Outside the precincts of academia, the anti-Israel vitriol that is now mainstream in Europe has been largely absent in America. At the outset of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, for instance, many of Europe’s leading papers reported as fact the Palestinian claims that Israeli soldiers had killed 5,000 Palestinians in Jenin, in many cases lining them up against the wall and dispatching them with a single bullet to the head. No major US paper fell for the propaganda. (Even the United Nations investigation established that only 55 Palestinians were killed, the large majority armed fighters.)
The recent 60 Minutes segment on Christians in the Holy Land, however, could almost have been drawn from the European playbook of tendentious, anti-Israel propaganda. Host Bob Simon began the segment, “The one place in the Middle East where Christians are not suffering from persecution is the Holy Land.” But from there on, it was all downhill.
By innuendo and implication, Simon sought to wean American Christians from their ardent support for Israel. In one interview, he asked directly: Doesn’t Israel recognize that its policies could cost it crucial Christian support?
But he never says precisely what those nefarious Israeli policies are. Viewers are told that Christians today constitute only 18 percent of the population of Bethlehem, which was once an overwhelmingly Christian city. Simon then juxtaposes footage of Palestinians (both Muslims and Christians) waiting at checkpoints to travel outside of Bethlehem and an interview with a local Christian family whose apartment directly faces the security wall.
The juxtaposition is meant to suggest that the decline of the Christian population of the town is somehow attributable to the security wall (in most places a fence) and checkpoints. That is nonsense as a matter of pure logic. Both Bethlehem’s Muslims and Christians are subject to the same checkpoints. If the percentage of Bethlehem’s Muslim population has rapidly increased in recent decades, checkpoints and security fences cannot be the reason.
Nor is the true reason for the rapid decline in the percentage of Christians in Bethlehem hard to ascertain. It lies in tensions between Christian Arabs and their increasingly radicalized Muslim neighbors. Two hundred thousand Egyptian Christians have fled since the beginning of Arab Spring, as have 80 percent of Iraq’s Christians in recent years. Two hundred churches have been torched in Iraq, and one of Saudi Arabia’s leading religious authorities has issued a fatwa calling for the burning of churches in all Muslim lands.
60 Minutes left out any discussion of Muslim-Christian tensions in Nazereth, which is within Israel proper, or Taibeh, the Israeli Arab town where Muslims terrorized their Christian neighbors in 2005. Since Israeli Arabs are not subject to checkpoints, 60 Minutes’s logiccouldn’t explain this Muslim-Christian tension.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East in which the Christian population has not declined precipitously in recent decades. Its Christian population has tripled since 1948, and between 1995 and 2008 actually grew at a faster rate than Israel’s Jewish population.
The 60 Minutes segment simply leaves out all this crucial demographic date. The Greek Orthodox Archbishop tells Simon that once there were 30,000 Christians in Jerusalem, but now there are only a few (number unspecified). Elided is the fact that most of that decline took place under Jordanian rule. There were 31,000 Christians in the city in 1948; 13,000 in 1967. Under Israeli control, the Christian population of the West Bank increased again.
Simon’s only feeble attempt to buttress his implied argument that Israeli policies somehow account for Christian flight is to interview one Palestinian Christian, the owner of a large Coca-Cola distributorship, who claims that no departing Christian has ever told him that he was leaving out of fear of his Muslim neighbors.
It does not occur to Simon that his interviewee has a large financial stake in pleasing his Muslim neighbors, or that Palestinian Christians often seek to ingratiate themselves to their Muslim neighbors by criticizing Israel. Palestinian Christians have, in the past, often been at the forefront of anti-Israel activity, even terrorism, as a means of asserting their Palestinian identity. PLFP founder George Habash, the father of plane hijacking, was a Christian, as were Professor Edward Said and Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, convicted of arms smuggling for the PLO.
The principal Christian interviewee on the 60 Minutes segment was Mitri Raheb, described innocently by Simon as “a Palestinian, a Christian, and a Lutheran minister from Bethlehem.” Raheb describes Christianity as history’s most successful “made in Palestine” product, conveniently ignoring the fact that the very word Palestine had not yet been coined at the birth of Christianity.
Simon’s quotes from the Kairos document, of which Raheb is one of the principal authors, which describes Israel’s “military occupation as a sin against G-d and humanity.”
But Simon does not share a great deal of information about Raheb. And what he leaves out is fully consistent with his apparent goal of alienating American Christians from Israel. For example, Simon skips Raheb’s association with Sabeel, a group of radical Palestinian theologians, who tirelessly promote the notion that the founder of Christianity was a Palestinian (and ignore the fact that few, if any, Palestinian Arabs are of indigenous stock). Also ignored is the Kairos document’s demand for an independent Palestinian state, with Al-Quds as its capital.
The use of Al-Quds in place of Jerusalem is designed to uproot the Jewish connection to the Land. But in so doing — and by ignoring the Jewish antecedence to Christianity — Raheb and company are flying in the face of the Biblical texts dear to American Christians. Simon simply left out the facts guaranteed to discredit Raheb in the eyes of American Christians.
If Simon’s purpose was to drive a wedge between American Christians and Israel, however, he failed. Within 24 hours of the broadcast, CBS received 29,000 e-mails from members of John Hagee’s 950,000 strong Christian United for Israel. All Simon managed to do was to embarrass CBS by producing such a poorly argued and easily refuted piece.
Hard to Say Thank You
The Chasam Sofer once asked about someone who was relentlessly pursuing him, “What did I ever do to him that he should hate me so much?” In a similar vein, Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the long-time president of Agudath Israel of America, commented that he should hand out a small stone to all those for whom he did favors, in the hope that they would not one day throw much larger rocks.
The tendency to not only forget one’s obligations of hakaras hatov to those from whom one had benefitted, but to sometimes develop a hatred for one’s benefactors, is deeply rooted in the fundamental human need to be independent. Acknowledging another’s help undercuts that desire to view oneself as independent.
That desire for independence, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler points out, is crucial to a healthy human being. It is the root of all ambition and striving, in both the material and spiritual world. Because of it we instinctively find unearned rewards to be humiliating —nehama d’kisufa.
Yet even as we strive to be independent and to stand on our two feet, we must acknowledge that we can never fully do so. Hashem’s world is one of connection between man and man and between man and G-d. No man is an island unto himself. Even as we seek to make ourselves worthy of Hashem’s blessing through the exercise of our Free Will and overcoming our yetzer, we need to recognize that without Hashem we can achieve nothing.
The great sin of the men of Sodom was to advance a vision of human beings totally disconnected from one another, and to create a society in which it was forbidden — on pain of death — to give to another or receive from him. Rabbeinu Bachya places the Sodomites in a chain between the Dor HaFlagah (the Generation of Separation), which sought to create an absolute division between the upper and lower realms, and Korach, who separated himself from the rest of the congregation.
These reflections on hakaras hatov, and why some of us are so blocked in expressing it, were triggered by a small news item that caught my attention this week, involving a woman suing her former boss for wrongful dismissal. What made that firing of interest was that the employee had recently given one of her kidneys to save the life of her female boss.
Shortly after her surgery, the kidney donor left work early one day with abdominal pains. A few hours later, she received a call from her boss who demanded to know where she was. When she explained, the boss replied, “Well, you can’t just leave work like that without telling anyone where you are going. You’ll cause the other workers to think that I’m showing favoritism to you.”
No one, I presume, can fail to be horrified by that story. But it can serve as a useful warning as to how powerful is the inclination to deny our obligations of gratitude to others.