Jacob Heilbrunn

Is Time Magazine Anti-Semitic?

Time is creating a modest furor with its new cover story called "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace." Which, of course, is what exactly its provocative title is supposed to do. Brett Stephens rises to the bait in today's Wall Street Journal. Stephens complains that the piece helps shape "a climate of supposedly respectable opinion that doesn't hesitate to tar one nation the way it never would any other."

The thrust of the Time piece, however, is not altogether new. It's that Israelis are enjoying the good life--a booming, high-tech economy means that it has other concerns than trying to placate the Palestinians. It can afford to ignore them. One peace activist interviewed by Vick observes, "We're not really that into the peace process. We are really, really into the water sports."

What's wrong with that?

It's interesting that the critics, mostly on the right, of the Vick piece assume that this isn't O.K. (Victor Davis Hanson says it is the "most anti-Semitic essay" he's seen on Israel in a mainstream publication.) In so doing, they fall into something of a trap, which is accepting that the peace process should be a high priority for Israel (a point made somewhat differently and interestingly here). But much of the rest of the time, they argue that it shouldn't. They're trying to have it both ways.

Perhaps Vick's piece hits a nerve because it is further confirmation that Israel isn't really a vulnerable, struggling outpost, but a country that's doing quite well. If Israel is going to become a normal country, then there's no reason its citizens shouldn't enjoy the fruits of prosperity. A more accurate title to Vick's piece would probably be something like "Why Israel Doesn't Need To Care About Peace." But it wouldn't sell as many newsstand copies or create buzz.

Israel's prosperity gives it  a stronger negotiating hand when negotiating with the Palestinians. It's not desperate for a deal. Stephens worries that "the whole country exists under the encroaching shadows of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the prospcet of a nuclear Iran." But maybe those shadows don't loom so large. Israel continues to have the best military in the region, and a powerful economy is only going to help ensure that that remains the case.

No doubt the Time piece exaggerates the extent to which Israelis are indifferent to the prospect of peace. This kind of trend-spotting is always somewhat suspect. But Vick surely captures an aspect of Israel, one that isn't hostage to wider events in the Middle East. If Time is anti-Semitic, Vick's piece does not provide evidence of it.