makes an appealing enemy for Israelis because, unlike the Palestinians, it can be fitted into a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook: the eliminationist anti-Semite.”

So here you have it: “the eliminationist anti-Semite” is simply “a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook” – Jewish lore that is now cynically manipulated to avoid dealing with what those Jews Israelis have brought on themselves: their “death struggle” with Palestinians.

Those who up to now have been patiently waiting for anything to do with America finally get treated to a few crumbs when Netanyahu is berated for giving Obama a copy of the Book of Esther – which triggers another bout of psychologizing:

“Mr Netanyahu is less attractive than Esther, but he seems to be wooing Mr Obama and the American public just as effectively. The American-Israeli relationship now resembles the sort of crazy co-dependency one sometimes finds in doomed marriages, where the more stubborn and unstable partner drags the other into increasingly delusional and dangerous projects whose disastrous results seem only to legitimate their paranoid outlook.”

I’m tempted to characterize this post simply by quoting a few adjectives from this paragraph: crazy, delusional and paranoid.

If you think this is too harsh, read Walter Russell Mead’s recent post on “Obama’s Iran Dilemma” to appreciate what a level-headed and knowledgeable analysis on this subject looks like and just how far the Economist’s correspondent has gone off into the loony “it’s-all-Israel’s-fault” -territory.

While it is probably unfair to expect a coherent argument from a writer who is so consumed by hatred, it is also noteworthy that the post starts out by claiming that it is preposterous if Israel wants to be “master of its fate,” but it then goes on and on to argue that Israel has only itself to blame for its problems. Neither the Palestinians nor Israel’s Arab neighbors nor the wider Arab and Muslim world – including Iran – have anything to do with the threats Israel is facing, and “the eliminationist anti-Semite” is just “a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook.” That’s probably why the post is entitled “Auschwitz complex.”

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.


Several other writers have commented on this hate-filled outburst:

Under the title The Economist’s Pathetic “Auschwitz Complex” Mark Gardner writes on the CST blog:

“The Holocaust, Jewish history and religion are crucial to the Israeli national psyche and the decisions of its leaders: but this is not a serious article on that multifaceted subject. Instead, this article’s lack of accuracy and sensitivity make it little more than an abuse of the Holocaust and Jewish religion in order to stick two fingers up at Netanyahu.”

At Harry’s Place, Professor Alan Johnson of BICOM points out:

“Israel is wrestling with an excruciating real-world dilemma not acting out a psychological complex. And not only Israel. The entire region would experience a nuclear arms race should Iran get the bomb. […] Cheap psychologising of Israel is not a serious response to the looming danger of the Iranian nuclear bomb. That the Economist thinks otherwise is a real cause for concern.”

HP adds that the writer of the blog post might be “Matt Steinglass, a Jewish journalist who writes for the Financial Times on the Netherlands.”

Indeed, it turns out that on his Twitter profile, Steinglass links to the Economist’s “Democracy in America” blog.

On National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson describes the Economist post as “one of the most ignorant articles in recent memory.”


The Commentator has a piece by the always excellent Daniel Schwammenthal who notes that  the Economist has now changed the original headline “Auschwitz complex” to “Masters of their fate?”

But Schwammenthal notes, rightly in my view: “In some ways, this half-hearted retreat makes matters even worse. The editor in chief himself takes a second, careful look and still finds nothing objectionable with the body of the text. The Economist now truly owns this gem.”



2 responses to “Ranting against Israel at The Economist

  1. The author did not even had the courage to identify him/her self and hide cowardly behind initials… even in absence of those it is not that difficult to make his/her ideologic profile!

    • It’s actually The Economist’s policy to identify their bloggers only by initials; their print articles are completely anonymous because they’re meant to be a “house product”. However, it seems HP was right to identify Matt Steinglass as the author of this post, particularly given the fact that in his Twitter profile, he himself links to the Economist blog. That’s quite interesting, because my understanding was that it is the Economist’s America correspondents who write the “Democracy in America” blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s