The “60 Minutes” hit piece on Israel, about which I reported Monday, has unleashed a firestorm of protest from pro-Israel groups and Middle East experts. CBS now denies there was anything wrong with the report.
I asked CBS spokesmen a series of questions on the number of complaints received, the failure to accurately identify “pro-Christians” for the piece, the lack of balance in its depiction of Christians’ treatment in Israel and whether their would be an internal review. I was provided instead with this statement from “60 Minutes”:
We received an organized negative email campaign of the type we don’t count because all of them were duplicates of the same letter sent from the same organization, Christians United for Israel, which apparently wrote the letter and urged others to resend it to CBS News. So far they number a few hundred, far less than 500 and well below what other such organized issue-based responses in the past have generated.
The non-form letter response we received was of a fairly typical number: a few hundred. Nearly half of those were positive and slightly more negative. Thirteen million people saw Sunday’s broadcast. We believe the small amount of orchestrated response was probably because the 60 MINUTES report was fair and accurate.
Christians United for Israel reports that, in the first 24 hours of its “action alert,” asking members to contact CBS to raise concerns about bias and inaccuracy, more than 29,000 e-mails have been sent. (I was given access to a screenshot of the e-mail tabulation, by the nonprofit group Convio, that supports CUFI’s claim, showing 29,602 e-mails have been sent.)
CUFI executive director David Brog told me in a phone conversation: “Their reporting on the number of email they received is as inaccurate as their reporting on the Middle East.” He described Convio as a “top” nonprofit tracking service. And as for the “form letter,” Brog said, “CBS is ignoring a large number of [emails] from Christians not in the Middle East but here in America. Whether a form letter or not, nearly 30,000 Americans felt compelled to write to CBS. This should not be discounted or ignored.”
The Anti-Defamation League (hardly an adjunct of Christians United for Israel) has sent CBS News a letter that reads, in part:
A fair and balanced analysis would have taken into account that many factors have contributed to the declining Christian Palestinian population in the cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. These include, but are not limited to: economic and financial pressures, security issues, pressure from Islamists, and voluntary emigration to other countries. While [CBS News’s Bob Simon] notes that Christians have faced persecution and terrorism in other Islamic countries such as Iraq and Egypt, the report failed to pursue the issue of anti-Christian persecution by the Muslim population of the West Bank. Nor does he interview Christians who have left the West Bank for other countries about their reasons for leaving the Holy Land. Had he had done so he would have been able to present a much fuller picture of a region in transition.
And it is not only the imbalance that is so disturbing about the report; it also allowed certain outrageous statements by some Palestinians to go unchallenged. One individual, for example, stated that, “Christianity has a stamp on the back: ‘Made in Palestine.’ ” . . . . In addition, it is particularly disturbing that, in trying to draw sympathy to the plight of Christian Palestinians, the piece presented the extremist Kairos document — which denies the Jewish connection to the Holy Land, and justifies terrorism – as a statement of “hope and love and faith.” It is only in the 60 Minutes Overtime “web extras” online that one can learn that Kairos, based on vehemently anti-Israel and anti-Jewish principles, calls on Christians to join the not-so loving, and counter-productive campaign to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.
Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, had this response to my request for comment: “It is absolutely outrageous that, of all the places in the Middle East, and in fact the world, to single out religious persecution of Christians, CBS would choose to attack Israel. Israel is a beacon to the world for religious tolerance and inclusiveness. The picture painted by Bob Simon and CBS on ‘60 Minutes’ has no basis in reality. Sadly Christians are being murdered and persecuted daily in the Muslim world and across the globe.”
Brooks recalled: “The intifadas in 1987 and 2000 spurred many Christian families to leave. Peaceful Christians within Israel were affected by the violence and Christians in the territories were affected by Israel’s response. Palestinian militants used the mostly Christian town of Beit Jala as their base for attacking Jewish neighborhoods, turning a peaceful area into a war zone.”
He noted the absence in the CBS report of information on the Palestinian Authority: “Sharia is increasingly cited in PA law, and there is no PA law to protect religious freedom. In 2002, a large group of Islamic militants took over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, holding 40 priests, monks, and nuns hostage. The militants plundered and damaged the historic holy site before they surrendered to Israeli forces with no regard for its importance to Christian Palestinians.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council president was unavailable for comment.
And Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based group that exposes anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism masquerading under the banner of “human rights,” e-mailed me:
“The 60 Minutes segment uncritically adopted the standard Palestinian narrative of suffering and victimhood promoted by church-based NGOs that work closely with the Palestinian political leadership. Groups such as Sabeel, Kairos-Palestine, and Holy Land Trust erase the reign of fear imposed by Islamist groups, such as Hamas, against Christians. Instead, they invoke ‘liberation theology’ to demonize Israel, including calls for BDS [boycott, divestment, and sanctions] and hold conferences with such blatantly biased titles as ‘Christ at the checkpoint.’ . . . Bob Simon’s segment simply repeated these immoral positions without any independent analysis. He quoted from the Kairos document on Palestine, for example, without noting that it denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel, promotes demonization campaigns such as BDS, and also ignores the extreme harassment and violence committed by Palestinians against Christians.”
Middle East experts were generally aghast at the CBS segment. John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations, told me: “The real threat to Christians in the Holy Land is Islamicist terrorism, not Israel’s legitimate self-defense measures to protect all of its citizens, whatever their religion. This report was propaganda, not news.”
Lela Gilbert of the Hudson Institute, whose book, “Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner,” on the subject of Christians in the Middle East is due out later this year, put it this way via e-mail:
The hypocrisy of the 60 Minutes attack on Israel is astonishing. The treatment of Christians in Arab lands is devastating and deadly — in recent years hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq; the Copts of Egypt who can afford to do so are quickly seeking to leave their homeland; the Christians in Syria are caught between a murderous regime and the possibility of anti-Christian pogroms — like those in Iraq — if Assad is overthrown. These are ancient Christian communities that precede Islam by hundreds of years. It is noteworthy that the Jews who once had thriving communities in these and other Muslim lands are gone — only handfuls remain. As the Islamist saying goes, “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People.” A real investigative report would have immediately discovered these facts.
Meanwhile, Israel -- the only free democracy in the Middle East -- is the focus of a 60 Minutes diatribe as if it were a major violator of religious freedom. How absurd is that? The only limitations on Christians and, for that matter Muslims, who want to worship outside the Palestinian Authority have to do with security — Israel is making sure the terrorist attacks by radical Muslims that have paralyzed Israel in the past do not repeat themselves. Israel is, in fact, the only place in the Middle East where the Christian population is increasing; at the same time Christians who live under the Palestinian Authority are fleeing in a silent exodus.
And Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies had this to say: “It’s truly mystifying: Is this the result of ignorance or bias or some cocktail of the two? Recently, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia called for the demolition of more Christian churches. ‘60 Minutes’ ignored it.”
He continued: “Indeed, the most important, indeed, historic story that the major media refuse to tell is about the persecution and ‘cleansing’ of Christians (and other religious and ethnic minorities) from what we have come to call the Muslim world. ‘60 Minutes,’ once a great news show, apparently does not have the courage to report that story. But maliciously beating up on Israel, the only country in the Middle East that has a growing Christian community, a free Christian community — that’s apparently too easy and satisfying to resist.”
If CBS eventually issues an apology, or does a follow-up to the report, we can assume that (willful?) ignorance was to blame. (Funny how the mistakes, inaccuracies and bias all lead in the same, anti-Israel direction, isn’t it?) But to the extent CBS digs in after receiving a mountain of material debunking the piece, we will know that rank bias is at the heart of this.
Brog told me, “Just as they ignored overwhelming evidence of the real threat to Christians of the Middle East — militant Islam — before and during their report, they seem determined to ignore evidence after the fact. At the very least, no one can accuse CBS of being inconsistent.”