60 Minutes Steers Christians Against Israel
9:06 AM, Apr 28, 2012 • By MARK TOOLEY
Last Sunday, CBS’s 60 Minutes broadcast “Christians of the Holy Land,” by Bob Simon, largely blaming Israel for an exodus of Christians from the Holy Land. The showing coincides with a growing international campaign to portray Israel as anti-Christian, showcasing Palestinian Christians as evidence.
“Palestinian Christians, once a powerful minority, are becoming the invisible people, squeezed between a growing Muslim majority and burgeoning Israeli settlements,” the segment opened. “Israel has occupied the West Bank for 45 years.”
But the harsher indictment came from a Palestinian Lutheran pastor and critic of Israel. “If you see what's happening in the West Bank, you will find that the West Bank is becoming more and more like a piece of Swiss cheese where Israel gets the cheese that is the land, the water resources, the archaeological sites,” complained Mitri Raheb. “And the Palestinians are pushed in the holes behind the walls.”
Christians comprise between 1 and 2 percent of Palestinians. But because American Christians, especially evangelicals, are among Israel’s most strategically important friends, undermining Christian sympathy for Israel has become a major theme for anti-Israel activism.
60 Minutes largely cast Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, as the villain, and Christians Palestinians as the victims. Oren disputed that Israel persecutes Christians and wondered why there is not more focus on harsh anti-Christian persecution elsewhere in the Middle East. Most grieving to Simon, Oren complained to CBS before the segment’s broadcast, which Simon huffed was unprecedented.
The Israeli security barrier is frequently cited as a form of persecution against Palestinian Christians. Claiming the wall now “completely” surrounds Bethlehem, which is an exaggeration, 60 Minutes noted: “For Palestinian Christians, the survival of their culture is in danger.” Simon reported: “In towns like Bethlehem, which used to be distinctively Christian, Muslims now are a clear and growing majority.” Oren countered that what for Palestinians is an “inconvenience” is for Israel a matter of “survival.” He also emphasized that Christianity is “thriving” inside Israel, in contrast with the rest of the region. And he faulted “Islamic extremism” for Christian difficulties on the West Bank.
60 Minutes was mostly uninterested in examining Islamic extremism, while faulting Israel for a Palestinian Christian exodus whose outcome is that: “The veil is replacing the cross.” Simon hailed a 2009 manifesto from Palestinian Christians called “Kairos Palestine,” which he described as “criticizing Islamic extremism and advocating non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation which they called a sin against God.”
In fact, “Kairos” never specifically mentions Islamic extremism. Instead, it condemns “anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.” And it carefully warns: “Trying to make the state a religious state, Jewish or Islamic, suffocates the state, confines it within narrow limits, and transforms it into a state that practices discrimination and exclusion, preferring one citizen over another.” Defenders of Israel note that Kairos vaguely defines the “occupation” as perhaps not just the West Bank but all of Israel. And it seems to point at a single-state solution, in which Palestinians would become a demographic majority. Unacknowledged by 60 Minutes, Palestinian Christians, as a tiny minority among Muslims, including Hamas, don't have the luxury of criticizing political Islam. Nor can they publicly take any position that isn't anti-Israel.
Pastor Raheb, who helped write Kairos, told 60 Minutes: “They are fearful of this document because they are afraid this might influence the Christian world.” No doubt. Israeli ambassador Oren understandably anticipated the 60 Minutes segment would be hostile, and he preempted it with a Wall Street Journal op-ed describing radical Islam as a persecutor of Christians. “Christian communities throughout the Middle East are being oppressed and massacred,” he told 60 Minutes, saying he was “mystified” by the inattention. But Bob Simon focused on Oren’s preemptive complaints about a “hatchet job” to CBS. “I've never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn't been broadcast yet,” Simon complained. “Well, there's a first time for everything, Bob,” Oren countered.