35 weaselly words: Guardian obscures the reality of religious freedom in Israel

In order to focus on the most egregious problem with a Christmas day Guardian editorial on the persecution of Christians worldwide, we’ll only briefly note the editorial’s risible opening paragraph which characterizes the 2003 invasion of Iraq as “the greatest catastrophe to strike the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East since the Mongol invasions”.
Though you may wish to ask Guardian editors how the toppling of Saddam Hussein by US and British forces – and the subsequent mass exodus of Iraqi Christians at the hands of Islamist extremists – influenced regimes beyond Iraq’s borders to persecute their own Christian communities, we’ll narrowly deal with their obfuscation of Israel’s progressive advantage amidst an unprecedented cleansing of Christians in the Muslim Mid-East.

Whilst the Guardian somewhat acknowledges that the problem of Christian persecution is “most pronounced in Islamic societies” in the Mid-East, their ideological rigidity evidently necessitated injecting a bit of rhetorical trickery to avoid mentioning the tiny oasis of religious liberty between the Jordan and Mediterranean.
Here is the relevant sentence:

Even Israel, which presents itself as a beacon of religious liberty, is a dreadful place to live for Christian Arabs, caught between an occupying army in the West Bank and Muslim fundamentalism in Gaza

In a thrifty 35 words, the Guardian both conflates Israel with territories on its borders either largely or totally administered by Palestinians and ignores the lives of the roughly 160,000 Christian citizens of Israel – the only country in the Mid-East where that population is growing.  As the highly respected human rights organization Freedom House clearly notes in their latest annual report, “while Israel’s founding documents define it as a ‘Jewish and democratic state,’ freedom of religion [for non-Jews] is respected.”
Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek-Orthodox Minister and spiritual father of Israel’s Aramean Christian community, argued in an op-ed in Mida on Dec. 24th that while Christians in the region are being expelled by the thousands, the only place where they can live in peace is in the Jewish state.

Father Gabriel Nadaf

Here are some passages from Father Nadaf’s powerful op-ed:

Right now, while Christians the world over are celebrating Christmas, entire communities of the followers of Christ cannot rejoice. The Middle East and parts of Africa continue to drown in rivers of blood, with various minorities being targeted by radical Islamic organizations such as ISIS, Hamas, Jabhat al-Nusra, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and others.
The Christians there are stuck in the middle of a maelstrom of genocide and ethnic cleansing occurring on a daily basis through horrific acts of rape, crucifixion, theft, expulsion, destruction, burning of churches, forced conversions, abduction of nuns and the murder of priests, children, women and the elderly. Sometimes the murderers slaughter whole families, sometimes they murder some in front of the rest and then let the others live with the nightmare. People who can flee to the west, and those who can’t leave or who wish to remain must live with the danger.
The Middle East is effectively being cleansed of Christians. In the beginning of the 20th century, Christians constituted some 20% of the population in the region. Today, it’s 4% and falling. 77% of Iraq’s Christians have fled since 2000, in addition to the thousands who were murdered or forcibly expelled. 450,000 Christians have fled Syria since the civil war began in 2011, for fear they would share the same fate.
Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, had a clear Christian majority. Since 1995, when Israel handed the city to the Palestinian Authority, Christians have been leaving in droves. Today, Christians are only 15% of the population, some say it’s even less. Elsewhere in Palestinian-run areas, Christians are also leaving, and in Hamas-run Gaza, the situation is even worse.
Middle Eastern Christians are not just targets for abuse and murder, but are also regularly treated as second class citizens and coping with racism and religious, economic and social discrimination. All because they adhere to Christianity, which espouses peace and goodwill to all mankind.
This bears repeating again and again: Christians in Arab countries live on the margins, without rights, with their property stolen, their honor trampled, their children sacrificed and the slaughter ongoing.
Within this chaos, only one island of sanity can be found where the Christians are not persecuted, where they enjoy freedom of religion and ritual, freedom of expression, and where they can live in peace without fear of genocide. That island is the State of Israel.

Israeli Christians are an inseparable part of the population’s fabric, and as its citizens they may elect and be elected to its parliament and local municipalities, rights they use regularly. As a demographic group, they are the most educated community in Israel, are integrated in the legal system as lawyers and judges, serve as officers in the police and the IDF, and occupy various positions in government offices and institutions. You can find many of them as students and faculty in universities, in the health system, on sports teams, in culture, and throughout the private sector. The churches, monasteries, and Christian sites are preserved and run by the various churches entirely freely.

Recent studies have ominously suggested that, within the Muslim Mid-East, ‘Christianity may effectively disappear from the region as a cultural and political force’, with the ascension of radical Islam typically named as the main culprit.
The fact that the only nation in the region where Christians are flourishing just happens to be the sole place where Islamist extremism is not a political threat is essential to understanding the dire situations for all religious minorities in this part of the world – vital context about the stark contrast in values between Israel and its neighbors that the Guardian fails to provide.

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