The award for ‘UK paper blaming Israel for ruining Christmas in Bethlehem’ goes to….

Surprisingly, this year the award does NOT go to the Guardian.

timesIt goes to The Times for a story by Catherine Philp which is riddled with errors and distortions. (See our previous posts on Philp here and here.) 

Israeli settlements surround Bethlehem?

Philp:

From a barren hill, the settlers look down on snowy Bethlehem. “Just look at all this nature,” rhapsodises Yehuda Nesha as he turns from the fabled biblical town towards the Judean hills. Should the settlers get their way, though, nature will soon be banished from this hill, replaced by the red roofs and golden stone walls of hundreds of new homes, the latest links in a chain of Jewish settlements encircling the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.

However, as this map by B’tselem demonstrates, Israeli settlements do NOT encircle Bethlehem.

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Bethlehem has become more densely populated than Gaza?

Philp:

With little space left to expand, Bethlehem has become more densely populated than Gaza, despite the steady exodus of wealthier residents, mostly Christians, anxious to escape what the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called “a choking reality”.

Interestingly, this exact claim was also advanced in a story by Harriet Sherwood last year, citing an unnamed Palestinian official.  But, as we demonstrated at the time, this too is false. According to the PA’s own statistics, the population density of the city of Bethlehem is 4,757 persons/km², which is LOWER than Gaza’s, which (per the CIA Fact World Book) is at 4,898 persons/km².

Who’s to blame for the Christian Exodus from Bethlehem?

Philp:

Down in Beit Sahour, which is mostly Christian, residents of one housing development have been living under the threat of demolition for more than a decade since an Israeli court ruled its building illegal. The order was frozen but never lifted, leaving families in limbo, wondering if or when the bulldozers will arrive and where they will go if they do. “This is the only place left for us,” says William Sahouri, whose family has lived in the area for more than 300 years. “There are no lands to expand.”

He is one of seven brothers, but only three remain in Bethlehem. The other four have gone abroad, part of a migration that has seen Bethlehem’s Christian population fall from about 50 per cent to under a third.

In this year’s Christmas message, Mr Abbas highlighted the Christian exodus, lamenting “the sad fact that more Bethlehemites will be lighting their candles in Santiago de Chile, Chicago, San Pedro de Sula, Melbourne and Toronto than those in Bethlehem”.

Beyond her implication that Israel is to blame, Philp fails to seriously explain why the Christian population in the city has fallen.

In addition to demographic dynamics, such as higher Muslim birthrates, there is the widespread problem of Palestinian Christians being targeted for violence at the hands of Muslim extremists.  As reported in a detailed CAMERA analysis last year, Pastor Nihad Salman (who serves in Beit Jala, a Palestinian Christian town opposite Bethlehem) has testified extensively about Muslim hostility toward Christians.  Additionally, Dexter Van Zile, CAMERA’s Christian Media Analyst, interviewed Steven Khoury, assistant pastor at The First Baptist Church in Bethlehem, in a piece that was published in The Algemeiner. Khoury told Van Zile that anti-Christian animus has gotten worse in Bethlehem over the years, and that there is serious pressure placed on Christians in the West Bank to convert to Islam. 

Telegraph story in 2011 reported that Church leaders in the Holy Land had compiled a “dossier” of alleged incidents of abuse by ‘Islamic fundamentalists against Palestinian Christians, and accused the Palestinian Authority of doing nothing to stop the attacks.  According to the Telegraph, “the dossier includes a list of 140 cases of apparent land theft, in which Christians in the West Bank were allegedly forced off their lands, backed by corrupt [Palestinian] judicial officials.”

Remarkably, in 880 words written by the Times reporter about the fate of Christians in Bethlehem, there isn’t a single word about the problem of Islamist extremism. Nor does she note that the only country in the region where the Christian population is increasing is Israel.

Indeed, the fact that the only nation in the Middle East where Christians are flourishing just happens to be the sole place where radical Islam is not a serious threat is essential to understanding the fate of Christianity in that part of the world – vital context about contrasting values of tolerance in the region which Catherine Philp fails to provide.  

Guardian columnist blames the persecution of Mid-East Christians on Israel’s creation

Yes, the Guardian’s religion blogger Andrew Brown really did blame Israel for the Arab persecution of Christians in the Arab Middle East.

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Here are the relevant passages in his latest post on former president George W. Bush’s recent work with a group of Messianic Jews: 

…there is widespread confusion among evangelicals about whether Israel is really a kind of America overseas – a recent poll for the Pew Foundation found that twice as many American Evangelicals as American Jews were unwavering in their support for Israel. This is something that successive Israeli governments have deliberately cultivated.

But the links between Zionism and Christianity go much further and deeper than that. The conversion of the Jews, and their restoration to Jerusalem, was a great enthusiasm among English evangelicals in Victorian times. Barbara Tuchman’s marvelous book Bible And Sword chronicles some of the consequences.

It’s fair to say that without the belief of Victorian upper class evangelical Englishmen – almost exactly the equivalents of George W Bush – there never would have been a Balfour Declaration. And without that declaration, there could not have been the Jewish immigration to Palestine that laid the foundations for the state of Israel.

Some people will see this as an example of the destructive craziness of religion, and perhaps it is, but it is also an example of the way in which theology is only powerful and important when it is wrapped up in identity. Because if there is one group that has suffered as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel and its support by Western Christian countries, it is the historic Christians of the Middle East – who are now the victims of persecution throughout the region and scapegoats of an angry nationalism.

Whilst Brown’s characterization of the foundation of Zionism and the establishment of Israel is completely ahistorical, the magnitude of Brown’s fabrication regarding the cause of anti-Christian racism in the modern Middle East is simply difficult to comprehend. 

Christians are facing systemic persecution throughout the Arab and Muslim Middle East to the point where studies have predicted that “Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands”, or will at least “effectively disappear from the region as a cultural and political force within our lifetime”.  As The Telegraph commented on a recent study by the think-tank Civitas, “the most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam”. The report estimates that “between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.”  Some 2 million Christians have reportedly fled in the past 20 years alone.

Such racist oppression against the beleaguered Christians occurs daily in countries such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq – as well as in Palestinian controlled cities in the West Bank.  

Of course, the one country in the region where the Christian population is growing in total numbers is Israel.

Yet, the Guardian blogger not only ignores this statistical evidence, but views the disturbing news broadcast daily of Coptic churches being burned, Christians arrested for ‘blasphemy’, and clergy kidnapped and killed in Muslim dominated countries in the region, and somehow sees the root cause in Israel’s very creation.  

As Walid Phares, a Lebanese-American scholar who advises the U.S. on issues related to terrorism, said at a conference on protecting Christians in the Middle East in 2012 sponsored by CAMERA, the plight of religious and ethnic minorities in Muslim and Arab majority countries in the region is ignored due in part to political correctness, cultural relativism and a malign obsession with Israel.

In the future when we cite examples of how antisemitism manifests itself in unusual ways at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’, Brown’s astonishing moral inversion, in which Muslims persecute Christians but Jews are still to blame, will be near the top of our list.

Antony Loewenstein meditates, ‘as a Jew’, on whether religion causes conflict

On July 2 ‘Comment is Free’ published a piece titled ‘Doesn’t religion cause most of the conflict in the world?’, representing an edited extract from the book, For God’s Sake: An Atheist, A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim Debate Religion‘ – by co-authors Antony Loewenstein (a Jew and previous ‘CiF’ contributor), Jayne Caro (an atheist), Simon Smart (a Christian) and Rachel Woodlook (a Muslim).  

Lowenstein, as we’ve noted before, is a secular, anti-Zionist Jew who previously has advanced antisemitic narratives about the alleged danger to Western governments posed by the power of organized Jewry.  

Here’s what he wrote in the July 2 CiF essay:

Alain de Botton, philosopher and author of Religion for Atheists, is worried about fundamentalism. “To say something along the lines of ‘I’m an atheist: I think religions are not all bad’ has become a dramatically peculiar thing to say,” he told British journalist Bryan Appleyard in 2012. “If you do say it on the internet you will get savage messages calling you a fascist, an idiot or a fool. This is a very odd moment in our culture.”

Neo-atheism, the belief that science is the only path to truth and all religions are equally deluded and destructive, has taken hold in much of the debate over atheism. The movement, whose keys figures include Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, is an ideology that arrogantly celebrates an understanding of everything through supposed reason and proof. It allows little doubt or questioning about the unknown. It also happens that some of these key figures, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, are backers of state violence against Muslim countries since 11 September 2001.

It’s clearly an exaggeration to suggest atheists are rampaging through the streets demanding the end of religious belief but the last decade has seen an ever-increasing number of atheists feeling the need to ridicule or damn people who do believe in a god.

Dawkins, at a dinner with de Botton and others in London in 2012, recounted a conversation he’d had with Hitchens. “Do you ever worry,” Dawkins asked, “that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled with Islam?”

It’s a curious question that reflects both the vicious hatred of Muslims by many so-called new atheists but also a creepy utopian nightmare that is apparently idealised by them. Destroy Christianity? Because the Catholic Church has committed innumerable crimes, opposes abortion and birth control, refuses to accept female priests and hides sex offenders in its midst? To be sure, the institution is dysfunctional, but wishing for its disintegration reflects a savagery that will only inflame, not reduce tensions.

None of this is to excuse the undeniable barbarity unleashed by religionists over the centuries. The misogyny, beheadings, terrorism, killings, beatings and cruelty are real. They continue. Today we see a growing battle in the Middle East between Shi’ite and Sunni; a Jewish state unleashing militancy against Christian and Muslim Palestinians; and an anti-gay crusade led by some Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders that threatens the sanctity of life itself.

I’ve been guilty of claiming religion is the source of the world’s evils, but it’s a careless comment. It’s far too easy to blame the Muslim faith for honour killings. I’m under no illusion about the fact that religion is routinely used to justify the more heinous crimes. But the 20th century is filled with examples, namely Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China, that didn’t need God as an excuse to commit genocide against a state’s own people.

A few thoughts:

  • Though Loewenstein touches on Atheism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the only country mentioned by Lowenstein as guilty of ‘state violence’ against specific religious communities today is Israel. He of course ignores the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands, as well as the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Muslim Middle East – a problem so severe that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (and other groups) have warned that Christians may become extinct in the Middle East within our lifetime.  
  • Loewenstein risibly suggests a moral equivalence between Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders on their treatment of gays, ignoring the state sanctioned violence and oppression against gays in Islamist governed countries in contrast to the freedom enjoyed by the LGBT community in the Jewish state.
  • Though Loewenstein notes the “barbarity” of “beheadings”, “terrorism”  by “religionists”, he strenuously avoids singling any one religion as guilty of these crimes.
  • Loewenstein takes a gratuitous swipe at Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, the brave Somali-born writer who was forced to flee the Netherlands due to death threats by Islamists following a film she helped produce which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic countries, who he accuses of supporting state violence against Muslim countries. It’s unclear what he’s even referring to, but he seems to be employing the Glenn Greenwald method of characterizing those who support the U.S. war against Islamist terrorists as guilty of endorsing violence against Muslims qua Muslims.

One of the signature ideological ticks of the Guardian Left is again evident in Loewenstein’s staggering obfuscation regarding the the very real threat to pluralism and religious tolerance posed by radical Islam.  Whilst folks should of course reject essentialist characterizations about Islam and racist views about Muslims as such, political correctness can’t get in the way of acknowledging that political Islam, as it is practiced in countries around the world, is fundamentally at odds with the liberal values we hold dear. 

Not reported by the Guardian: The “plot to celebrate Christmas” in Saudi Arabia

The following story about an incident in Saudi Arabia, published in Alakhbar, reads as satire, but is all too real, and represents and interesting postscript to our recent critique of Harriet Sherwood’s tall tale about Christmas in Bethlehem , which conjured fanciful images of Christians under siege in the Holy Land.

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Here are excerpts from the Alakhbar piece:

“Saudi religious police stormed a house in the Saudi Arabian province of al-Jouf, detaining more than 41 guests for “plotting to celebrate Christmas,” a statement from the police branch released Wednesday night said.

The host of the alleged Christmas gathering is reported to be an Asian diplomat whose guests included 41 Christians, as well as two Saudi Arabian and Egyptian Muslims.

The kingdom, which only recognizes Islamic faith and practice, has in the past banned public Christmas celebrations, but is ambiguous about festivities staged in private quarters.

member of the Higher Council of Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Mohammed al-Othaimin recently prohibited sending holiday wishes to “heretics” on Christmas or other religious Christian holidays.”

As Christians throughout Israel were freely celebrating the birth of Christ, in the neighboring state of Saudi Arabia dozens were detained for ‘conspiring’ to celebrate the holiday.

Meanwhile, on the Guardian’s Saudi Arabia page, there was nothing on the crackdown against Christianity.

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While Harriet Sherwood and her team of journalistic and polemical investigators continue to conduct a never-ending moral DNA analysis of the Jewish state for any trace amounts of racism or discrimination, the abominable treatment of religious minorities in the non-Jewish Middle East avoids serious scrutiny.

While we continue to report on the Guardian’s bias against the only Jewish state in the region, it’s impossible to properly contextualize such skewed coverage without noting the regional stories they don’t report.  

Such expansive moral blind spots, as much as any other dynamic, continue to define the ideological space occupied by the Guardian Left.   

‘The Jewish state which ruined Christmas in Bethlehem’: A Guardian Production

wise-men-tunnellingChristianity is close to extinct in the Middle East.

The only place in the region where Christians are free, and indeed thriving, is the Jewish state.

In contrast, a new study, highlighted at the Telegraph, warns that “Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group” and quotes estimates that “between half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.”

Yet, like a holiday ritual, Harriet Sherwood, in the spirit of Phoebe Greenwood’s ugly Guardian piece last year (‘If Jesus were to come this year Bethlehem would be closed’, Guardian, Dec. 22, 2011) chose to advance, as if by rote, a predictable Christmas tale of Israeli oppression against Christians.

Sherwood’s piece, Bethlehem Christians feel squeeze of settlements, avoids entirely any context about the comparative treatment of Christians in the Middle East, and myopically obsesses on the putative threat to Christians posed by Israeli “settlements” in the Jerusalem region.

Sherwood writes:

“In the birthplace of Jesus, the impact of Israeli settlements and their growth has been devastating.”

Sherwood then allows the following quote by Mahmoud Abbas to go unchallenged:

“For the first time in 2,000 years of Christianity in our homeland, the Holy Cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been completely separated by Israeli settlements, racist walls and checkpoints.”

First, as CAMERA pointed out in response to Bob Simon’s 60 Minute piece:

“Maps provided by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United NationsB’tselem, and the PLO all indicate that the security barrier is located to the north and west of the city, and does not completely surround Bethlehem.”

Further, all Sherwood would have needed to do was visit the site of the Palestine Visitor Information Center, where she could have found the following helpful information:

“Most of the travellers arrive to Bethlehem via Jerusalem.

Bus  no. 21 runs from the Arabic Bus Station at the Damascus Gate (“Bab el-’Amoud”) in East Jerusalem via Beit Jala to Bethlehem. The average trip length is 40 minutes and costs 7 NIS.”

The Palestine Visitor Information Center helpfully suggests other bus routes, the option of driving, or even, for the physically ambitious, a walking route.

There’s no warning on their site reflecting Abbas’s claim that the two Biblical cities are cut off.

Sherwood continues:

“The city is further hemmed in by the vast concrete and steel separation barrier, bypasses connecting settlements with Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and Israeli military zones. With little room to expand, it is now more densely populated than Gaza, according to one Palestinian official.”

The Palestinian official was lying.

According to the PA’s own statistics, Bethlehem’s population density is 3,383 person/km, while the density of Gaza is higher at 4,603 person/km.  It should also be noted that Gaza is not even in the top 50 of most densely populated places on earth. (If the PA official was comparing Bethlehem to Gaza City, as opposed to the entire Gaza strip, naturally the disparity in density would be even greater).

Sherwood then turns to economic issues, writing:

“The wall already snakes around most of Bethlehem, its 8m-high concrete slabs casting a deep shadow, both literally and metaphorically. At the Christmas Tree restaurant, where there are almost no takers for the “Quick Lunches” on offer, business has slowed to a standstill since the wall blocked what was once the main Jerusalem-Bethlehem road. Scores of shops along the closed-off artery have shut down altogether.”

“…the lack of routine access has had a dire impact on businesses and employment rates.”

The suggestion that Bethlehem is economically depressed is another profound distortion, as the city has been experiencing an economic boom over the last few years, with the number of tourists (and hotel stays) having dramatically increased over the last few years.

In fact, the narrative advanced in Sherwood’s passage was contradicted by Sherwood herself, in a piece published a couple of days earlier (Dec. 21), ‘No room at the inn – but Bethlehem’s popularity is a boon to Palestinians, where she wrote:

“Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists are expected to visit the birthplace of Jesus over Christmas. All of the West Bank city’s 3,700 hotel rooms are likely to be filled, with thousands more visitors making day trips from nearby Jerusalem.

This year has seen a 20% growth in the numbers of visitors to Bethlehem compared with the previous year, and officials hope for a further rise in tourism to Palestine next year. The biggest number of tourists – more than a quarter – come from Russia.

Officials are heartened by the increasing number of visitors who are opting to stay in hotels in Bethlehem rather than just making the trip from Jerusalem. The number of overnight stays is expected to reach 1.5m by the end of this year.

The city is planning to increase the number of hotel beds, offer improved packages and invest in marketing and promotion…”

Undeterred, Sherwood continues:

“Bethlehem has one of the highest rates of unemployment of all West Bank cities, at 18%, says Vera Baboun, who was elected as its first female mayor in October. “We are a strangulated city, with no room for expansion due to the settlements and the wall.””

However, according to the PA’s own statistics, any suggestion of a causation between the security fence and unemployment in Bethlehem is not supportable. In 2002 for instance, two years before the fence’s completion om 2004*, the unemployment rate was higher (at 20%) than the current rate.  Inexplicably, unemployment in Bethlehem actually dropped in 2005 and 2006 to 13.4 and 13.7% respectively. So, at the very least, unemployment figures for Bethlehem don’t seem at all to correspond with the fence’s construction history.

Sherwood’s narrative then descends even further with the following passage:

“In a booklet to mark Christmas 2012, Kairos Palestine, a Christian alliance, says: “Land confiscation, as well as the influx of Israeli settlers, suggest that there will be no future for Palestinians (Christian or Muslim) in [this] area. In this sense, the prospect of a clear ‘solution’ grows darker every day”.

However, Kairos, as CAMERA has documented, is certainly not a group dedicated at all to “peace, love and understanding”.

A 2009 Kairos document calls the Israeli “occupation” a “sin against God,” and characterizes Palestinian acts of terror as “legal resistance.” 

The document also states that if “there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.”

As CAMERA asked in response to such specious occupation causation:

“Really? Then why did the rocket attacks against Israel increase after it withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005?”

More importantly, the Kairos quote insidiously suggests something of a policy of ethnic cleansing (Israel’s “solution”) of both Muslims and Christians in the West Bank, a suggestion which is matched in sheer malice by the demographic lie. Here are a couple of population facts:

  • The population of Christians in Bethlehem and surrounding area has increased since 1967 (when Israel took control of the West Bank), which (as CAMERA noted) stands in “contrast to the decline of the Christian population in the West Bank when it was under Jordanian control.”
  •  The Christian population in Israel proper has risen from 34,000 in 1948 to over 150,000 today.

Additionally, as Akus noted in a post last Christmas, the Church of England, for instance, is quite aware of the demographic realities for Christians in the Middle East. A report by the Church noted the following:

“While Christians have fled from areas controlled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, in Israel their numbers have grown rapidly. The Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008 reports that Israel’s Christian population grew from 120,600 in 1995 to 151,600 in 2007, representing a growth rate of 25 per cent — a rate faster than the growth of the country’s Jewish population.”

That the place in the Middle East where the population of Christians is growing just happens to be the sole country where Islamism is not a serious threat is essential to understanding the fate of Christianity in that part of the world – context about the contrasting religious freedom, tolerance and democratic values in the Middle East which Harriet Sherwood’s reports on the region do not provide.  

Finally, the report linked to in the first sentence of this post concluded that the “lion’s share” of persecution faced by Christians arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith”.  Specifically, the reports adds, “the most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam“, and further argues that oppression against Christians in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism.”

Such religious bigotry – in places like Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and elsewhere - includes physical violence, attacks on churches, forced conversions, and the imposition of Sharia law.  

Moreover, is it really even debatable that the antagonist in Sherwood’s Christmas tale, Israel’s security fence, was only necessitated by terror attacks launched largely by adherents to the same brand of radical Islamism which has prompted so many Middle East Christians to flee?  

While truly fearless crusading dailies would boldly tackle the real cleansing of Christians from Arab lands as the result of Islamist militancy, CiF Watch does not monitor a broadsheet which engages in such truly courageous journalism.

We monitor the Guardian.

(*Fence construction information obtained from Dany Tirza who served as the IDF’s chief architect for the Security Fence.)

New Year slaughter of Christians in Egypt shows we’re all in it together against Islamism

Robin Shepherd, once again, cuts to the heart of the matter, and pulls no punches with his spot-on analysis of the news regarding 21 Christians who were murdered by Islamists outside a Church in Alexandria, Egypt last night.

It will be interesting to observe the international response following last night’s slaughter of at least 21 Christians by Islamists outside a Church in Alexandria, Egypt. If it had been the other way around (heaven forfend that it had been carried out by Jews) there would have been mass protests around the world, condemnations from leading politicians and, given that this comes on the heels of other such massacres, could well have ended up with a resolution at the United Nations.

But don’t hold your breath. The politically correct multi-culturalism that holds sway across Europe and increasing sections of the United States (I hardly need mention the UN) dictates that we must always beware of enflaming Muslim sensitivities. The great diversionary spectre of “Islamophobia” silences all that go before it.

But last night’s bomb attack in Egypt is no isolated event. During a Christmas Day mass in the Philippines 11 were injured in a bombing in a Christian chapel. Also in December 38 Christians were slaughtered by Muslim extremists in Nigeria, a country where church burnings are starting to become commonplace. In Iraq last Autumn 68 Christians were massacred in the Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad by a group threatening that Christians will be “exterminated”. Across the Middle East, Christians increasingly live in fear of their Muslim neighbours, and the region’s Christian population is diminishing fast. So at what point does a series of “isolated events” start to form a pattern?

Read the rest of the post, here.