Economist falsely suggests Israeli historian compared African detention centers to “concentration camps”.

(See important update below)

The tendentious tone in an  Economist article (Israel’s plan to deport Africans is dividing the country; Africans in Israel, Feb. 3) is evident in the opening paragraph:

COMPARISONS with dark chapters in Jewish history tend to elicit the knee-jerk Israeli response of asur le’hashvot, the Hebrew for “you can’t compare”. But a government plan to deport more than 34,000 African migrants to Rwanda is provoking more hand-wringing than usual, not least because Israel itself was created by refugees and survivors of the Holocaust.

Israelis’ “knee jerk” dismissal of comparisons between Israeli policy and “dark chapters in Jewish history” (evoking the Holocaust) is motivated by the fact that such accusations are intellectually unserious, ahistorical and usually used merely as a term of abuse. This is why the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance characterises as antisemitic “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”.  Though there are good reasons to oppose the government’s plan to deport tens of thousands of African migrants, both on moral and policy grounds, to evoke the Holocaust is absurd.  For starters, the African migrants don’t face extermination.

Yet, The Economist played the Holocaust card throughout the article – a piece illustrated with the following photo of an Israeli protester with a sign which reads, “Deportation: Does it not remind you of something?”.

In case the reader still isn’t “reminded of something”, the anonymous contributor provides more assistance in the penultimate paragraph:

Yet the debate is widening cleavages between those championing Jewish nationalism and what others deem the Jewish values of charity and humanism that also underpin the state. Yehuda Bauer, a former director of Israel’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, has denounced Israel’s policy of herding African migrants into “modern concentration camps” in the desert.

Bauer is a prolific Holocaust scholar, and his evocation of this Holocaust term in the context of Israeli policy towards migrants has an enormous impact – one which reinforces the desired Nazi analogy.

However, it appears inaccurate.

The origins are most likely a Haaretz op-ed about the migrant crisis penned by Bauer on Jan. 27.  However, the words “modern concentration camps” do not appear in either the English or Hebrew version of the op-ed.  At one point in the Hebrew op-ed, Bauer uses the word Ma’abarot, which refers to the Israeli absorption camps for Jewish refugees in the 1950s, in a context suggesting that such camps would be preferable to the detentions centers where migrants are currently being held. (In the English op-ed, editors translated Ma’abarot to “transit camp”.)

There is no Nazi analogy anywhere in Bauer’s op-ed.

We also contacted Mr. Bauer by email, to ask him if he’s ever used the term “modern concentration camps”, at any time, to characterize the detention of African migrants. Bauer promptly replied to our email and flatly denied ever using any version of the term.

We’ve contacted Economist editors asking for a correction.

UPDATE 1: We’ve since learned that the alleged quote was not based on Mr. Bauer’s Haaretz op-ed, but on an interview with Bauer by Economist correspondent Nicolas Pelham.

UPDATE 2: After the publication of this post, we had an additional conversation with Mr. Bauer.  He now says that it’s possible he may have, in a fit of anger, used that term during the interview, but that it does not represent his views, and he absolutely is not making a comparison between Israel’s detention centers and Nazi concentration camps. We contacted The Economist again to urge them to amend the article to make this fact clear. 

UPDATE 3: The headline of this post has been amended to reflect these new facts.

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10 replies »

  1. The more one reads the Economist the more the reason for not naming the writers of their articles becomes evident

  2. In a bizarre but not surprising way, the tendentious invocation of the Holocaust as an analogy for a particular Israeli action is a “reverse Livingstone formulation” in that its evident purpose is to tar Israel with absolutely immoral and crim8nal behavior as an emotional response and shut down actual, evidence-based discussion of any particular policy.
    The real story here is one of democratic action at work on a subject that the EU happens to be grappling with as well. This story could have been the starting point for a much needed discussion of refugee versus economic migrant, the obligations of a host country under international conventions, how Western countries deal with the flow, and the rather obvious question of why these people try so hard to get to Israel in the first place and why they feel insecure in any of the Arab countries they cross. That would be a task for journalists and publications like The Economist and, for that matter, The New York Times (“Israel Moves to Expel Africans. Critics Say That’s Not Jewish” is its most recent stab at the story) are apparently not up to the task.

  3. Are we really supposed to liken the mere possibility of nationals of one country residing illegally in another country getting deported to Jewish citizens of European countries being deported from those countries to death camps by the Nazis? Doesn’t anyone think anymore? Are all countries who ever deport illegal migrants, (up until now common practice), all Nazis or is it just the Jewish State that gets slandered here? The double standards and hypocrisy employed are astounding if not historically resonant with earlier calumnies about Jews.
    And Charlie in NY is certainly right that the MSM is not going to give away the secret reason why migrants are not going to settle for an Arab country and instead choose Israel as a desirable destination. They’re not headed for Cairo and they’re certainly not headed for Ramallah.

  4. The Israel journo for Israel is ex Haaretz man Anshel Pfeffer. Holocaust relativism is normal in his quarters.

  5. Prior to Anshel Pfeffer it was Greg Carlstrom writing for the Economist from Jerusalem. Carlstrom learnt his trade at Al Jazeera in Qatar and has now moved onto Cairo.

  6. For those who wonder why articles in The Economist are unsigned, the answer is obvious But I’ll let The Economist answer for themselves.
    “The main reason for anonymity, however, is a belief that what is written is more important than who writes it.”

    That used to be the position with all the press and maintains the logical and correct position that no matter who writes it if, in this case, The Economist prints it then The Economist is responsible for it.

  7. He now says that it’s possible he may have, in a fit of anger, used that term during the interview, but that it does not represent his views, and he absolutely is not making a comparison between Israel’s detention centers and Nazi concentration camps. We contacted The Economist again to urge them to amend the article to make this fact clear.

    Good luck with that. I am so angry with Bauer that I won’t comment at the moment on what he ……. let slip.

    The way that Israel is conducting itself towards the 9’illegal’) Africans living in Tel Aviv, is just appalling though. Thoroughly appalling. But he should have been far more guarded and careful about what he said to any ….’foreign correspondent’.

    • I don’t think that ‘screw up’ is an expression that you should use to describe anything Stephen.