Israel lobby organizes to stop American free speech about Christians
By Rebecca Shapiro, The Huffington Post
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly briefed on Ambassador Michael Oren’s attempts to kill a CBS “60 Minutes” story on Arab Christians in Israel.
During Sunday night’s episode of “60 Minutes,” reporter Bob Simon’s story on Arab Christians included a heated confrontation between himself and Oren [see below]. Oren reportedly called Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News, before the broadcast and said he had information the “60 Minutes” story was “a hatchet job.” He was concerned that the piece was critical of Israel and could harm the country’s reputation among American Christians.
Simon confronted the Ambassador for calling Fager. Oren called Simon’s report “outrageous” and “incomprehensible.” He also said Simon’s interview questions confirmed what he suspected as the story’s critical slant. “Nothing’s been confirmed by the interview, Mr. Ambassador, because you don’t know what’s going to be put on air,” Simon responded.
The piece caused a great stir, being alternately praised and vilified across the Web.
According to sources, news of Simon’s “60 Minutes” report reached the highest levels of Israel’s government. Haaretz reported on Tuesday that Netanyahu and his political adviser Ron Dermer were “fully informed on the affair almost since its start.” The report said “it was unclear whether Netanyahu or Dermer were the ones who instructed or suggested that Oren directly address the president of CBS in an attempt to prevent the broadcast.”
According to Haaretz, the effort to thwart the broadcast was intense and coordinated, involving Oren penning an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and Netanyahu addressing Evangelical leaders in Jerusalem, all in an attempt to bolster the government’s record when it came to the Christian community in Israel.
A source told Haaretz that Israel’s unsuccessful attempts to kill the “60 Minutes” report backfired as Oren’s call to Fager became a central part of the story. “We awakened the dead,” the source said.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office disagreed and insisted that their efforts delayed the broadcast and made the final version “softer.”
By Jack Mirkinson, The Huffington Post
“60 Minutes” decided to pull back the curtain on a charged confrontation it had with the government of Israel over a story it reported about Arab Christians in the country.
“We didn’t realize it would become so controversial,” Bob Simon, the reporter for the story, said on the show’s Sunday broadcast.
The main thrust of the piece was that Palestinian Christians had become, in Simon’s words, “the invisible people, squeezed between a growing Muslim majority and burgeoning Israeli settlements.” The report showed a family of Palestinians boxed in on almost all sides by the wall the Israelis have built in the West Bank, and said that many are fleeing the country.
The story drew so much ire from the Israeli government that its ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, contacted CBS News chief Jeff Fager before the story even aired. As Simon explained:
*For Israel, there could be serious economic consequences. According to Israeli government figures, tourism is a multi billion dollar business there. Most tourists are Christian. Many of them are American. That’s one reason why Israelis are very sensitive about their image in the United States. And that could be why Ambassador Oren phoned Jeff Fager, the head of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes, while we were still reporting the story, long before tonight’s broadcast. He said he had information our story was quote: “a hatchet job.”
In an interview with Simon, Oren called the story “outrageous” and “incomprehensible” at a time when, in his words, Christians were being “massacred” in the Middle East. He said he had “information” about the story’s negative slant that had been “confirmed” by his interview with Simon.
“Nothing’s been confirmed by the interview, Mr. Ambassador, because you don’t know what’s going to be put on air,” Simon shot back.
“True,” Oren said.
“I’ve never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn’t been broadcast yet,” Simon said.
Despite claims by Israeli government officials, Christian Palestinians regularly face discrimination.
Ben White, Al Jazeera
A recent report by CBS show 60 Minutes on “Christians of the Holy Land” has received a lot of attention, not least for the embarrassing contribution by Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren.
It is interesting that Israel (and its advocates) have been so concerned about the impact of a short segment regarding the challenges faced by Christian Palestinians under Israeli military occupation. In fact, Ambassador Oren himself only recently tried to exploit Christians for propaganda purposes – only to find that they objected to his cynicism.
The Israeli government has long tried to suggest that the emigration of Christian Palestinians is the result of a “jihad” being waged by “terrorists” or “fundamentalists”. There are obvious advantages to this strategy, particularly its dependence on pre-existing prejudices and stereotypes in the West. But it also seeks to neutralise a potentially damaging threat: that people around the world will see Christian Palestinians leaving their historic homeland due to Israeli colonisation and occupation.
In 1948, Christian Palestinians were not spared the devastation of the Nakba, when Israel destroyed hundreds of villages, and expelled up to 90 per cent of the Palestinians who would have been inside the new state. The hundreds of thousands prevented from returning home included35 per cent of all Christians in pre-1948 Mandate Palestine. Haifa’s Christian population, for example, was reduced by 85 per cent. Some Christian Palestinians became citizens, but their land remains confiscated.
Since 1967, Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have been subject to Israel’s military occupation, and on both sides of the Green Line, Christian Palestinians face the same conditions of systematic racial discrimination as Muslims – on the basis that they’re not Jews.
Israeli colonisation has fragmented and splintered the traditional Christian heartland of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jerusalem – home to around 80 per cent of the Occupied Territories’ Christians – through land confiscation, illegal settlements, the Separation Wall, and the regime of travel “permits”.
The isolation of Bethlehem has hit Palestinian Christians particularly hard, where unemployment and poverty levels remain high. The illegal Separation Wall takes in approximately 10 per cent of the Bethlehem region, or governorate, including some of the most fertile land. Overall, through a combination of Israeli policies (including 19 illegal Jewish settlements), the UN estimates that only 13 per cent of the Bethlehem region is available for Palestinian use.
Economics and occupation
Unsurprisingly, these are conditions that make young people despair about the future. In fact, a number of studies show clearly the reasons why Christian Palestinians emigrate. It’s not what Michael Oren or Christians United For Israel would have you believe.
As far back as 1993, 88 per cent of Christian Palestinians surveyed about emigration specified the economic situation. In a 2006 survey, 78 per cent of Christian respondents to a Bethlehem-based poll said “Israeli aggression and occupation are the main cause of emigration”, while only 3.1 per cent exclusively blamed the “rise of Islamic movements” (12.1 per cent said it was a combination of the two). More than half of those Christians surveyed had at least one relative whose land had been confiscated by Israel.
Another, more wide-ranging survey in 2006 found that roughly 7 out of 10 Christians cited either political conditions or employment as the reason for emigration. Only 8 per cent cited religious fanaticism. When asked to name the challenges confronting Christians in the Holy Land, just under half of respondents chose job opportunities and housing (11 per cent chose religious fanaticism).
Finally, in a 2008 survey on reasons for emigration, 1 in 3 cited “lack of freedom and security”, 1 in 4 said “deterioration of economy” – and only 0.8 per cent chose “fleeing religious extremism”.
That economics and occupation are at the heart of Christian emigration trends is no surprise. As the World Bank regularly points out, Israeli restrictions on the free movement of people and goods (for Palestinians) is a key reason for economic weakness in the Occupied Territories.
This is what pro-Israel advocacy groups try to hide, preferring decontextualised, cherry-picked anecdotes or wild, unsubstantiated claims. But the consistent message of these surveys is the same as that expressed by the recent EU Heads of Mission Report on East Jerusalem:
“Church leaders cite as reasons for increased emigration: GoI [Government of Israel] imposed family-reunification restrictions, the limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to confiscation of church properties and building restrictions, taxation problems and difficulties in obtaining residency permits for Christian clergy.”
Israel’s unwanted citizens
This is not to deny the existence of sectarian tensions in Palestinian society, and the tiny size of the Palestinian minority only heightens the sense of vulnerability. Muslim-Christian relations, and particularly the sense of concern felt by some Christians, have been shaped by a variety of factors, many of which originate in the facts of Israeli colonisation.
So for example, when looking at the demographics of a small city like Bethlehem, change over the decades has been caused by the influx of refugees, as well as rural-urban migration (both mainly Muslim). Israeli policies are the root cause – whether through direct expulsions of Palestinians, or through land confiscations and other policies which have made village life so difficult.
A scarcity of land and resources coupled with the legal anarchy that comes from having no real government, means that in the Occupied Territories, weaker groups are vulnerable to exploitation by corrupt individuals. In addition, a recent lamentable development has been the increased strength of socio-political groups that promote an exclusionary and fanatical form of “Islam”.
Naturally then, Christian Palestinians see their main problem as coming from ongoing colonialism and occupation, while also acknowledging the threat posed by a minority of religious extremists. Apparently, however, this position is a bit too complex for Israel advocates to grasp.
There is a key distinction between individual bigotry and the kind of coordinated, systematic racial discrimination – or apartheid – as practised by the Israeli state for decades, which affects Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike.
When Israel’s Housing Minister calls it “a national duty to prevent the spread” of Palestinian citizens in the Galilee – he is not distinguishing between Christian and Muslim. Nor was Ehud Olmert, former-PM then mayor of Jerusalem, when he said it is “a matter of concern when the non-Jewish population rises a lot faster than the Jewish population”.
What Human Rights Watch has described as Israel’s “two-tier system” where Palestinians face “systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity and national origin” affects everyone, Christian and Muslim. Sadly, no wonder some choose to leave
Many, however, have chosen to stay, and they, like so many other civil society groups, are calling on people around the world – including churches – to stand up and be counted: to use time-honoured strategies of boycott and divestment to ensure that Palestine/Israel is a place where your rights – and even your ability to be there at all – are not determined by religion and ethnicity.
Ben White is a freelance writer, specialising in Palestine and Israel.Follow him on Twitter @benabyad
In advance of show, entire organized Jewish community tried to stop 60 minutes
M.J Rosenberg, mjayrosenberg.com
Well, it’s all out there now
Prior to the 60 Minutes report on Christians in Israel, the biggest Jewish community organization by far, the Jewish federations, which exist in every city in America, sent out an emergency email to its affiliates and members urging that the community do everything it can to stop CBS.
“We hope that CBS will be flooded with responses through their inboxes, facebook, twitter and mail after the program to express discontent if it is as biased as we anticipate.”
Note: this was before they saw the show, and before they knew it would, in fact, report on the Israeli government’s efforts to block 60 minutes from going ahead with the report.
Well, folks, this is how it works. And this isn’t just AIPAC. It is the official charity arm of the entire Jewish community. Holy shit!
Archbishop of Canterbury’s Appeal for Christians in the Holy Land
The Archbishop of Canterbury
General Synod, July 2011
I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian Communities there, for reasons that are both obvious and perhaps a little less obvious.
We know our brothers and sisters there are suffering, and we don’t always ask ourselves often enough what our response needs to be.
And as you’ve seen, Archbishop Vincent Nichols shares these concerns and we were able to exchange our views about what might be done, and also share this with Pope Benedict during his visit last year.
The Pope very much endorsed our sense that we needed to raise the profile in this country of Christians in the Holy Land and find ways of supporting and assisting, of fleshing out our theoretical understanding of the challenges which face them with a much clearer sense of why exactly people on the ground feel such pressure. Why some feel that they can no longer sustain themselves or their families in their ancestral places, why the future is so far from straight forward for them.
Next week’s conference is a first step, a conference very much focused on the experience on the ground of Christians in the Holy Land. We’ll be joined for this conference by our own Bishop in Jerusalem, Bishop Suheil, whose concerns have been very much in the prayers of many of us for a long time. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem will also be attending, a number of Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops, people from other Christian communities, a representative of the Jewish Board of Deputies. We’re hoping also for very senior representation from the Foreign Office, and from the European Commission. And all those we’ve spoken to in all those contexts have been entirely supportive.
We’re convinced that the seriousness of the situation of Christians in Israel and Palestine is still not well enough understood by many opinion formers and decision makers in the UK and elsewhere in the west.
The overall decline in the Christian Population of the Holy Land has been very significant in recent decades and it is, as you’ve heard, accelerating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem very rapidly. The number of Christians in Israel itself remains steady, but we still face the not too distant prospect elsewhere, especially in East Jerusalem, of the disappearance of most of the historic Christian communities. Communities that have been there, in some cases, since the days of our Lord.
And it’s that prospect, the prospect of the Christian presence in a good deal of the Holy Land being reduced just to the level of heritage; Churches as museums, rather than living communities of Faith and Witness – it’s that prospect which concerns us so deeply.
So the conference will give us an opportunity to examine some of the reasons so many people are leaving, and also ask us the question: what we can do to help those Christians who so urgently want to stay in their Homeland, and to imagine a future there for themselves.
As I’ve said we’ll be drawing in some highly placed figures from the UK Government and the European Commission, from a variety of diplomatic and religious backgrounds, but most importantly we want to hear from the people on the ground – Israeli and Palestinian.
It is with this in view that I want to appeal today to you for your support in creating in the near future a fund with which we might assist projects of community development and work creation, especially among Palestinian Christians. And in setting up this fund, we propose to work with the Friends of the Holy Land, a small but growing ecumenical charity – you may have visited their stall here at Synod. The distinctive thing about the Friends of the Holy Land is that it’s made up of parish-based groups, who are dedicated to praying with and for Christians in the Holy Land and supporting them in practical and personal ways. The Friends of the Holy Land encourage pilgrimages, and involvement in local grass-roots projects to contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable communities and families.
So this group, the Friends of the Holy Land will act as the receiving agency for contributions from individuals and groups towards what we hope will become over time a substantial fund, generating income that will help sustain hope for a viable future for Christians in the Holy Land.
I am making this appeal to Synod in advance of the conference so that you may all have a chance to think about how you can best support this venture and also of course so that you may be able to hold us in prayer next week when we meet. I hope that in the weeks ahead, fellow-Anglicans will give generously to support this vision, and consider ways of becoming better informed and more involved with the issues – not as part of any kind of political campaign but as part of what we owe to our brothers and sisters in Christ’s Body, in supporting the continuance of the vital presence of Christian communities in the land where our Lord preached, lived and died the Gospel.
The sensitivity of the subject matter – the political sensitivity – is high, as you will all know, and we shall need prayers that we be saved next week from just an exchange of familiar words, whether platitudes or blame or resentment, and be enabled to ask about the practical measures that will open doors of hope for our brothers and sisters. We have to remember that – as I suggested to you on Saturday – if Christians can hold on to hope in a situation of conflict and fear, that is good news for everyone. Without that, the chances of justice and reconciliation, in the Holy Land and elsewhere, are significantly reduced.
So, please, support the conference in prayer, support the appeal for funds that will, we hope, decisively increase the effectiveness of the work of the Friends of the Holy Land and others, and that support will be part of our service to what we all long for, the peace of Jerusalem and all that that peace might mean for our world. So please support this, as generously as you are able, in whatever way you feel appropriate. Thank you.