Archive | April, 2012

60 Minutes’ Hatchet Job

25 Apr

The anti-Israel media crusade hit high gear this week as the CBS News program 60 Minutes aired a piece declaring that Christians are leaving the West Bank, and that somehow it’s all Israel’s fault. (Watch the video. Read the transcript.)

As someone who’s spent years monitoring the media, this segment was, unfortunately, typical of what I’d come to expect from 60 Minutes – a report filled with distortion of facts, selective omission, and lack of context.

Yet what really struck me is the personal vendetta that reporter Bob Simon appears to have against Israel.

When Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, got a tip that 60 Minutes was planning a distorted report, he phoned the head of CBS News to complain about what was shaping up to be “a hatchet job.”

When Simon found out about this, he called in Oren for an interview. Then, with a contorted expression and a voice dripping with disdain, Simon publicly scolded Ambassador Oren:

60 Minutes: Mr. Ambassador, I’ve been doing this a long time. And I’ve received lots of reactions from just about everyone I’ve done stories about. But I’ve never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn’t been broadcast yet.

Oren was stuck in a hard place. He surely wanted to take off the gloves and duke it out with Simon. But as a diplomat, he had to offer this mild, diplomatic response:

Ambassador: Well, there’s a first time for everything, Bob.

This got me thinking. Imagine how this interview would have played out, in a perfect world where the truth can be freely spoken. What if we replay the tape for my “imagined” version of this conversation, were Ambassador Oren able to say what he really wanted.

60 Minutes: Mr. Ambassador… I’ve never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn’t been broadcast yet.

Ambassador: Well in this case, Bob, it was totally justified. The record shows you to be a virulent critic of the State of Israel. Recall your 60 Minutes report from January 2009 – “Time Running Out for a Two-State Solution?” – in which you invoked the worst demonizing terms, suggesting that Israel practices “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid.”

60 Minutes: Surely you can’t make a judgment based on a single example.

Ambassador: Actually, Bob, it’s a pattern. Remember your December 2003 piece for 60 Minutes“The Fence” – where you falsely charged that the West Bank security barrier appropriates “large chunks of Palestinian land.” We all know that the real figure is about 8%. And who can forget you gloating over the incident with 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura, calling it “one of the most disastrous setbacks Israel has suffered in decades” (“The Crossroad,” 60 Minutes, November 12, 2000).

60 Minutes: Let me guess – now you’re going to extrapolate my reporting to discredit all of 60 Minutes?

Ambassador: I will let the record speak for itself. Just over a year ago Leslie Stahl’s 60 Minutes piece on the City of David described Israel’s legitimate search for archeological artifacts as “controversial,” and termed teaching Jews about their historical roots in Jerusalem as “indoctrination.”

And this pattern goes all the way back to the early days of 60 Minutes when Mike Wallace visited Syria. He reported that “life for Syria’s Jews is better than it was in years past,” and that assertions of mistreatment are mere “Zionist propaganda.” (“Israel’s Toughest Enemy,” February 1975). Shortly thereafter, nearly every Syrian Jew fled the country in fear. A decade later, Wallace repeated his disinformation in reporting that Soviet Jews “live more or less satisfying lives.” More than a million Soviet Jews disagreed and emigrated the first chance they had.

So yes, Bob, based on all the available information, I have good reason to believe that your upcoming segment will be “a hatchet job.”

Note that Simon’s actual conversation with Ambassador Oren did not deal with the accuracy of these indictments, but rather focused exclusively on Simon’s personal insult upon learning of the complaint. This was a lame attempt to throw up a smokescreen, to divert attention from the real issue – Simon’s biased reporting.

Just the Facts

Let’s continue our make-believe conversation, imagining that Bob Simon sincerely does explore the topic of Christians in the West Bank.

60 Minutes: Ambassador, surely you do not deny that the Christian population in the West Bank is weakening.

Ambassador: You’re right about that, Bob. But let’s examine who is to blame for this.

60 Minutes: Fair enough. Let’s start by looking at how Christians are treated in the State of Israel. What can you tell us about that?

Ambassador: Statistics show that the Christian population in Israel was 34,000 in 1949, 73,000 in 1972, and 153,000 in 2008. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has increased since 1948 – having risen by more than 400 percent, and continuing to rise every year. Christians today are prominent in all aspects of Israeli life – serving in the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and in a variety of business and cultural roles.

The 60 Minutes report, however, made not a single mention of the growing Christian population in Israel.

Our imaginary conversation continues.

60 Minutes: To be fair we would have to compare how Christians are treated in a region governed solely by Muslims. The rest of the Middle East should provide a good benchmark.

Ambassador: Outside of Israel, the Middle East is characterized by widespread “de-Christianization.” In recent years hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq, with 70 churches burned and nearly a thousand Christians killed in Baghdad alone. In Egypt, 200,000 Coptic Christians fled their homes last year after beatings and massacres by Muslim extremist mobs. Turkey, regarded as a moderate Islamic state, has seen its Christian population decline 100-fold in the last century. In Saudi Arabia, the practice of Christianity is plain illegal, and the highest Muslim authority in Saudi Arabia recently called for the demolition of all churches in the Middle East.

60 Minutes: Perhaps other Arab countries do not tell us specifically how Christians are treated by Palestinian Muslims. Let’s look at an area administered totally by Palestinians – the Gaza Strip, from which Israel withdrew in 2005.

Ambassador: For starters, in 2007, the manager of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore was kidnapped and murdered – shot in the head and stabbed multiple times. Palestinian gunmen also blew up the YMCA library in the Gaza Strip; two guards were kidnapped, the offices were looted and all 8,000 books were destroyed.

It comes as no surprise that following the Hamas takeover in 2006, the Christian population of Gaza fell by 64 percent – from 5,000 to less than 1,800 in 2010. When four masked gunmen tried to abduct a church employee in Gaza, a local Christian leader lamented how the incident is “aimed at sending a message to all the Christians here that we must leave. Radical Islamic groups are waging a campaign to get rid of us and no one seems to care.”

At this point, things don’t look so good for Bob Simon. Here’s what I imagine happens next:

60 Minutes: Enough of this beating around the bush, Ambassador. Let’s just go straight to the West Bank. Is it not true that Bethlehem, “the little town where Christ was born,” is “an open air prison”? Is it not true that “Christians now make up only 18 percent of what was for centuries an overwhelmingly Christian town”? (Editor’s note: the words in quotes were said by Simon in the actual 60 Minutes report.)

Ambassador: In Bethlehem, the Christian population began to drastically decline in 1995, the same year the Palestinian Authority assumed administrative control. The PA unilaterally annexed an additional 30,000 Muslims to Bethlehem and then redistricted the municipal boundaries – ensuring a Muslim majority in any future elections. In order to further freeze Christians out of the Palestinian political process, a 2007 Palestinian summit was intentionally held in Mecca, a city where Christians (and all non-Muslims, for that matter) are barred by law from entering.

Under Palestinian control, the de-Christianization of Bethlehem has been ruthless. A Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of the Nativity was confiscated and converted into the PA president’s official residence. Bethlehem Christians were forced to shut down businesses after failing to pay “protection money” to local Muslims. This campaign took another nasty turn in 2006 when Bethlehem City Council member Hassan El-Masalmeh publicly advocated a discriminatory “dhimmi tax” on non-Muslim residents. Not surprisingly, Christians in Bethlehem and neighboring Beit Jala are fleeing in large numbers; after once comprising 60-70 percent of the city’s population, they have now dwindled to 15 percent.

And let us not forget how, in 2002, a group of 128 armed Palestinians invaded Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity – holding 40 Christian clergy hostage, stealing gold objects from the monks and urinating on the church floor. Within a few years, the Palestinian takeover of the church had been all but erased from history; your 60 Minutes segment, Bob, makes zero mention of that appalling episode.

60 Minutes: I am planning to post an online-only segment of 60 Minutes focusing on Taybeh, the West Bank city known to be predominantly Christian.

Ambassador: Then surely you know about the horrific events that took place in Taybeh in 2005, when hundreds of Muslims screaming Allahu Akbar carried out a pogrom against Christians – setting dozens of homes and businesses on fire, looting valuables, and destroying Christian icons. And you surely know that in 2009, Muslims attacked two Christian cemeteries in a West Bank village near Ramallah, desecrating 70 graves and decapitating a statue of the Virgin Mary.

60 Minutes: Okay, okay, enough already! But don’t expect me to mention any of that in my on-air report. (He didn’t.)

Simon’s idea of “balanced reporting” was to interview six Palestinians and – aside from Oren – only one Israeli, a correspondent for the left-leaning Haaretz. Nor was any voice allotted to the tens of millions of pro-Zionist Christians in America and around the world. All six Palestinians were critical of Israel; that’s probably because Christian Arabs who speak up against their Muslim oppressors fear they’ll wind up on an Internet video, wearing a hood and surrounded by chainsaw-wielding jihadists.

Indeed, with skillful editing and a hand-picked cadre of anti-Israel activists, 60 Minutes managed to contradict every Israeli claim. When Michael Oren asserted the simple fact that Palestinian Muslims place “major duress” on Palestinian Christians, 60 Minutes cut to an interview with Zahi Khouri, a Palestinian businessman who owns the West Bank Coca-Cola franchise. “I’ve never heard that someone is leaving because of Islamic persecution,” Khouri managed to say with a straight face – and Bob Simon let it stand unchallenged.

Driving the Wedge

All this leaves us with the question of: Why? Even if Simon harbors some personal disdain for Israel, what would motivate 60 Minutes to present Israel’s relationship with Palestinian Christians in such a negative light?

There is only one explanation: 60 Minutes is out to damage Israel’s image in the Christian community.

In the face of anti-Israel attacks – whether in the form of U.N. censure or media condemnations – one of the strongest bastions of support is America’s evangelical community. These Christians take seriously the biblical promise that the Holy Land belongs to the Jews as an everlasting possession. And when Israel is under siege, they promote pro-Israel political views and donate untold millions of dollars toward pro-Israel causes – acting in accord with Isaiah’s prophetic imperative: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent; for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet” (Isaiah 62:1).

So for those seeking to weaken support for Israel, a primary tactic is to drive a wedge between the Jewish state and the pro-Israel Christian community.

Bob Simon actually says as much. In speaking with Oren, Simon declared: “Do you think the Israeli government ever thinks of the fact that if Christians aren’t being treated well here, and America is an overwhelmingly Christian country, that this could have consequences?”

Watching 60 Minutes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Israel is the Mideast’s worst offender. It’s all part of the media’s efforts to drive a wedge between Israel and the Christian community, further demonizing Israel and eroding its support in the West.

The end of this story? 60 Minutes was flooded with complaints – from both private individuals and organization such as ADL. When the pro-Israel group Christians United for Israel (CUFI) notified its membership about the 60 Minutes piece, a CBS spokesman told the Washington Post that the complaints “number a few hundred.” Internet logs, however, show that in one 24-hour period, CUFI members actually sent 29,602 email complaints.

In its efforts to demonize Israel, CBS has crossed another line. No longer is this merely an issue of selective omission and lack of context. Now it is an outright denial of the facts.

This is an outrage, a violation of the core trust between 60 Minutes and its 13 million viewers.

But there is something you can do. Contact 60 Minutes executives, expressing your disappointment at this gross violation of media objectivity. And as always, please keep your comments respectful.

Jeffrey Fager, Chairman of CBS News, Executive Producer of “60 Minutes”

Email: 60m@cbsnews.com

Phone: 212-975-2006

Jewish Refugees

11 Apr

Passover marks the birth of the Jewish nation 3,300 years ago – the Exodus from Egypt – which left millions of Jews as refugees. Yet we persevered, innovated, and built a flourishing new home in the land of Israel. It was, by all estimates, the most successful refugee settlement enterprise in human history. 

This got me thinking about events 60 years ago, when 850,000 Jews were forced from their homes in countries like Iraq, Morocco, Yemen and – ironically – Egypt. They made their way to Israel, where they were successfully resettled, and today form the core of the modern State of Israel.

Now, the Israeli government is reiterating a demand that the Arab League acknowledge responsibility for expelling these Jews from Arab countries and turning them into refugees.

Over the years, the media has been incredibly near-sighted in promoting only the Palestinian half of the refugee story. For example, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed declaring that “All refugees have the right to return… that cannot be negotiated away.” And when the 2011 WikiLeaks diplomatic cables showed that peace negotiations had achieved progress in solving the Palestinian refugee issue, the London Guardian reacted not with joy, but rather by castigating Palestinian leaders for not adopting a sufficiently hard-line stance. (See here and here.)

So as we celebrate the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, it’s a good time to reflect on the modern refugee issue. Here’s an excellent backgrounder from Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon:

Easter Libel

8 Apr

One of the strongest bastions of support for Israel is the evangelical Christian community, which holds strong pro-Israel political views and donates untold millions of dollars toward pro-Israel causes. Fundamentalist Christians act in accord with Isaiah’s prophetic imperative that “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent; for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet” (Isaiah 62:1) – taking seriously the biblical promise that the Holy Land belongs to the Jews as an everlasting possession.

For those seeking to weaken support for Israel, a primary tactic is to drive a wedge between the Jewish state and the pro-Israel Christian community.

And so, in the run-up to Easter, the media mice are scurrying to do their damage. Last time, under the headline, “In Holy Land, Easter Not What it Was,” Reuters described “a big drop” “in Easter week ceremonies.”

This year, the Washington Post took its turn with a report, “A Dark Easter for Palestinian Christians,” spouting the false claim that Israel prevents “the vast majority of Christians living in the West Bank” from attending Easter ceremonies.

Besides the fact that the Washington Post got the numbers wrong, media monitors dug into microfilm archives to reveal the truth of whether Easter participation is unfairly restricted under Israeli rule. News reports from the era when Jerusalem was under Jordanian control (1948-1967) show a total of 5,000 pilgrims in Jerusalem for Easter festivities – a fraction of the permits that Israel has allotted to Palestinians alone. (“Easter Procession in Jerusalem,” Glasgow Herald, April 9, 1955)

Similarly, when Jerusalem was under British control (1917-1948), only a few thousand pilgrims would come every year. (“Holy Fire Ceremony at Holy Sepulchre,” Palestine Post, April 28, 1940) Things were even worse during the pre-1917 Ottoman era, when Easter services in Jerusalem would often turn violent. So despite the fact that Easter participation has significantly increased under Israeli rule, the media cannot resist ascribing anti-Christian motives to Israel.

And yet, Washington Post writer Richard Stearns laments: “While the ancient Christian communities around Jerusalem await the miracle of the Holy Fire this week, I pray for another miracle — one that would give full religious freedom to the Christians in the West Bank and Gaza.”

All this ignores the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has increased since 1948 – having risen by more than 400 percent, and continues to rise every year. (The Christian population in Israel was 34,000 in 1949, 73,000 in 1972, and 153,000 in 2008. See Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 2009.)

By contrast, the rest of the Middle East – Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Syria – is characterized by widespread “de-Christianization.” Turkey, regarded as a moderate Islamic state, has seen its Christian population decline 100-fold in the last century – from 20 percent in the early 20th century to 0.2 percent today. In Saudi Arabia, the practice of Christianity is plain illegal.

But for the media, Easter is just another opportunity to vilify Israel.

“Muslim” Moses

3 Apr

As Jews around the world prepare for Passover – the celebration of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt – Palestinians are working overtime to rewrite history by presenting Moses as “the great Muslim leader who liberated Palestine.”

On Palestinian Authority television, Dr. Omar Ja’ara, a lecturer at Al-Najah University in Nablus, declared:

“We must make clear to the world that David in the Hebrew Bible is not connected to David in the Koran, Solomon in the Hebrew Bible is not connected to Solomon in the Koran… and unfortunately, many researchers deny the Exodus of those oppressed people who were liberated by a great leader, like Moses the Muslim, the believing leader, the great Muslim, who was succeeded by Saul, the leader of these Muslims in liberating Palestine. This was the first Palestinian liberation through armed struggle to liberate Palestine…”

This outrage is the latest Palestinian effort to dismiss Jewish nationhood, a corollary to the repeated denial of any Jewish connection to the Holy Land. “The claims of historic and religious ties between Jews and Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history,” reads the Palestinian National Charter (Article 18).

When archaeologists in Jerusalem discovered a small golden bell, possibly from a tunic worn by a high priest during the Second Temple period, Palestinian officials angrily said this “underlines the efforts of the occupation and the extremist Jewish groups to falsify history and plant Jewish history forged in the region.” And following the release of an iPhone app that sends prayers to the Western Wall, Palestinians immediately went into protest mode, insisted that “the Wailing Wall is an integral part of the al-Aqsa Mosque, and it is exclusively Islamic… and non-Muslims have no right to it, even to the dust of the Wailing Wall.” (Palestine News Network, January 4, 2011)

This deceit goes straight to the top: In the words of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Jewish people “claim that 2,000 years ago they had a Temple. I challenge the claim that this is so.” (Kul Al-Arab, August 25, 2000) The Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, claimed that historically the Jewish presence in Israel “never was in Jerusalem, it never was on the coast, it never was in Hebron.”

As detailed in my book, David & Goliath, it’s all part of an ongoing deligitimization campaign – aided by a willing media. Le Monde, the French newspaper of record, quoted PA cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo: “Looking at the situation from an archaeological standpoint, I am sure there is no temple.”

Even canonized Jewish writings, accepted for millennia by billions of people worldwide, are targeted for revision. Speaking on Palestinian TV, researcher Dr. Hayel Sanduqa claimed that the well-known verse from Psalm 137, “If I forget thee, oh Jerusalem,” is not a Jewish source at all, but rather words uttered by a Christian Crusader, now “falsified in the name of Zionism.” And when the iconic 1970s disco group Boney M played a concert in Ramallah, Palestinian organizers demanded that the band not perform one of its biggest hits, “Rivers of Babylon.” Why? Because the song’s chorus quotes from the Book of Psalms which – in a brazen act of Zionist propaganda! – refers to the Jewish yearning for the land of Israel.

Follow the steps: First, Palestinians claim that Moses was a Muslim leader and that Jews never lived in Israel. Then before you know it, standard media references to the Jewish Temple – accepted as historical fact by every legitimate archaeologist and scholar – is deemed debatable. London’s Daily Telegraph referred to “the Temple Mount, where the two Jewish temples of antiquity are believed to have been built,” and Time magazine identified the “Dome of the Rock, where Jews believe Solomon and Herod built the First and Second Temples.” Not an indisputable fact of history; just something that “Jews believe.”

Beyond the problem of factual inaccuracy, these media manipulations can actually impede the peace process. Invariably, the starting point in any negotiation is whatever is defined in common terms as “normative.” With these outrageous pro-Palestinian views reinforced in the media, Palestinians sense the momentum predisposed in their favor, and harbor the illusion of bringing these demands to the negotiating table. Inevitably, Palestinians get a rude awakening every time that Israel – secure in their 4,000-year history and connection to the land – refuses to allow these skewed perceptions to dictate terms of an agreement.

Looking at the bright side, this is surely a good conversation starter for this year’s Passover Seder.