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

We contacted Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer by email, to ask him if, as The Economist claimed, he's used the term "modern concentration camps", to characterize the detention of African migrants. Bauer promptly replied to our email and flatly denied ever using any version of the term.

(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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