Hate Crimes in Israel? It’s Not Just the Crazies

Some extremists out there may make things tough during the pope’s visit to the Holy Land this weekend, The New York Times tells us, but Israel is getting those folks out of the way. No problem. That should take care of that “recent spate of hate crimes” against Christians in East Jerusalem.

This is what readers will take away from a front-page story about the pope’s itinerary and reactions to his visit. The article gives no hint that the problem is more severe than that and more entrenched. While Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner acknowledge some “protests by religious Jews” and “right-wing Jewish activists,” they say nothing about Israel’s institutionalized discrimination against Christians (and other non-Jews).

Only weeks ago, Israeli police blocked thousands of worshippers from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Easter, drawing outrage from the UN peace talk envoy Robert Serry. Last week the police asked a Jerusalem church to remove a poster welcoming the pope. And agencies, including the U.S. State Department, have documented Israeli government discrimination against Christian clergy and worshippers.

The Times may ignore these facts, but Israeli media have highlighted the issue. There is 972 Magazine, which this spring ran a photo spread of Israeli police at work, harassing and obstructing Christians as they tried to worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Easter weekend.

The photos show Orthodox nuns trapped behind a barrier, police shoving worshippers who have managed to get inside the church, officers blocking the entrance to the church and other police allowing a Jewish man to pass through their cordon as Christians are made to wait.

A U.S. State Department report of 2011 also notes that Christian religious workers are “unable to secure residency or work permits,” that Arab Christian clergy, including bishops, are not allowed to visit congregations in Gaza, and that the Separation Wall has prevented Christians in Jerusalem and Bethlehem from visiting holy sites.

Although Kershner and Rudoren mention a “recent spate” of hate crimes, these attacks are not a new phenomenon brought on by the pope’s planned visit.  Since 2010, more than 30 Palestinian religious buildings (churches, monasteries and mosques) have been vandalized with threatening racist graffiti or damaged in arson attacks.

Over the past year, there have been 14 reported attacks against Catholic Church property, and in October Israel demolished church-owned property in East Jerusalem displacing 14 residents without warning.

All this is significant context for the visit of Pope Francis, but it is missing from the Times, along with data about the Christian presence in the Holy Land. That population, once making up some 20 percent of the Palestinian residents, is now down to 2 percent. Many Christians are leaving, and they are abandoning their homeland because of Israeli policies: the wall strangling Bethlehem, the confiscation of land, the crushing economic effect of the occupation and the open hostility of police and settlers.

The pope’s visit provides an opportunity to inform readers, but so far the Times has avoided the hard facts of Israel’s harsh treatment of Christians and other non-Jews. It is not enough to shake a finger at extremists and fanatics; good journalism requires a look at official, state-sponsored discrimination.

Barbara Erickson

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