Sunday night April 22, 2012 CBS aired a 60 Minutes report entitled “Christians of the Holy Land.” The report was piecemeal and failed to include anything but what CBS correspondent Bob Simon wanted to accomplish – to make Israel the perpetrator of all that ails Arab Christians in the Holy Land.
Simon started off his report admitting Christians in the Middle East today are not have an easy time. Yet when the seasoned CBS correspondent lists examples of mistreatment of Christians in the Middle East, he fails to mention which group or groups are giving Arab Christians a hard time:
Christianity may have been born in the Middle East, but Arab Christians have never had it easy there, especially not today. In Iraq and Egypt, scores of churches have been attacked, hundreds murdered. In Syria, revolution seriously threatens Christian communities. The one place where Christians are not suffering from violence is the Holy Land: but Palestinian Christians have been leaving in large numbers for years.
Does anyone notice some missing words in this paragraph? Who is persecuting Christians in Iraq and Egypt? Dare I mention the word “Muslims”? Bob Simon refused to utter radical Muslims as the culprits attacking Arab Christians.
At the close of the 60 Minutes report Simon added an appendage to the original footage by including a brief discussion he had with Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. Prior to the airing of the show, Oren called head of CBS News, Jeff Fager, Simon’s boss, about his concerns regarding the story. Simon claims Oren had information that “our story was quote ‘a hatchet job.’”
Here is the exchange:
Michael Oren: It seemed to me outrageous. Completely incomprehensible that at a time when these communities, Christian communities throughout the Middle East are being oppressed and massacred, when churches are being burnt, when one of the great stories in history is unfolding? I think it’s– I think it’s– I think you got me a little bit mystified.
Bob Simon: And it was a reason to call the president of– chairman of CBS News?
Oren seemed stumped by Simon’s reaction to what he had just said. Let me paraphrase: At a time when Christians are being massacred and oppressed throughout the Middle East, your network is choosing to focus on the shrinking population of Palestinian Christians in the West Bank. And you’re wondering why I called your boss? Simon, your report is biased against Israel when the real story is how Christians are being treated in the Middle East, in the same Arab countries where over 800,000 had been expelled. Yes, I am concerned about 60 Minutes doing a hatchet job on Israel.
And a hatchet job it was.
CBS did all it could to edit the story to tell their own story – the Palestinian Christian community is shrinking – not because of Muslim persecution or oppression from Palestinians – but due to the “Israeli occupation”.
Zahi Khouri, a Palestinian businessman, owns the West Bank Coca-Cola franchise. His religion was not identified by 60 Minutes – big mistake – but he clearly said, “I’ll tell you I don’t know of anybody and I probably have 12,000 customers here. I’ve never heard that someone is leaving because of Islamic persecution.”
This statement followed Oren’s comments about the source of shrinking Palestinian Christian population:
Michael Oren: I think that the major problem in the West Bank as in elsewhere in the Middle East is that the Christian communities are living under duress.
Bob Simon: And this duress is coming from Muslims, not from the Israel occupation?
Ambassador Michael Oren: I believe that the major duress is coming from that.
To be fair to Simon, he did include in a brief comment by Oren most viewers probably missed: ”But inside Israel, in Christian towns like Nazareth, Arabs are Israeli citizens and, according to Ambassador Oren, they’re thriving.”
So inside Israel, the Arab Christian community is thriving. If Israelis are so anti-Arab Christian, why are they thriving and experiencing freedom of worship inside Israel, but not in the West Bank? Could it be that their Christianity has nothing to do with how Arab Christians are allegedly treated by the IDF? Could it be that these Palestinian Christians are covering up the real source of their shrinking population – living under the duress of a territory ruled by a majority Islamic regime?
To answer that question, we need only to go to a Palestinian Christian conference held at Bethlehem only a month before the 60 Minutes piece was aired. At the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, the Palestinian Christian perspective was represented by Palestinian Christian pastors, authors, leaders and laypeople living in the territories as well as American evangelical sympathizers like Lynne Hybels, wife of Bill Hybels, pastor of mega-church Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. A few individuals who advocated Christian Zionism – a pro-Israel stance based on biblical passages claiming the Jewish people own the title deed to Israel according to Hebrew prophets – were in attendance at the conference and were given an opportunity to present their position. However, the CATC event was heavily weighted with representatives who were anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian Christian.
From an article written for CAMERA (Committee on Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) Dexter Van Zile, an attendee at the CATC 2012 event included in his article several comments shared from the podium by three Palestinian Christians:
Yohanna Katanacho stated that radical Islam has been a problem for Palestinian Christians. In fact, he displayed a slide on the screen at the front of the audience that read in part as follows: “We faced and face radical Islam as well as the Israeli occupation with the mind and heart of Christ for we are committed to Justice, peace and love.”
Pastor Nihad Salman, who serves as a pastor in Beit Jala, testified in more detail to the concerns Christians in the West Bank have regarding Muslim hostility toward Christians. After speaking about the impact of high unemployment on Christians in the West Bank, he said that because Christians comprise only one or two percent of the population in the territory, they are affected psychologically.
You are afraid. And we have many times when people are afraid of what is happening in the Arabic Spring. Will the Muslims you know, take over? If it is true or not true. Whatever the outcome of that… what will happen? Will after Saturday come Sunday? So this is the type of thing that makes Christians want to run away.
And, another Palestinian pastor, Labeeb Madanat, who works for the Bible Societies in Israel and Palestine said, “There are pressures. There is discrimination. The dhimma system is a system of discrimination. We do not deny that.”
So was Simon’s 60 Minutes piece a hatchet job? The fact that the CBS news team did not interview any Palestinian Christian pastors but relied on information about how Arab Christians are treated by Muslims on a businessman who works for Coca-Cola causes me to respond with a resounding “yes.”
Even the main organizer of the CATC 2012 event, Palestinian Christian Munther Isaac reluctantly admitted in a Sojourner’s article:
This is a serious issue for Palestinian Christians. We are not saying that radical Islam is not a threat. We are not denying that there are some struggles that we face as a minority. We are not denying that there are some incidences in which Christians were attacked by radical Muslims, like in the death of Rami Ayyad in Gaza.
In my opinion Bob Simon and his producer Harry Radliffe owe Israel and the Palestinian Christians in the West Bank an apology for misrepresenting the truth about the duress Arab Christians in the Holy Land experience at the hands of Palestinian Muslims. Instead, Simon tilted all the blame on the Israelis due to the “inconvenience” of IDF checkpoints and the Israeli security barrier.
The discrepancies about Christians of the Holy Land in this 60 Minutes pieces only provide evidence that the CBS sacred news cow 60 Minutes should be shortened to 15 Minutes until they are ready to do some true investigative reporting