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January 20, 2016 6:28 pm

The Economist: ‘Israelis Seem Especially Susceptible to Hysteria’

avatar by Adam Levick

Email a copy of "The Economist: ‘Israelis Seem Especially Susceptible to Hysteria’" to a friend
Economist Cover, Feb 25-Mar 2 issues. Photo: The Economist.

Economist Cover, Feb 25-Mar 2 issue. Photo: The Economist.

A 2012 Economist article claimed that Israelis and their Prime Minister fear Iran because they suffer from “Auschwitz complex” — a “ghetto mentality” evidently based on obsessing over past suffering and reinforced by the Jewish festivals of Purim and Passover.

Further, their insight into the inner-workings of the Israeli mind contextualized Israelis’ concerns over a nuclear Iran not by referencing the Islamic Republic’s use of terror proxies to attack Israelis and Jewish targets, nor by citing genocidal designs of Tehran’s leaders, but by suggesting that Jerusalem was relying on “familiar ideological tropes from the Jewish playbook.”

The headline was revised by Economist editors, and the words “Auschwitz Complex” were removed, but the message seemed clear: Israelis are gripped by an irrational fear that prevents clear-headed thinking about the threats they face personally, and as a nation.

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A January 2016 article in the Economist (Arab-Jewish tensions force two passengers off an Aegean Airlines flight) doesn’t attempt such an offensive psychological analysis of Israeli Jews, but nonetheless includes a broad, unsubstantiated charge about the national character that is astonishingly facile. The article, commenting on a recent incident in which dozens of Israeli passengers demanded — seemingly for no good reason — that the flight crew on a Aegean Airlines flight from Athens to Tel Aviv remove “suspicious” looking Arab passengers, begins reasonably:

IT STARTED with a flickering of paranoia in the mind of one Jewish passenger; perhaps justifiable, given the recent surge of terrorist attacks in Israel; perhaps prejudicial, emblematic of the deep distrust between Arabs and Jews, who both see a homeland in the Holy Land. It ended with two entirely innocent customers being hauled off a commercial flight…

As is usually the case with such incidents, it is difficult for commentators [at this blog] to know where the blame lies. Perhaps the airline’s staff could have defused the situation better, or been firmer with those initial instigators; perhaps they performed impeccably, averting a still-worse quarrel. Perhaps the Jewish complainants acted with spiteful malice; perhaps they genuinely feared for their lives. Perhaps, indeed, the two Arabs really were acting suspiciously.

Indeed, the next paragraph begins fairly, in noting that a similar incident — one not involving Israelis — occurred on a British flight in 2006.

What happened aboard this Aegean flight made headlines because of its extraordinary outcome—both for the unfortunate Arab pair and for the Palestinian reaction. In many ways, though, these were unremarkable events. This is not the first time that a group of passengers has retreated into a mob-like mentality after picking up the vaguest scent of danger. In a similar incident in 2006, two Asian-looking men were apparently forced off a British flight by their fellow travellers for no greater crime than speaking Arabic.

Then, out of nowhere:

Israelis seem especially susceptible to hysteria: a flight marketed by Arkia, an Israeli airline, was grounded in October when customers belatedly realised that it was being operated by a Czech partner carrier. “I can only feel safe flying with an Israeli company,” one traveller said. Arkia said it was “astounded at the exaggerated response from some of the passengers”.

So, the entire case for asserting that “Israelis seem especially susceptible to hysteria” appears based on a total of two incidents. Even more curiously, the author cites a counter-example to Israel’s putative inclination towards madness in the face of a perceived danger.

Here’s the concluding paragraph:

Earlier this month, Ruti Tehrani, an Israeli bus driver, also faced calls from her passengers to eject a suspicious looking Arab customer. After establishing that the threat was imaginary, she refused, and instead told the complainants to disembark if they felt unsafe. Several of them did. They had time to contemplate their prejudices on the long walk home.

So, what are we to take-away from the example of the Israeli bus driver?

Well, for starters, most who truly understand Israel would see the incident as a reflection of the fact that Israelis — who face terror, jihadism, and existential threats on a scale far and beyond what most in the West can conceive of — are complex and don’t always respond perfectly to every situation.

However, the response to the current terror wave — as with wars and intifadas throughout their history — has, on the whole, been measured and proportional to the threat. Despite the fact that since September 13, 29 people have been killed and nearly 300 injured in 108 stabbings, 37 shootings, and 22 car rammings (acts mostly committed against Israeli Jews by Arab Muslims), day-to-day interactions between Jews and Arabs have largely carried on as usual. Though there have been some calls for Israeli security forces to adopt more draconian measures, the sobriety and moderation of the broad Israeli center — the overwhelming majority of the population — continues to set the parameters of the debate.

Reasonable people can of course raise questions about the behavior of some Israelis onboard the Aegean Airlines flight, as they may question the wisdom of Netanyahu’s policy towards Iran. However, we’d hope that contributors to a journal that claims to offer “authoritative insight and opinion” on international news would avoid such crude, intellectually lazy characterizations of an entire nation.

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  • RSF

    No thanks to Pres Obama for his spoken and unspoken words, actions, and deeds that have undeniably fomented the greatest torrent of global anti-Jewish sentiment since WW2. Why target Obama? He’s the most powerful person on earth. Everything flows from there. He is no friend of Israel in the true sense, although he ‘supports’ Israel with the most backhanded of ways using realpolitik. President Obama, he is no friend of the Jew.

  • Jack

    The voluminous amount of info needed to properly address the ‘psychosis’ that enthralls the world concerning Jews and the place non0Jews feels Jews should inhabit is not capable of being concisely or fairly demonstrated in such a short article.
    While the ‘civilized’ world kvetches over their anxiety in ways that never cease to amaze and disappoint, the view from inside Israel can be just as polarizing as a Nazi parade in any world city.
    This is extremely unfortunate.
    Being older, raised by grandparents, reminiscing about the concerning lessons that extreme views raised then and should now, it is easy to see how the press and social networks seem to relieve all too easily the responsibility of people not to break with reality, thus socially induced mental illness ensues resulting in all sorts of reprehensible acts, like the current knife campaign.
    All the incitement to such acts cause s loss of youth for both cultures, and language does matter.
    The Economist, like all publications in the west speaks to it’s readers in a code of context developed, hopefully carefully, but often blindly, and always vetted by the world.
    “Aye, there’s the rub!”
    Responsibility in the public eye.
    And in The Economist’s standard, hopefully as humane to all party’s as possible.
    Personally, in the case of mass publications the higher the standard the better.

  • Sifter

    There is a famous Talmudic story relating how an esteemed rabbi saw a fox or wolf peeking out of the ruins of the Jewish Temple after it had been destroyed by the Romans. Another rabbi walking along with him was stunned to see the first rabbi acting unseemly gleeful, especially considering the appalling destruction that had just befallen the Jewish people. The unfazed rabbi, however, explained, that just as he was witnessing the fox poking out of the holy ground, which was predicted by prophecy, so was he equally assured of the second part of that prophecy, where the Children of Israel would return to Israel and rejoice in their Land.

    So let the Brits throw stones at Jewish ‘hysteria’ and ‘paranoia.’

    Midah K’neged Midah, we sees the Almighty paying back the Europeans, measure for measure, with their own terror in their own backyard right now, even as they disparage the Jews for decrying terror in THEIR own homes.

  • Judie

    I was in Israel in November. When schools and businesses in some European nations closed and people ere told to stay home because of a single terrorist attack, life in Israel we ton normally despite the stabbings and car attacks. Who’s hysterical?

  • Franklin Delano Paskutnik

    The British (especially the BBC) are always concerned with “proportionality” when Israel has to defend itself against it’s Arab and Muslim attackers.The truth of course is that the textbook example of proportionality or rather “dis-proportionality” is the Falklands War of 1982.Then Britain sent half it’s Royal Navy and other vessels which it had commandeered as troop carriers – including the liner “Queen Elizabeth”,a huge complement of soldiers and aircraft of every kind thousands of miles away to the South Atlantic to “defend” a group of barren and isolated islands mainly populated by sheep.A British submarine subsequently sank an Argentinian naval vessel the “Belgrano” causing the deaths of hundreds of Argentinian sailors and then had the effrontery to fly the Jolly Roger (skull-and-crossbones flag) as a sign of triumph!.During all this time the British homeland was never for one moment threatened by the Argentinian occupation of the Falklands(more correctly known as the Malvinas),yet this gung-ho reaction from the British was celebrated as a great “victory” by all British newspapers and journals of the time – including “The Economist”!But this is just one example of many in Britain’s long history of brutal colonialism and imperialism,particularly in Asia and Africa,where British forces casually mowed down multitudes of defenceless “Fuzzy Wuzzies” with their superior weaponry.

  • Paul

    what hysterical complex caused British police to shoot a young tourist for carrying a backpack, after a bomb had gone off ?
    What hysterical complex caused British police to ignore years of gang rape of young english girls by Pakistanis in Rotherham, england ?
    Auschvitz DID happen. Fear of ongoing actual terrorist actions and open threats of our annihilation by conventional and non-conventional means, backed up by actions, are NOT a complex. They reflect a recognition of an unpleasant reality. Perhaps the Economist suffers from a Chamberlain complex ?
    I believe the day will come when the smug, arrogant, biased economist writers will have to eat humble pie. The terror is FIRSTLY their fellow muslims, then against Jews, but it will then target other non-muslims.
    So maybe the economist is going to develop an hysterical Auschvitz Complex in the near future.

  • yael taubman

    I am so sick of the crap written by the leftist press, especially in Britain and the USA, I could throw up. What the hell are they thinking? Are they all deaf, dumb and blind? No they are
    just simply anti-Israel, which is basically anti-semitic. Enough, I can’t read it any more.

  • art

    Many years ago I was sitting over the wing when I noticed that many screws on the wing were raised, I quietly called the flight attendant over to call his attention to the problem. I was made to feel stupid and alarmist, while several passengers stared at me.. About ten minutes later a maintenance crew climbed on the wing and tightened the screws. I guess my hysteria is genetic

  • Obviously The Economist is now spelled Der Sturmer.

  • Norman Lipson

    And this another reason I am very glad I stopped my subscription to The Economist years ago!

  • Dan

    The Economist magazine is typically susceptible (like the Guardian, the Independent, the New York Times, etc.) to
    shyster journalism when it comes to Israel (and what else?).

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