Last month, we posted about an op-ed at The Times by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Hosam Naoum, an Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, falsely blaming Israel for driving out Christians from the region. As we demonstrated in our post about Welby and Naoum’s libel, which was widely condemned within the British Jewish community and several prominent politicians, there was almost no real evidence to back up their allegations.
A few days later, we posted about an article in The Times by their Mid-East correspondent Richard J. Spencer reporting on the row over the piece. In the journalist’s own voice, he peddled some of the the same falsehoods by Welby and Naoum’s about an alleged “series of attacks” on Christian clergy by “radical settler groups”.
Spencer was unable to provide credible sources to substantiate this claim when we challenged him about it on Twitter.
Evidently, unsatisfied with smearing Israel twice, The Times published yet another op-ed, this time by Theophilos III, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, recycling the same untruths (“Christians are under threat in the cradle of their faith”, Jan. 8th).
After noting the charity done by Christian leaders in Jerusalem, Theophilos gets to the crux of his argument:
Despite these good works, our presence in Jerusalem is under threat. Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups. At the hands of these Zionist extremists the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly. Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalised. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation. The sworn intent of these radical groups is to extinguish the light of the Christian community from the Old City.
However, as with the original op-ed by Welby and Naom, no sources are provided to support these dramatic claims.
Question: In what specific way are Christians and their churches “under threat”?
As we noted previously, based on economic and social data, the Christian community in Israel is not only growing in numbers, but is thriving. Unlike the persecution faced by Christians in most Muslim majority countries, including the Palestinian territories, Christians (and other religious minorities) in the world’s only Jewish state enjoy full political and religious freedoms.
Question: What specific hate crimes, and how many, have occurred?
When the CST or Anti-Defamation League publish reports on increases in hate crimes against Jews, they back it up with data detailing the specific incidents, providing the overall number of incidents and, often, a comparison with previous years. What data is being used by Theophilos to quantify his suggestion that there’s been a significant number of hate crimes, by “Zionist extremists”, against Christians?
Interestingly, an article at Reuters about the op-ed by Theophilos observes that “he did not…cite specific incidents” and “he did not provide evidence that [the attackers] were Israeli, or that their goal was to drive Christians from the city”.
Our research was only able to find one credible report in 2021 of an attack on Christian clergy. Whilst one attack is of course one too many, if there are many, many more, as the serious allegations by Theophilos would suggest, the onus is on him to provide us with that information.
Question: Was Theophilos’s op-ed reviewed for accuracy by Times editors?
We’d like to know why Times editors evidently didn’t bother to ask these basic questions when reviewing and, putatively, fact-checking Theophilos’s op-ed.
Finally, to put all of this in context: in New York City alone, according to data from the NYPD, there were 179 antisemitic hate crimes in 2021 – an increase of over 50% from the previous year. In the UK, during the first six months of 2021, CST recorded 1308 antisemitic incidents, the highest total from any January-June period since they began keeping records in 1984. Yet, no serious commentator argued, even in light of these shocking statistics, that Jews were being ‘driven’ from NYC or from Britain – because, that would represent pure hyperbole.
Why is it then that, when it comes to Israel, even the most toxic, inflammatory and baseless charges against the state are so rarely challenged by editors (even at The Times!) whose professional responsibility it is to prevent the dissemination of unsubstantiated allegations and disinformation?