The Spine

The Financial Times and the Satanization of Israel

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The Financial Times is the six-day-a-week newspaper of the Pearson Publishing Group. It is, then, the sister of The Economist. Both are widely read, although the weekly magazine--that is, the latter journal--no longer has much competition in the English-speaking world. (And certainly not from Time or Newsweek.)

Ten years ago, in a TNR piece about The Economist, Andrew Sullivan pointed out a particularly noxious passage in the magazine’s pages. Here’s what he wrote back then:

Other vestigial Brittery abounds, including the usual condescension to Israel. Here's a sentence from the April 10 editorial on the Balkans: "Such outrages the expulsion and mass murder of Kosovar Albanians have happened before--in Bosnia, Rwanda, the Soviet Union, Palestine, and all too many other places, and the ethnic cleansers have got away with their crimes." Palestine? In one English flick of the wrist, the magazine equates the foundation of Israel with Stalin's terror.

The Financial Times has been no less egregious. I’ve been following the coverage of Israel by the FT on both its news and editorial pages for years. You can read some of my more recent Spine postings on that subject here, here, here, and here.

What’s interesting about the FT on Israel is that its reportage and its opinions are drawn from absolutely identical perspectives, its daily coverage steeped in the same social and cultural biases that animate its utterly subjective and jaundiced views. These views are, then, an inheritance from British imperialism’s impatience with the Jewish insistence that space be made for them, the Jews, in the disentangling of the Ottoman Empire (and specifically in Palestine, where the Jewish nation began).

My favorite instance of FT bias is its insistence on calling Tel Aviv the capital of the State of Israel. In this little obsession can be seen the newspaper’s resistance to 61 years of fact that the functioning and symbolic capital is Jerusalem. Its cabinet sits there. Its legislature meets there. Its Supreme Court renders judgment there. Foreign diplomats present their credentials there, however much some of their governments would prefer that ceremonial and official business be done in Tel Aviv. No Christian church--Armenian, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, Abyssinian, Anglican, Lutheran, or Mormon--thinks it can do its business with Israel in Tel Aviv. And even the Muslim waqf knows that its grand and routine dealings are to be carried on in the city where David and Solomon reigned. But, if you read the FT, you would think otherwise. OK, the FT is on the Arabisant side of this historic quarrel. But, if it can’t get the most essential facts right, what worth can we assign to its news and views in which complexity and intricacy are the norms?

A British group named Just Journalism has just completed a study of last year’s Financial Times editorial coverage of the Arab-Israeli dispute, that century-old conflict between the Jews and Arabs of historic Palestine. Below is a precis of the research. You can read the full report here. There is not a single exaggeration in any of it.

As you understand, I’ve been pondering Pearson and its ugly prejudices against Israel for some time. Why is this array of lies, now festering on the British left, still entrenched in one of capitalism’s most trusted publishing companies? I have no response to this urgent query.

But I have--actually, just by chance--discovered one possible explanation. Marjorie Scardino, an American who is now the chief executive of Pearson and was for years the head of affairs at The Economist, has a weird association with a weirder charity which also is preoccupied with the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is the Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Center, on whose credit card the former president travels. It has been supported by so many Arab governments and Arab zillionaires that one can hardly trust its views. But it does have views ... on nearly everything. Still, its opinions on Israel put it near the frontier of crackpots. And, I guess, that’s where Ms. Scardino is also comfy.

* * *

Financial Times’s editorial coverage of the Middle East blames Israel as key cause of problems in the region 

London, UK, 28 January 2010 – Just Journalism today publishes ‘Financial Times 2009: A year of Middle East editorials’. The report is an analysis of 121 editorials published in 2009 in the paper and on its website. It shows that during the course of last year Israel was identified as the main cause of problems in the Middle East.

The study shows that threats against Israel’s existence issued by Iranian President Ahmadinejad were ignored in the paper’s editorial column, yet the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was referred to on numerous occasions.

The FT also downplayed other factors in the conflict such as terrorism and the political split between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.

Just Journalism advisory board member Robin Shepherd, author of ‘A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel’ and Director of International Affairs at The Henry Jackson Society, said: ‘This report demonstrates that the FT has repeatedly disregarded salient facts when it comes to the Middle East and disproportionately blames Israel for the region’s woes.’

‘For a paper that prides itself on its high standards as an opinion-forming publication, it is regretful that much of the broader argumentation and wider context is being omitted.’

‘The sidelining of Ahmadinejad’s public threats against Israel in its discussion of Iran-Israel relations indicates a narrow approach in which Israel is usually viewed as an instigator of aggression but not a victim of it.’

‘It was a surprise to see how sympathetic the FT was towards despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia given that its criticism of Israel was so harsh.’

‘These findings may surprise the FT’s readers, who tend to regard the FT as relatively apolitical compared to the other broadsheets.’

The report was submitted to the Financial Times for comment but Just Journalism has not yet received a response to the findings.

For more information about the key findings from the report, please see the executive summary:

Executive Summary

§ The FT views Israel as primarily responsible for the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while downplaying other factors. In particular it places the role of settlement-building in the West Bank above any other single factor affecting the conflict. Settlement-building is referred to as ‘colonisation’ in nine editorials

§ Other aggravating factors such as terrorism, disunity within Palestinian ranks and a failure to accept Israel as a Jewish state are downplayed. Neither of these last two are addressed as areas of legitimate concern for Israel; rather, both are viewed as ploys by Israel to ‘change the subject’

§ The editorial coverage over the past year reflects a gradual shift away from the view that Iran’s nuclear intentions might be peaceful towards the conclusion at the end of 2009 that they are not

§ The prospect of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is referred to in five editorials; yet no Financial Times editorial in 2009 makes reference to the threatening rhetoric from Iran’s President Ahmadinejad against Israel

§ The publication backed the Goldstone Report, which described the Israeli military operation as ‘a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population’. The Financial Times described Israel’s actions in Gaza as ‘disproportionate’ in four editorials

§ Israeli political leaders are depicted as ‘irredentist’, ‘hawkish’, and ‘ultra-nationalist’. In contrast, Palestinian leaders are portrayed as ‘moderate’ and ‘conciliatory’, if corrupt

§ Israel’s total military and civilian withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005 is not viewed as a meaningful Israeli concession, rather it is seen as inadequate at best, and a cynical ploy at worst

§ The Arab world is portrayed as having made a substantial effort for peace in the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. The Saudi Peace Initiative of 2002 is touted in seven editorials and the newspaper expresses sympathy with the recent Arab refusal to meet Israeli concessions with Arab concessions

§ Mixed attitudes towards the nature of Arab regimes are displayed. The newspaper attacks the West – the US in particular – for backing ‘an ossified order of … Arab strongmen’ typified by the Mubarak regime in Egypt; however, Saudi Arabia is spared harsh criticism, particularly regarding its human rights record

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