A Couple of Notes About Christians, Jews, and Muslims

In news out of Sudan, a church complex in Khartoum was burned down yesterday by a group of Islamic fundamentalists. But in actual important news, Israel makes it difficult for some Christians to enter Bethlehem.

Marc Tracy does the heavy lifting on the 60 Minutes piece last night, the one the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, tried unsuccessfully to quash, thereby disproving for the one-millionth time that Jews don't have a stranglehold over the media. Here's Marc on the non-news:

At one point, (Bob) Simon notes the obstacles that West Bank checkpoints impose on Palestinian Christians, as though this were something Christians were specifically targeted for or uniquely suffer from. He thinks he is taking an original angle on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he is really just rehashing it and unfairly narrowing it in such a way that ignorant viewers may get that incorrect impression. (By confusing what the conflict is really about, this report actually does the cause of Palestinian rights a disservice. Its divide-and-conquer mindset arguably comes from the British Empire's playbook.) While the show was menschy enough to air influential Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit calmly explaining what was wrong with the segment's premise--namely, "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"--it might have actually taken Shavit's words to heart.

It might have been worth noting, in the Simon piece, that the rate of departure by Christians from the West Bank accelerated dramatically after Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority took over in the mid-1990s. Or that Hamas has systematically driven out Gaza's Christians. But, whatever. This piece, as Marc suggests, seemed like a fairly naked attempt to rile-up Christians against Jews. The occupation, and more to the point, the settlements, are to Israel's discredit (witness that idiot IDF colonel who was driven mad by a group of bicyclists last week), but casting the occupation as anti-Christian is absurd. (By the way, Akiva Eldar has a cutting observation about settlements in today's Haaretz: "They say the Israel Air Force can carry out a pinpoint strike against Iran's nuclear facilities," he writes," yet the Israel Defense Forces loses its cool when confronted by a small group of bicyclists armed solely with cameras. The Shin Bet security service knows how to locate terrorists and assassinate them, but has no clue how to cope with nonviolent civil disobedience.")

In other news from Happyland, the number-two of Hamas, Moussa Abu Marzook, gave an interview to the Forward in which he -- and this will be very surprising to people who aren't paying attention, and to Peter Beinart -- rules out recognizing Israel, and says that the most Hamas could offer Israel is a long-term truce. "We will not recognize Israel as a state. It will be like the relationship between Lebanon and Israel or Syria and Israel."

And those are excellent relationships!

I mention Peter because he has argued for quite a while that Hamas is actually moderating, and that we should not pay too much attention to the group's charter (which calls for, you know, killing a lot of Israelis and destroying their country). One of the irksome qualities of Peter's benign interpretation of Hamas is that he doesn't extend the same benefit of the doubt to another group of bearded fundamentalists, the Jewish settlers. For Peter, settler ideology is deadly and should be treated as such; Hamas, on the other hand, is just waiting for the right moment to emerge as a moderate, non-anti-Semitic force. I think it's better to take all religious fundamentalists at their word, which is why I worry incessantly about the willingness of some settlers to bring about the apocalypse, as I wrote here.