Anti-Israel bias among elements within the mainline Protestant churches is unfortunately common. In virtually all gatherings of these churches, motions that condemn the Jewish State are raised. An additional element has, however, crept into the publications of these churches – hypocrisy and the distortion of the realities in the Middle East. In the July 2013 issue of Sojourners, a magazine serving liberal Evangelical Protestants in the U.S., one such example of bias, hypocrisy, and distortion is on display.
Gregg Brekke, former news director of the United Church of Christ, authored the lead article titled: A Holy Land without Christians? and subtitled Arab Christians are vital to a thriving Middle East – and their numbers are dwindling. The title, which focuses on the Holy Land, which typically connotes Israeli territory, is revealing in itself, and greatly misleading. Had Brekke titled his article the “dwindling Arab Christians in the Muslim Middle East,” he would have been accurate. But in Israel the number of Arab Christians has greatly increased rather than dwindled.
Israel is, in fact, the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has grown in the past half century from 34,000 in 1948 to about 140,000 today. In the Arab world and non-Arab Muslim states like Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, persecution of Christians has been and continues to be harsh and debilitating to the native Christian communities. In Israel, by virtue of its freedom of religion, democracy, human rights, and economic opportunities, Arab Christians have not only increased in numbers, but individuals in the community have been able to attain high positions.
In addition to distinguished Arab Christian Israelis in business and medicine, there are, for example, Salim Joubran, a Justice of Israel’s Supreme Court; Knesset (Israeli parliament) Members Hana Sweid and Tawfik Toubi (Hadash Party), Basel Ghattas (Balad Party), and the famous now deceased author and Knesset Member Emile Habibi; actor, director, film maker and political activist Juliano Khamis; Mira Awad, actress, singer, and songwriter; Father Gabriel Nadaf, Greek-Orthodox priest calling for the enlistment of Arab-Christian youth into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF); and Shaadi Halul, spokesperson for the Forum of Christian IDF officers.
Brekke writes that the
Christian population throughout the Middle East has fallen precipitously. Christians in the region held steady at 20 percent of the population throughout much of 19th and early 20th centuries, but today account for less than 5 percent of the total inhabitants…A roundup of the Christian population paints a vivid picture of identity anxiety and flight experienced by Christian communities throughout the Middle East. Coptic Christians, located primarily in Egypt – though many of them don’t consider themselves part of the larger Arab Christian community – account for the greater number of Christians in the region with 8 million followers, down from 10 million two decades ago. Syria ranks second with nearly 2 million Christians, a 25 percent decline since 1970. Lebanon, with a large Christian majority during the 1920’s, now counts Christians as less than 40 percent of its population.
Due to political correctness and moral relativism that plague liberal Westerners, and perhaps fear of retribution from Islamists, Brekke ignores the role of radical Islam or Islamism in the plight of Christians. The establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, coupled with the Wahhabi influence in the Islamic world and the West, had an impact. The so called 2011 “Arab Spring” gave rise to militant Muslim Brotherhood regimes and their Salafist affiliates in much of the Arab Middle East, coupled with the Sunni-Shiite clashes in Iraq and Syria. Life for Christians in Gaza, (under Hamas) Egypt, Iraq, and with Syria’s ongoing civil war, has become hellish.
Brekke refrained from mentioning, for example, the November 1, 2010 bombing attack by Al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq on Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad, in which 58 Christian worshippers were murdered. Christian-owned liquor stores throughout Iraq were firebombed with loss of life. Most of the Christian community in Iraq fled, driven by fear of Islamist death squads.
A similar story has repeated itself in Egypt, where Islamists attacked the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day 2011. At least 21 people were killed and 97 injured in the blast, which occurred after midnight as Coptic Christians were attending services in the church.
In Syria, a Catholic Syriac priest, Fr. Francois Murad, was murdered in Idlib, on June 23, 2013, by rebel Islamist militias. This is the latest victim in the shadow war against Christians that is being fought by jihadists in the Syrian conflict. The Christian community in Syria is being devastated, allegedly for supporting the Assad regime (when in fact they have not done so). But for the Islamists, the mere allegation is good enough to murder Christian “infidels.”
In the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the few remaining Christians live in fear. On October 8, 2007, The Independent reported that “[t]he manager of Gaza’s only Christian bookshop, who was abducted on Saturday by suspected Muslim extremists, was found dead yesterday. Medical officials said Rami Ayyad, 31, had been shot and stabbed.” The article added that “About 3000 Arab Christians live among 1.4 million Muslims in the Gaza Strip, and pointed out that more than 40 video cassette shops and Internet cafes, identified with western values, have been bombed in the past year. So was an American school. A shadowy group calling itself the Righteous Swords of Islam claimed responsibility.” Since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, the Christian community has shrunk further, to about 1500.
Brekke bemoaned the decline of the Arab Christian population in Israel, but has deliberately ignored the fact that the Arab Christian community has seen a 268% increase since 1948. At the end of 2011, however, the Jewish population of Israel stood at 5.8 million and the Arab Muslims numbered 1.3 million, increasing by 427% and 1,040% respectively. In the case of the Arab Christian and Muslim increases, it was strictly through natural births and not through immigration as Brekke falsely suggested (“Israel and Iran have seen slight increases in Arab Christian immigrants in recent decades.”) The reality is that Arab Christians in Israel have the lowest birthrates as a group. They have also attained high socio-economic standards and educational levels.
As a result of lower birthrates among Arab Christians in Israel, the percentage of Arab Christians in the overall population has shrunk as well. If, in 1948, the Arab Christian population amounted to 2.72% of the total (1,248,000) at the end of 2011, that percentage was only 1.93% of the total (7,225,000). Brekke, for some reason, was unable to comprehend this simple reality.
The deceptive title of the article that gave the impression that the Holy Land was without Christians is exaggerated at best and libelous at worst. Brekke is correct however, by asserting that in the Palestinian-controlled cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, the Arab Christian population has indeed declined, but not in Israel. What contributes to the disappearance of Christians from the Middle East is the new jihad. If the previous jihad of the 7th century converted the largely Christian Middle East to Islam by sword, the new jihad and its violent aspects in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian territories has caused a massive flight of Christians. Political correctness will not alleviate the condition of Christians in the Middle East, but the naked truth about Islamist persecution may.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.