On April 22, 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon’s “Christians of the Holy Land” segment took pains to avoid mentioning anything undermining his thesis that Christians are leaving areas they have lived in for centuries largely due to Israel. Despite complaints about the segment and emails indicating bad faith on Simon’s part, 60 Minutes has not yet offered a public response.
The title of the segment — employing “Holy Land” — even served to further Simon’s point. It could not have been titled “Christians of Israel”: as Father Keith Roderick observed in late 2006, in the Middle East “the only country noting a positive growth rate for Christians is Israel.” Using the term “Holy Land” allowed Simon to focus on Nazareth and — more importantly — Bethlehem and Jerusalem to make his case.
The segment started reasonably, with Simon narrating:
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.
But he quickly changed focus:
The one place where Christians are not suffering from violence is the Holy Land: 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.
A little more than four and a half minutes into the segment — after acknowledging that Israel’s security barrier has indeed cut down on terror attacks — Simon focused on the Anastas family of Bethlehem, whose house is surrounded by the barrier. Using the Anastas family, Simon made the case that Israel’s actions had disrupted their lives and drove their relatives away.
Simon did not mention the terror that forced Israel to build the barrier in the first place, such as when soldiers Shahar Vekret and Danny Darai were killed by snipers as they guarded the Tomb of Rachel. Instead, Simon cut to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren saying that the barrier was necessary for Israel’s “survival.” Oren’s claim rebutting the Anastas narrative was left in the abstract.
When Oren claimed that the duress Palestinian Christians feel comes from Muslim persecution, Simon switched to a panel and got his desired response:
I probably have 12,000 customers here. I’ve never heard that someone is leaving because of Islamic persecution.
Simon’s respondent wouldn’t dare say the truth. But that didn’t register or perhaps matter to Simon; he got his sound bite.
Simon later focused on Ambassador Oren, and on why Oren was concerned about the planned report even before it aired. Simon claimed Israel was concerned that the segment would discourage Christian tourism to Israel.
To make his case, Simon had to ignore the growing population of Christians in Israel. He had to ignore the very real persecution of Christians by Muslims — there was no mention of Gaza’s only Christian bookseller being murdered in 2007 (along with the general persecution of Gaza’s Christians), or of the 39-day occupation of the Church of the Nativity by terrorists escaping Israeli troops in 2002. He also had to ignore that the Christian population under the Palestinian Authority is not decreasing in real terms, but rather as a percentage of the population.
The bottom line: Israel cannot be causing the disappearance of Christians in the Holy Land, because they are not disappearing.
In addition to his factual misrepresentations, Simon engaged in ideological whitewashing. Simon interviewed Reverend Mitri Raheb (in 1997, Simon reported on Christians in the Middle East for CBS Evening News, and one of his subjects was Raheb), identifying Raheb as a Lutheran minister and humanitarian. However, Simon did not inform the audience that Raheb holds extreme views. Two years ago, Mitri said:
I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.
Mitri’s views are quite extreme. The urbane, well-spoken pastor promotes the false belief that Jews who live now have no connection — historically or genetically — to the Jews of the Bible. The denial of this connection is common among anti-Semites, and his denial is part of the reason Israeli diplomats recently protested an award given to Mitri by a German group.
Simon must either be aware of Mitri’s views or incompetent with his research. He featured him as an authority without providing an accounting of his respondent’s beliefs.
Additionally, Mitri and Simon portray the Kairos document as containing mainstream Christian views. But as J. E. Dyer writes, the views of the Kairos document are far from the mainstream among American Christians.
Last Friday, Ben Smith at BuzzFeed published emails exchanged by Bob Simon and Ambassador Oren ahead of the latter’s interview. Smith found nothing in the letters to suggest the outrage that Simon expressed on the Christians in the Holy Land broadcast. According to Smith, Simon’s “high dudgeon” was inconsistent with the tone of his earlier communication with Oren. CBS has not yet addressed Simon’s irregular behavior and bad faith.
During the first Gulf War, Simon was captured by Iraqi troops. After he was rescued, he told of being mocked and threatened for being Jewish. Simon declared that he wanted to kill his tormentor and would have had no remorse, for it would have been as if he killed a “cockroach.” Simon allowed himself to feel rage against those who threatened and mocked him. Hypocritically, he assigns fault to Israel for attempting to protect its citizens against very real threats.