The disingenuity of The Economist

3 Nov

The Economist, November 2, 2023:

Why Israel must fight on

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is taking a terrible toll. But unless Hamas’s power is broken, peace will remain out of reach

Israeli forces are entering a hellscape of their own making. One in ten buildings in Gaza has been pulverised by Israeli aircraft and artillery. Over 8,000 Palestinians have been killed, many of them children. Shortages of fuel, clean water and food, imposed by an Israeli blockade, pose a growing threat to the lives of many thousands more.

Around the world the cry is going up for a ceasefire or for Israel to abandon its ground invasion. Hearing some Israeli politicians call for vengeance, including the discredited prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, many people conclude that Israel’s actions are disproportionate and immoral. Many of those arguing this believe in the need for a Jewish state, but fear for a Jewish state that seems to value Palestinian lives so cheaply. They worry that the slender hopes for peace in this age-old conflict will be buried under Gaza’s rubble.

Those are powerful arguments …

I agree. But do you detect a “but” in the offing?

… but they lead to the wrong conclusion. Israel is inflicting terrible civilian casualties. It must minimise them and be seen to do so. Palestinians are lacking essential humanitarian supplies. Israel must let a lot more aid pass into Gaza.

Yes, let’s do please be humane, but do you still sense that ‘but’ in the making?

However, even if Israel chooses to honour these responsibilities, the only path to peace lies in dramatically reducing Hamas’s capacity to use Gaza as a source of supplies and a base for its army. Tragically, that requires war.

Hmm. Right now Israel is razing Gaza. Isn’t it a defining condition of ‘war’ that both sides be armed? If not, why not call the Holocaust a war between Nazi Germany and Jews?

To grasp why, you have to understand what happened on October 7th. When Israelis talk about Hamas’s attack as an existential threat they mean it literally, not as a figure of speech. Because of pogroms and the Holocaust, Israel has a unique social contract: to create a land where Jews know they will not be killed or persecuted for being Jews. The state has long honoured that promise with a strategic doctrine that calls for deterrence, early warnings of an attack, protection on the home front and decisive Israeli victories.

While I never saw this organ as other than the voice of capitalism’s (neo) liberal wing, I did once credit it with a gravitas it has not merited in at least a decade. But even by latter day Economist standards, these are empire cheer-leading whoppers of gob-smacking omission.

Ignored here are:

  • Israel’s role – as distinct from Netanyahu’s – in the creation of Hamas.
  • The categoric inability of Hamas to pose an “existential threat” to a nuclear power with the unconditional backing of Washington.
  • That the statement – Because of pogroms and the Holocaust, Israel has a unique social contract: to create a land where Jews know they will not be killed or persecuted for being Jews”  is a leap of staggeringly non-sequiturial dimensions. Palestinians had nothing to do with pogroms or Holocaust, and what are we to make of a “unique social contract” whose fulfilment required ethnic cleansing, an apartheid state and the ghettoisation of millions in the concentration camp known as Gaza?

Over the past two decades Israel lost sight of the fact that Palestinians deserve a state, too. Mr Netanyahu boosted Hamas to sabotage Palestinian moderates—a cynical ploy to help him argue that Israel has no partner for peace. Instead, Palestinian suffering became something to manage, with a mix of financial inducements and deterrence, kept fresh by repeated short wars.

According egregious status to an easy target is a card much favoured by neoliberals: “if only we could be rid of oafs like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Benjamin Netanyahu, the grown-ups could get their heads together and make real headway.”

This – if we’re inclined to be charitable –  is fact-defiant, amnesia-dependent stupidity of the highest order.

On October 7th Hamas destroyed all this, including Mr Netanyahu’s brittle scheme …

Au contraire, Economist, au contraire.  What was destroyed on October 7 was not one man’s brittle scheme but a decades old lie. Namely that 2.3 million people could be crammed into a coastal strip of 141 square miles – think about that: a sticking plaster twenty miles long and seven wide, ‘home’ to 2,300,000 human beings – most with no viable way of making a living, deprived of water while illegal settlers in hills a stone’s throw above them frolic in swimming pools, and – you know the rest – get so used to the fact they actually begin to enjoy it, get on with their lovely lives and renounce all talk of Nakba and its ongoing murderous larceny.

The terrorists ripped apart Israel’s social contract by shattering the security doctrine created to defend it. Deterrence proved empty, early warning of an attack was absent, home-front protection failed and Hamas murdered 1,400 people in Israeli communities. Far from enjoying victory, Israel’s soldiers and spies were humiliated.

The collapse of Israel’s security doctrine has unleashed a ferocious bombardment against the people of Gaza. The reason is an attempt to restore that founding principle. Israel wants its 200,000 or so evacuees to be able to return home. It wants to show its many enemies that it can still defend itself. Most of all, it has come to understand that, by choosing to murder Israelis regardless of how many Palestinians will die in Gaza, Hamas has proved that it is undeterrable.

I confess, so desensitised am I to such hasbara  that I almost missed the linguistic shift. Israel’s killing of some 8,000 civilians at time of writing is “a ferocious bombardment”. The attacks of October 7, by contrast – with their far lower body count, and much of that from IDF ‘friendly fire’ – are “murder”..

The only way out of the cycle of violence is to destroy Hamas’s rule—which means killing its senior leaders and smashing its military infrastructure. The suggestion that a war which entails the deaths of thousands of innocent people can lead to peace will appal many. In the past one act of violence has led to the next. That is indeed the great risk today.

On Planet Economist this is a cue for another ‘but’ …

However, while Hamas runs Gaza, peace is impossible. Israelis will feel unsafe, so their government will strike Gaza pre-emptively every time Hamas threatens. Suffocated by permanently tight Israeli security and killed as Hamas’s human shields in pre-emptive Israeli raids, Palestinians will be radicalised. The only way forward is to weaken its control while building the conditions for something new to emerge.

Splendid logic. It’s not the walled-off open sewer that is and has been Gaza for decades which “radicalises” its inhabitants. No, it’s being used by Hamas as human shields! Take away Hamas and all will be sweet as candy …

That starts with new leadership for both sides. In Israel Mr Netanyahu will be forced from office because he was in power on October 7th, and because his reputation for being Israel’s staunchest defender is broken. The sooner he goes the better. His successor will need to win a mandate for a new security doctrine. That should involve a plan for peace and reining in Israeli settlers, who even now are molesting and killing Palestinians on the West Bank.

Again the cathartic scapegoating of Netanyahu as something exotically rotten – as opposed to being a logical product of a state whose existence is not only by its nature deeply divisive, but whose Western backers intended it to be so.

Again too the amnesia on 75 years of failure, by Washington and its junior partners in crime, to deliver “a plan for peace”. Your proverbial Martian would fairly conclude, from the paragraph in question, that before the boo-hiss bad guy started showing up at the Knesset like a bouncing stink-bomb, all had been sweetness and light in The Holy Land …

The Palestinians need moderate leaders with a democratic mandate. At the moment they have none. That is partly because Mr Netanyahu boosted Hamas, but also because Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority, has sidelined potential rivals. The question is how to stop Hamas or its successor from seizing back control of Gaza before fresh leaders can emerge from fair elections.

More of the same …

Hence, the second condition for peace: a force to provide security in Gaza. Israel cannot supply it as an occupying power. Instead the strip needs an international coalition, possibly containing Arab countries that oppose Hamas and its backer, Iran. As we have argued in previous leaders, creating a coalition that all sides can agree on will take committed leadership from the United States and a leap of faith from the region.

Committed leadership from the United States? Washington is the problem, not the solution.

And that leads back to the condition that makes all this possible: a war to degrade Hamas enough to enable something better to take its place. How Israel fights this war matters. It must live up to its pledge to honour international law.

This is oxymoronic moonshine of the type voiced by Britain’s Keir Starmer. Yes, Israel may of course impose collective punishment on Gaza – by lethally shutting off water and power, then dropping 26,000 tons of bombs and counting – but, if it’s not too inconvenient, would it kindly be so good as to do so without breaching international law?

Or at least shut down the cameras first, to spare our blushes.

Not only is that the right thing to do, but Israel will be able to sustain broad support over the months of fighting and find backing to foster peace when the fighting stops only if it signals that it has changed. Right now, this means letting in a lot more humanitarian aid and creating real safe zones in southern Gaza, Egypt, or—as the best talisman of its sincerity—in the Negev inside Israel.

As Alexander Mercouris convincingly argued two days ago – Why didn’t Israel & USA isolate Hamas? – the “broad support” which The Economist calls for could easily have been won. That another route was taken is no less on Team Biden than Team Netanyahu. But, hey, look on the bright side. Had we not seen the back of Trump, who knows what might have kicked off?

Shit, we’d likely be looking at WW3 on multiple fronts by now!

A ceasefire is the enemy of peace, because it would allow Hamas to continue to rule over Gaza by consent or by force with most of its weapons and fighters intact. The case for humanitarian pauses is stronger, but even they involve a trade-off. Repeated pauses would increase the likelihood that Hamas survives.

A ceasefire is the enemy of peace …  Did George Orwell coin that one?

Nobody can know whether peace will come to Gaza. But for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians it deserves to have the best possible chance. A ceasefire removes that chance entirely.

Readers, I give you The Economist: go-to oracle for the discerning idiot.

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7 Replies to “The disingenuity of The Economist

  1. Thank you again Phil for this. As you know, I try to look for the unconscious instinctual forces at work in situations as that is my way of offereing understanding and consciousness to such complexities as the terrible tragedy unfolidng in the Middle East. To this end I have been having conversations with Palestinian friend and Jewish friends about what is going on. These are some of the understandgs we have reached so far – some guesswork and some from direct knowledge:

    The Israelies are out to destroy Hamas completely. They knew all about Oct 7th and had been waiting for just such an excuse to going and annihilate Hamas. ‘Kill or be killed’ is the law of the jungle and from their point of view life is a raw primal fight for survival. Perhaps as a generational echo from centuries of pograms and the Shoah. Perhaps because their roots in Israel may historically be back in time, but are also those of settlers who have landed in an alien land and must kill to remain there. Again primal survival instincts like the settlers who killed the indigenous tribes of Australia, Canada and the US. Settlers and colonisation where you have to kill to lay claim to ownershil of the land is different from Empire building where you keep the ‘natives’ alive to work for you. Again deep instinctual forces of the kind that leads a lion to kill all the offspring of the previous male head of the pride once he has vanquished him. Reason, empathy, compassion, justice are all swept aside in the tsunami of such instinctual forces unleashed.

    The Palestinian friend told me that his family is in the West Bank. Istaeli military have been going in, breaking down doors and capturing everyone they know who has any political involvement. I have not seen this being reported anywhere but I trust this person is speaking exactly what his family have been telling him. He has all sorts of contacts within that world (obviously he keeps all this under wraps). He has told me that they all think the reaction to what is happening in Gaza will spread and there will be all out war involving Iran. Again – instinctual rage and fight for survival sweeping aside more rational ‘civilised’ concerns. They are angry and have had enough of US bullying.

    He also told me that Saudi Arabia has bought enough material and personell for secret nuclear weapon development. And that Iran now has the capacity for creating nuclear weapons and he reckons they already have them. His sense was that a nuclear war between Iran and Israel is now on the table.

    If this is the case why are the US, the EU, our own pathetic goverment and the feeble Starmer supporting Israel into this, on a humanitarian level, a war crime of utterly tragic dimensions, and on the political level an extremely dangerous path towards nuclear war? As of course they know Iran has nuclear weapons now, it is just not being make public. Again – why?

    We four, a Palestinian man who has been living in London for many years, an Israeli woman married to a Scottish man with all her family in Israel, a British Jew whose family escaped from the Holcaust to England , and me, the daughter of Irish immigrants with a grandmother who was a Itrish traveller gypsy, have wondered if if the brilliant Israeli intelligence services and fantastic sophistication of Mossad is holding the western world to ransom. And this is why these bodies seem blind to what is totally apparent to ordinary folk, i.e. that what is unfolding in Gaza is a genocidal tragedy. Obviously there are economic and political forces at work that you and many people here are more aware of them than I am, but we thought this might also be operating. Though the Israeli threat is not via cyber stuff or military threats of nuclear war, it must be something else. The banking system? The Jewish woman said we would be shocked at how much within the Jewish community there is a religioius absoluteism around Israel’s need to defend itself against any threat – whatever the consequences. She wondered about this possible threat to the banking system which would certainly keep the capitalist west on line . This is just a theory. We don’t know.

    Of course, our common ground in these discussion was our human connection with the ordinary people of whatever their race, religion, nationality, creed or language, who just want to live their lives in the simple ordinariness of sharing food with family and friends, working in ways that honour their dignity and have meaning and value, seeing their children grow up happy, having animals who are also living good lives even if in the end you kill them to eat, whatever. A different happiness from that offered by consumer capitalism and much deeper. Rather like the kibbutz ideas really. Not the first time a beautiful dream has tuned into a nightmare. And not the last. It is the way it is. And reality is a greater force than any of my ideas and ideals for it. Maybe how can we most creatively live through these times becomes an even more important question than what is going on? I don’t know. سلام (salam), שָׁלוֹם (shalom), síocháin – not such different words for peace after all.

    • Great stuff Anne! On the whole my focus is, in the epistemological sense, materialist. But as you rightly imply, this is a Frankenstein’s Monster of visceral and primal emotions.

      As for the identity of Dr Frankenstein, I went into that in this post, which I’ve cited more this past four weeks than in the previous four years!

      You depict a nightmare, coloured by vital detail gleaned from your quite unique personal encounters.

      It’s me should be thanking you.

      • Thanks again Phil. This is brilliant. I am going to forward this to my friends for our next discussion. Though we have to be careful for obvious reasons about how we communicate. Zoom, WhatsApp etc. are not on if we want to speak freely.

  2. Don’t know if you are interested but I found this in my mail box this morning
    Cohen delivered one last time before he was gone:
    Science Matters. Ron Clutz Nov 3
    You Want It Darker? A Song for Our Time
    Filmed and Edited: Michael Williams Actor: Kevin Davis Song: You Want It Darker Artist: Leonard Cohen
    We filmed this Tribute to Leonard Cohen; imagining how it might have been shot if Leonard had made the music video. We hope you enjoy. Leonard passed away not long after the release of “you want it darker”
    Lyrics (Also shown with Close Captions)

    If you are the dealer
    I’m out of the game
    If you are the healer
    It means I’m broken and lame
    If thine is the glory then
    Mine must be the shame
    You want it darker
    We kill the flame

    Magnified, sanctified
    Be thy holy name
    Vilified, crucified
    In the human frame
    A million candles burning
    For the help that never came
    You want it darker

    Hineni, hineni
    I’m ready, my Lord

    There’s a lover in the story
    But the story’s still the same
    There’s a lullaby for suffering
    And a paradox to blame
    But it’s written in the scriptures
    And it’s not some idle claim
    You want it darker
    We kill the flame

    They’re lining up the prisoners
    And the guards are taking aim
    I struggled with some demons
    They were middle-class and tame
    I didn’t know I had permission
    To murder and to maim
    You want it darker

    Hineni, hineni
    I’m ready, my Lord

    Magnified, sanctified
    Be thy holy name
    Vilified, crucified
    In the human frame
    A million candles burning
    For the love that never came
    You want it darker
    We kill the flame

    If you are the dealer
    Let me out of the game
    If you are the healer
    I’m broken and lame
    If thine is the glory
    Mine must be the shame
    You want it darker

    Hineni, hineni
    Hineni, hineni
    I’m ready, my Lord

    I think hineni is Jewish word for I’m here something to do with Abraham & Isaac(needs checking)
    When I get out of this dark hole I’m in I’ll interact, until then, I think I will re-read Anne’s excellent comment which shows she has a wealth of humanity at her disposal. Anne is quite the rock on which to lean on.



    • A superb and fitting swansong for a truly great artist, thinker and humanitarian.

      Geeky factoid: it was first aired, prior to its release, in a Peaky Blinders episode. It’s heard as a smouldering Russian temptress seduces Thomas Shelby on the false promise she’d make him forget the love of his life, his fatally shot Grace. “You didn’t even come close”, he later informs the scheming minx.

      I’m a massive fan of the Blinders too! There’s not an episode I haven’t seen at least three times. Sad or what?

      I think hineni – “here I am” – refers to spiritual surrender, a recurring theme in Leonard’s later output. Though an atheist I’m much taken by “If It Be Your Will“. Is that a paradox? See this post on the Santuario Madonna della Corona

  3. Great post, Phil and very informative comments. Just very briefly to add: I found googling Hamas 2006 election very enlightening for ‘context’.Esp as I’d only remembered that, as soon as Hamas were elected, the Israeli government announced they’d have nothing to do with them as they were just ‘terrorists’. But I didn’t know that, e.g. George W Bush had declared it, after sending masses of US observers, a very ‘clean’ election – and that it used a far more democratic election system than for British General Elections.
    I’d also recommend Aljezeera reporting on channel 235. Very serious and detailed. and extremely well-resourced with reporters on the ground and a wide range of well-informed experts and spokespeople – notably from the US! And the change of perspective from UK MSM really shows up in the terms used. Right from how their reports are framed as ‘War On Gaza’ not ‘in’…….

    Ros X

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