Monday, April 23, 2012

Bob "Hatchet Job" Simon and His Christians

Bob Simon was surprised that Israel's US Ambassador Michael Oren presumed that he would do a 'hatchet job' on a story on Israel. (and see at end)

{I am updating so go to the end where I am adding material if you've been here previously}

But, of course, it was a hatchet job.

Here are portions of the text from the transcript of Bob Simon's April 22 '60 Minutes' piece, "Christians of the Holy Land", Harry Radliffe, producer, - with my comments in square brackets in italics (and the video clip is here):-

The lead-in sets the tone:

(CBS News) The exodus from the Holy Land of Palestinian Christians could eventually leave holy cities like Jerusalem and Bethlehem without a local Christian population, Bob Simon reports. Why are they leaving? For some, life in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become too difficult.

[wait, what 'exodus'? what 'Holy Land'? are Christians leaving...Israel? or what? and, by the way, aren't Jews a people who have holy cities? should that not figure in? do Muslims have holy cities? So, where is this "Holy Land"? Is it only "Occupied Palestine"? Jordan is not part of the "Holy Land"? They'd be disappointed as their tourism (see below) depends on that characterization. Simons never develops for the listener/viewer the reality, in all its proportions and complexity. he 'smoothes over' all the politics, the history - flattening it out so the viewer is putty in his hands]

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 they are, at the hands of fundamentalist Islamists who punish them as part of their fight with Israel in Gaza, and all throughout the Palestinian Authority but as you'll see later on, Simon allows that to slip away, too]: but Palestinian Christians have been leaving in large numbers for years. So many, the Christian population there is down to less than two percent, and the prospect of holy sites, like Jerusalem and Bethlehem, without local Christians is looming as a real possibility.

[Sounds ominous, does it not? And who is at fault?]

This is what the Holy Land looks like today. Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. [Jesus was born in "Bethlehem of Judea" - that is, Judea, not "Palestine"]. Nazareth, where he grew up. Jerusalem, where he died and where Christians believe he was resurrected. Nazareth is inside the state of Israel. Bethlehem is on the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The Christian section of Jerusalem is also under Israeli control. [actually, the neighborhood is termed the "Christian Quarter' but Christians live all throughout]

Bob Simon: When you first came here in 1964 [when Jordan occupied the area], what was the percentage of Christians in the old city?
Theophilos: There were around 30,000 of-- Christians living in the Old City.
Bob Simon: And now how many are there?
Theophilos: Very few.
So few, some 11,000 Christians out of a population of almost 800,000 -- just one and a half percent.

[wait, but what was the previous percentage?  UPDATE: k/t=DG: - Keith Roderick wrote in December 2006: "Midway through this century, Christians comprised about 80 percent of the population of Bethlehem. Christians now make up less than 15 percent of the town. This is a trend that mirrors the Christian flight throughout the Palestinian Authority. However, this exodus began long before Israeli checkpoints and the security wall. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the Christian population fled during the time when Jordan occupied the West Bank. The Christian population under the Palestinian Authority has suffered from a negative growth-rate and now number less than 50,000, or about 2.4 percent of the population".]

Religious leaders are afraid Jerusalem could become a museum, a spiritual theme park, a great place for tourists and pilgrims, but not for the Arab Christians whose roots date back to the church's very beginnings.

[but were there Arabs in Jerusalem when Christianity began?]

Mitri Raheb: Christianity started here. The only thing that Palestine

[don't forget: "Palestine" is a post-135 CE geopolitical concept; don't allow Simons to mix you up with today's "Palestine".]

was able to export so successfully was Christianity. Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian, a Christian and a Lutheran minister from Bethlehem. He runs schools, cultural centers and health clinics.

[and Israel considers him a 'racist' and an 'anti-Semite']

Mitri Raheb: Christianity has actually on the back a stamp saying, "Made in Palestine."

[it does? by whom? is that correct? no, it isn't. it's a propaganda ploy]

Palestinian Christians, once a powerful minority, are becoming the invisible people, squeezed between a growing Muslim majority and burgeoning Israeli settlements

[we in the Jewish communities in Yesha have nothing to do and surely are not squeezing Christians].

Israel has occupied the West Bank for 45 years.

[and the figures are: in Israel,it was reported in December 2011 that Christians constitute roughly 2 percent of the country’s citizens, or 153,000 people out of the 7.5 million population, according to figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics. According to the figures, 80.4% of the Christians in Israel are Arabs and the rest are immigrants who arrived under the Law of Return, since they had Jewish relatives. The majority of those in the second category of Christians arrived during the large waves of aliya from the former Soviet Union. Nazareth has the largest Christian community with some 22,000 people; Haifa follows with 14,000, Jerusalem with 11,000 and Shfaram has 9,200 Christian residents. The CBS statistics also show the makeup of Christian families in Israel. The average family has two children, slightly fewer than the 2.2 for Jewish families and the 3 for Muslim citizens. so maybe Christians also have their own demographic problem? Moreover: Israel is the only Middle East nation where the Christian population has grown in the last half century (from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today), in large measure because of the freedom to practice their religion. And It was during Jordan's control of the Old City from 1948 until 1967 that Christian rights were infringed and Israeli Christians were barred from their holy places. The Christian population declined by nearly half, from 25,000 to 12,646. Since then, the population has slowly been growing. Some Christians have been among those inconvenienced by Israel's construction of the security fence, but they have not been harmed because of their religious beliefs. They simply live in areas where the fence is being built. The proportion of Christians in the Palestinian territories has dropped from 15 percent of the Arab population in 1950 to less than 1 percent today. Three-fourths of all Bethlehem Christians now live abroad, and the majority of the city’s population is Muslim. The Christian population declined 29 percent in the West Bank and 20 percent in the Gaza Strip from 1997 to 2002. By contrast, in the period 1995–2003, Israel’s Arab Christian population grew 14.1 percent (CAMERA, December 24, 2004).]

Israel built the wall over the last 10 years, which completely separates Israel from the occupied West Bank. The wall was built to stop Palestinian terrorists from getting into Israel. And it's worked. Terrorism has gone down 90 percent. At the same time, the wall completely surrounds Bethlehem, turning the "little town" where Christ was born into what its residents call "an open air prison."

[you do not see those quotation marks on the screen, do you?]

...The Anastas family lives on the third floor. This is the view from the kitchen, from the master bedroom and bathroom. The children's room has a good view of this Israeli guard tower. The family runs a souvenir shop on the ground floor, sells Christian artifacts on what used to be the busiest commercial street in town. Now, it's a dead end...Claire Anastas: I tell them, we have to stay. We need to stay and struggle and fight. This is our cross.

[too bad Simons doesn't clarify exactly which wall he is referring to: the security barrier of the wall Israel has to erect after Arabs firebombed and shot at peaceful religious pilgrims trying to safely reach Rachel's Tomb]

...Michael Oren, who used to be Israel's director of Interreligious Affairs, is Israel's ambassador to the United States...according to Ambassador Oren, they're thriving. The reason Christians are leaving the West Bank, he says, is Islamic extremism.

[why doesn't Simons interview Christians who, as I know, have a different opinion that the Christians he has allowed to appear? btw, I think Oren made a poor showing and he could - or did he and it was edited out - supplied better information]]

...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.

[that's it, Mr. Ambassador?]

[And what is this doing in the transcript? A producer's note of excitement for his anti-Israel angle?]

[Zahi Khouri: Great selling point. Easy to sell to the American public.]

Zahi Khouri: 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. [he's lying]

[and Bob adds here: In 2009, this group of Christian activists did something unprecedented. They published a document called Kairos, the original 1985 one was against South African apartheid, criticizing Islamic extremism and advocating non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation which they called a sin against God.  That "document" was roundly criticized by many Christians and Jews.]

Ari Shavit: Israel is not persecuting Christians as Christians. The Christians in the Holy Land suffer from Israeli policies that are a result of the overall tragic situation. And this, of course, has consequences for everybody.

[they don't suffer from Islamists?]

Bob Simon: For Israel, there could be serious economic consequences. According to Israeli government figures, tourism is a multi billion dollar business there. Most tourists are Christian. Many of them are American. That's one reason why Israelis are very sensitive about their image in the United States.

[Jews are such money-grubbers.  heavens that Israel should simply be concerned about things like truth, facts, lack of bias, etc.]

And that could be why Ambassador Oren phoned Jeff Fager, the head of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes, while we were still reporting the story, long before tonight's broadcast. He said he had information our story was quote: "a hatchet job."

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? ...Nothing's been confirmed by the interview, Mr. Ambassador, because you don't know what's going to be put on air.
Michael Oren: Okay. I don't. True.

[but he's no dummy. when has Simon or "60 Minutes" ever done a fair piece on Israel?]
Bob Simon: 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.
Michael Oren: Well, there's a first time for everything, Bob.

Bob Simons:  Pilgrims have been coming here since 1106 AD [why only from then?] to wash themselves in the holy fire, to celebrate the founding miracle of Christianity. They will certainly continue to do so. But how many will be coming from the neighborhood? That's not a religious question anymore. It's political.

[and one in the court of the Arab Muslims. Israel permits religious freedom and Christian residency]

Simon feeds this view:

... for many of the Palestinian Christian clergy and their activist sympathizers, “the Palestinian church is the real church. Jesus, on this reading, was an underdog, who came to champion the underdog. He was oppressed by the Romans, so if you are Christ-like, you are also oppressed, like the Palestinians. This increasingly includes the idea that Jesus was a Palestinian. It’s an adopted narrative that is believed to have started with Yasser Arafat, but to some people it’s become a gospel fact.” In other words, it’s a narrative that denies Jesus’ Jewish identity. “It is a very ugly expression of Christian anti-Semitism,” Neal said.


EoZ has pre-blogged.

P.S. Received from LBD:


According to the U.S. State Department's Annual Report on Religious Freedom: "Periodically, there are incidents of Christian-Muslim tension in the occupied territories. Tensions have arisen over Christian- Muslim romantic relationships or when Christians have erected large crosses in the public domain. Christians in the Bethlehem area also have complained about Muslims settling there and constructing homes illegally on land not zoned for building. "During the period covered by this report, there were periodic reports that some Christian converts from Islam who publicize their religious beliefs have been harassed. Converts complained that they were mistreated and threatened. The draft Palestinian Basic Law specifically forbids discrimination against individuals based on their religion; however, the PA did not take any action against persons accused of harassment."


Abraham's Oak Russian "Holy Trinity" Monastery Located in the Palestinian-controlled part of Hebron, the monastery belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. On July 5, 1997, Palestinian policemen arrived at the monastery, physically removed the monks and nuns, and took over the site. Several of the monks and nuns required hospitalization.

Joseph's Tomb During the September 1996 riots, a Palestinian mob led by Palestinian policemen assaulted the Tomb. Palestinian security agents opened fire on Israeli …

Church of St. Nicholas, Beit Jalla During the October and November 2000 hostilities, Fatah gunmen -- members of the "Tansim"-- fired on the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo from areas adjacent to churches in Beit Jalla, most notably the Church of St. Nicholas, hoping that Israel's return fire will hit a church," reported a Christian cleric. "Then it will be front-page news for the "Christian West,' that Israel is now destroying churches."

Jericho Monastery In January 2000, Palestinian police evicted five "White Russian" monks from their 19th-century monastery in the West Bank town of Jericho, handing the property over to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Church of the Nativity In May 2002, 13 Palestinian terrorists forcibly took over the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. They stole gold objects from the monks, ate their scarce food, and urinated on the church floor. Tanzim commander Abdullah Abu-Hadid told Yediot Achronot that the seizure of the Church was premeditated. He said: "The idea was to enter the church in order to create international pressure on Israel ... We knew beforehand that there was two years worth of food for 50 monks, oil, beans, rice, olives. Good bathrooms and the largest wells in old Bethlehem…”


Oh, and from DG:

Recently the IDF named its outstanding soldiers of the year. I've seen items about two of them. One, (via Daily Alert Blog) comes from Israel Hayom.

“S,” an Arab from eastern Jerusalem, is one of the outstanding IDF soldiers who will be recognized at this year’s Israel Independence Day ceremony at the President’s residence. “First of all, I’m an Israeli,” he says. “For me, to continue to serve in the IDF is a dream.”

Is "S" a Christian or a Muslim?



Haaretz blogger adds:

At the Israeli Embassy, the final report was seen as sort of diplomatic victory, and the ambassador's attempt to intervene was presented as a fine example of a pro-active approach to Israeli diplomacy. "The relationship between Israel and the Christian world is our strategic interest and when we received information about this report several months ago and plans for broadcasting without any reaction by Israeli officials, Ambassador Oren did what a diplomat is supposed to do to prevent serious damage to the country he represents," a senior Israeli diplomat told Haaretz.
"What we asked to do is to comment on it, and also recommended they talk to other Christian officials. As far as we know, they didn't talk to them, but the result is still not as bad as it could have been without any Israeli reaction," said the official. "The final result was just a biased report touching on several familiar issues that should be resolved between Israel and the Palestinians...

And here is that idiot, MJ Rosenberg, who (a) inserts a bit of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory -Jews can get media people fired; and (b) while getting the story line wrong, proves how biased Bob Simon's report was:
How long will Bob Simon keep his job with 60 Minutes?  On Sunday, the Jewish American CBS correspondent, exposed the exodus of Christians from Israel (a once dominant community is now a shell) and laid it at the door of Israel’s policies toward all Palestinians, Christians and Muslims.

The story was the supposed Christian exodus from the "Holy Land", by which Simon meant East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, aka the 'West Bank'. Not Israel.

If MJ got it wrong, Simon was, alas, too good.


From a The Tablet writer:
I thought Oren came off lamely, almost deliberately so, as though he feared appearing impotent less than he did all-powerful. I don’t see why the Israeli ambassador should be embarrassed about fighting stories that make Israel look bad; I’m sure U.S. diplomats around the world do it all the time. It’s past time we stopped calling run-of-the-mill government public-relations efforts by its Hebrew name, hasbara, and automatically assuming it is clumsy, sinister, or both (it sometimes is, but it isn’t by definition). Instead of dissembling, I wish Oren had responded to the effect of, “You’re damn right I called your boss, because your story sounds like it’s going to be B.S.”  Because here’s the thing: the story is kind of B.S...

Jennifer Rubin in the WashPost and CBS reaction.

Natan Guttman in The Forward.


Mondoweiss was applauding, though.

StandWithUs urges action.

JE Dwyer.

And here is, finally, CAMERA's review.  Summary:

Simon deceived viewers in a number of ways. For example:

He described the Palestinian population as dwindling when the Christian population in Bethlehem and the surrounding communities has actually increased since Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967. It's declined as a percentage of the total because of the growing number of Muslims.

Simon sharply downplayed Islamist hostility toward Christians in Palestinian society when it's a highly negative and often menacing factor in the lives of many.

Although profiling the village of Taybeh, "60 Minutes" completely ignored the terrorizing of Taybeh's Christians by Palestinian Muslims in 2005.

He falsely portrayed anti-Israel propaganda issued by Palestinian Christians in the form of the Kairos Document as an honest attempt to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians, omitting mention that the Central Conference of American Rabbis denounced the document as "supersessionist and anti-Semitic."

He falsely claimed Israel's security barrier "completely surrounds Bethlehem, turning the 'little town' where Christ was born into what its residents call an open air prison." The barrier does not encircle the city but curves around its northern and western sides.

Although mentioning Nazareth, "where [Jesus] grew up," the segment completely ignores the Christians who live there now. In fact, it completely ignores all Israeli Christians, who live in safety and whose numbers are growing.

"60 Minutes" could not find time in the story for a statement by Ambassador Oren detailing how Israeli Christians are thriving but only posted a brief video on its website. Why couldn't "60 Minutes" include mention of the fact that Israeli Christians serve on the Supreme Court, in the Knesset, and volunteer to serve in the IDF by the thousands?

Simon completely ignored the fact that:

200,000 Christians have fled Egypt in the past year since the "Arab Spring"

80% of Iraqi Christians have fled and 200 churches have been burned there in the past few years

Recently the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia declared that all churches in the region should be destroyed

These errors, distortions and omissions need to be fully corrected on-air in a segment that tells the truth about the assault on Christians in the Middle East.

There's a lot more detail, follow the link.

And here is the expose on Bob Simon's perfidy refarding Oren's appearance:

...Simon’s apparent shock — and high dudgeon — at Oren’s conduct were nowhere to be found in a letter he wrote the ambassador before the taping, and which was provided to BuzzFeed by a political operative not party to the dispute who said he shared it because he thought it illustrated CBS doubletalk.

“Fortunately, we are still in the process of reporting the story, so [CBS News Chairman Jeff] Fager and I want to give you an opportunity to express your views and correct any misrepresentations or omissions which you apparently believe might have occurred,” Simon wrote, in a courteous missive on personalized “60 Minutes” letterhead, dated January 4. “Thank you and best wishes.”
...It’s not unusual for reporters to seek difficult interviews with innocuous correspondence. Less common is the theatrical outrage Simon expressed on air, but not in the letter, at Oren’s interest in shaping a story about his country...Oren dropped any hope that he could shape the segment in a February 13 letter CBS, also provided to BuzzFeed, written after the confrontational interview but before the episode aired.

“The interview not only confirmed my concerns about the segment but deepened them,” he wrote, calling Simon’s approach “a feebly disguised attempt to exploit Christians—and inflame religious tensions” without any “historical or diplomatic context."

Oren blasted “Mr. Simon’s lack of understanding of – or genuine interest in – the basic facts regarding Christians in the Holy Land,” and anticipated the segment “would be irresponsible, unfair, and beneath the standards of your program.”...

In connection with the theme, here is Raja Shehadeh, writing in the New York Times on April 19, about "Easter in Ramallah",

For the small minority of us Palestinians who are Christian — meaning, mostly, Greek Orthodox— Easter is the holiest of festivals. There used to be other big festivals in Jerusalem, like the ones commemorating the Way of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa or the Annunciation, for which Christians and Muslims would camp out on the hill outside the Lion Gate. But since Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem, either these celebrations have been canceled or Palestinian Christians from outside Jerusalem have not been able to participate because they can no longer freely enter the Holy City.

Of course, that is a misrepresentation.  Entry depends on the security situation and the level of Arab incitement.  And this is so passe:

It was so normal back then for Christians, Muslims and Jews to partake in each other’s religious celebrations.

More resource material on the situation of Christians.


Good point from Daniel Laufer:

The construction of the segment is such that it is based around a solitary element of data: the demographics of Christians in the Holy Land...What’s more is that he never really attempts to prove a specific thesis. He just sort of implies, against a backdrop of pictures and some interviews that at best speak in general terms about the conflict, that the responsibility for the drop in Christian population is directly tied to Israel.

How is it tied to Israel? Well, he only utilizes a coherent argument for “why.” That is, he elaborates at length about “why” Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, might want to stop the segment, and how airing it could damage support for Israel. Then Simon frames the ambassador’s actions in conspiratorial terms and actually tries to chastise him. The detailed explanations stop there...Simon doesn’t actually explain the mechanics of why Christians are leaving the Holy Land, or how Israel’s actions affect Christians specifically.

That’s because such an explanation would require facts. And Simon and his team haven’t got many of those...

Which raises another question: How far has the journalistic standard fallen that 10-odd minutes of tired Middle-East clich├ęs qualify as an “investigative report?”  Where are the academic experts on history, demographics, sociology and religion? Where are the charts of facts and figures? Where is any research at all?

If there is only one complaint allowed of this episode, it isn’t an accusation of bias or misreporting of facts — it is the non-reporting. The sheer laziness of 60 Minutes apparent in the segment should be appalling not just to its viewers, but should be cause for anger upstairs at CBS’s management. What is it, after all, that Bob Simon and his team are paid for? It cannot be to simply repeat an interviewee’s claims as fact and go home, job done.



NormanF said...

I'm beting "S" is a Christian. That said, the Simon hatchet job shows why non-anti-Semitic criticism of Israel doesn't exist.

Kerstein says its impossible. This show validates his point.

Israel's enemies are at liberty to try to refute him. I think it is impossible.

Anonymous said...

Oren was a wimp. He almost stammered. He almost let Simon browbeat him. Except for his last statement, he was vacillating and expressed no strong statement and almost gave Simon a no-hands down win. But that's just my opinion. And as I do not know what was edited out, he did not defend Israel adequately at all.

Anonymous said...

Found at Haaretz:

The Israeli government (like pretty much any government) does make stupid decisions from time to time (such as proclaiming Gunter Grass persona non grata). But in this case, given the sensitivity of the issue, it cannot be blamed for trying to minimize the damage. Michael Oren probably should have tried to work with the reporter instead of driving him mad by going over his head to complain to his bosses. I am not convinced Oren was the first one to attempt to influence the 60 Minutes report before it was broadcasted - my experience tells me otherwise – for people do tend to try to influence unflattering reports before they are published or broadcasted quite often.

John Cohn said...

CBS anchor Bob Simon observed in the 60 Minutes story on Israel’s Christians, “The one place where Christians are not suffering from violence is the Holy Land”. A real journalist would have tried to determine what makes Israel safer and why Israel’s Christian community has grown, when all around the region Christians are fleeing. But, for that “inconvenient truth” Simon could not blame the Jews. Many hundreds of thousand Jews fled those same countries decades ago, after centuries of intolerance and violence similar to what Christians experience in Arab ruled states. Israeli memories of persecution are one reason Israel remains Christianity’s only safe haven in the Middle East. This history, Simon ignored.

Instead, Simon relied on Mitri Raheb, whom he characterized as “a Palestinian, a Christian and a Lutheran minister from Bethlehem,” for much of his information. Raheb must have skipped Bible and his history classes, too. He is quoted as saying Christianity was “Made in Palestine."

Jesus was a Jew born in Judea. There was no Palestine when Jesus was born. It was a name later given to the area by Europeans of the Roman Empire, the first, but unfortunately not the last time Europeans massacred and expelled Jews.

EG said...

Yael Guiladi, One Jerusalem, 1967-1977 [Jerusalem: Keter 1977], p 89:
". . . between 1948 and 1967, the Christian population of Jordanian-ruled Jerusalem dwindled rapidly, partly as a result of the systematic bans & restrictions imposed upon it on religious grounds. From a population [of] 25,000 in 1948 it fell to 10,795 in 1967. Since then this tendency has been reversed, the Christian population having increased steadily over the ten years of Israel administration to reach 12,000 in 1976."

Erin SonsOfGod said...