A blog post appearing on the nominally progressive Huffington Post on April 12 called on the world’s followers of the Christian and Jewish faiths to unite against what the piece claims is a common enemy: Islam. The writers of the post are listed as Pastor Carlos Ortiz of Hispanics United for Israel and Adam Milstein of the Israeli-American Council. The two made their case by parroting a seemingly endless array of right wing talking points, falsehoods and false equivalencies that are usually a staple of arch-conservative magazines and newspapers like the National Review or Weekly Standard.
The two begin their piece by lamenting the mass forced exodus of tens-of-thousands of Iraqi Christians recently from their ancient home of Mosul after it became apparent that the city was going to fall to ISIS. While it’s truly impossible to overstate the tragedy of the situation (which certainly does amount to ethnic and religious cleansing), Ortiz and Milstein chalk it up to “just another sad chapter in a story of many decades of persecution, violence and exile, which has left the population of Christians in the Middle East a small fraction of its former size”. And here is where they are selectively eliminating a huge chunk of the story of why Christians have gone from – according to some estimates – either slightly above or below one million to perhaps under 300,000 in Iraq all in the span of a decade. The #1 culprit in their disappearance, which is mentioned nowhere in Ortiz and Milstein’s propaganda piece, is the United States of America and its invasion and occupation of the country which officially lasted from 2003-2011 (though in some ways it continues to the present). After all, when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, the number of Christians in the country according to the New York Times was perhaps as high as 1 ½ million. According to the Economist, by 2013 it is estimated there were as few as 200,000-400,000 of them remaining. (*)
If their assertion that Christians are being ethnically cleansed from Iraq by Islamists is not technically untrue (though they intentionally negate the U.S. role in this), the rest of what the authors assert in the article certainly is. Three paragraphs in and Ortiz and Milstein are eliminating any inkling of the truth from their piece with the wildly ridiculous assertion that “Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community is thriving and growing. It is the one place in the region where Christians can practice their religion freely and openly.” How is this so? Are not Palestinian Christians, living on territory militarily occupied and claimed by Israel as its own, subjected to constant military occupational checkpoints whilst having their very freedom of movement restricted by a gigantic apartheid wall dwarfing that which previously existed in Berlin? How does one practice their religion “freely and openly” when they can’t even turn a corner without encountering an armed soldier stationed there to keep them ‘in their place’ so to speak? Not to mention Christians hold considerably more political power in neighboring Lebanon, where they make up 40% of the population, than they do in Israel despite claims to the contrary.
The dynamic duo continue: “Israel is the one place in the Middle East where democracy is enshrined, where human rights are respected, and where all minorities are protected… [the only place where] Jews and Christians share a common history, heritage, and set of values”. The first point, that Israel is a place where “democracy is enshrined”, is quite laughable considering that a full third of the people being ruled by Israel are not allowed to take part in this so-called democracy. As for full respect of human rights, well that’s even more absurd. The other point they try to make, that “Jews and Christians share a common history, heritage, and set of values”, is true enough. But Palestinian Arab Christians, Jews and Muslims possess a shared heritage and historical lineage dating back far before the concept of modern Israel even existed.
Next up Mr. Ortiz and Mr. Milstein cross into potential white supremacist territory by asserting that “Judeo-Christian principles form the basis for all of Western civilization” – values which they claim are “under assault” by what we can only assume are menacing Orientals of the East. And while I realize that both men belong to groups which have been historically targeted by professed white supremacist groups, how can their rhetoric not be classified as belonging to that same strain of thought when they are asserting that so-called “Western civilization” (re: white, European) is superior to all that came before or after it?
Finally the true purpose of this god-awful blog post is revealed when, six or seven paragraphs in, Ortiz and Milstein set their sights on attacking and discrediting the global B.D.S. (Boycott, Divest & Sanction) Movement against the apartheid policies of the state of Israel – a civil society movement which the authors claim unfairly demonizes “the world’s one and only Jewish State”. They outrageously claim that people who support BDS are motivated by the same hatred as the terrorist group ISIS! They accuse BDS of engaging in a “global crusade seeded in anti-Semitic and anti-Western hatred” as if the two are somehow even remotely the same thing. The reality is that anti-Semitism is a form of racism and is reprehensible. It’s rooted in both Christian and white supremacist culture and was a staple of both the early Christian Churches and of white supremacist groups like the KKK (and of course the Nazis). ‘Anti-Western hatred’ on the other hand is a resentment of the West which is fueled by actual horrific acts and atrocities committed on the part of the self-proclaimed ‘Western world’ (namely Europe and the United States) on the rest of the globe – such as genocides of indigenous peoples and cultures, crusades, Transatlantic slavery, apartheid, colonialism, chemical warfare, etc.
Ortiz and Milstein claim BDS “attacks our country’s commitment to our core liberal values of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press”, while at the same time they are advocating different ways to silence and eliminate BDS for being critical of the state of Israel and its occupation of Arab lands and deadly decade-long blockade of Gaza. They accuse BDS organizers of frequently chanting “Death to Israel and Death to America” without citing even a single example of this having occurred. They go so far as to condemn one of the “chief architects” of BDS, Hatem Bazian, for being opposed to the U.S. war on Iraq and for having once offered his words of support to the freedom fighters bravely resisting American occupation of their country, a position Bazian shared with all people in possession of a functioning brain – Ortiz and Milstein obviously excluded. In addition to Bazian, Purdue University Professor Bill Mullen comes under fire for having condemned U.S. imperialism. Tellingly Ortiz and Milstein, being the two numbskulls that they are, placed the word “imperialism” in quotes, as if its existence is somehow in question.
To sum it all up, the Pastor and the philanthropist declare that those who support BDS “not only want to destroy the Jewish State, but also the Judeo-Christian principles on which it was founded.” And on that note Theodor Herzl himself must be rolling in his grave to learn the state he envisioned was actually founded on Christian principles. Last time I checked Jewish refugees in the late 19th and 20th centuries were fleeing persecution from a continent on which the vast majority of inhabitants were Christians. Now these two bloggers want us to be aware of the Judeo-Christian values at the heart of the formation of Israel. Huffington Post should really leave the historical revisionism to right-wing outlets like the American Spectator and get back to publishing articles which challenge neoconservative arrogance.
* As a 2006 Guardian article noted, many of the Christians fleeing Iraq after the U.S. invasion fled to neighboring Syria as their first place of refuge. In the words of an Iraqi Christian refugee in Damascus named Shamun Daawd three years into the U.S. war on Iraq, “Before the war there was no separation between Christian and Muslim. Under Saddam no one asked you your religion, and we used to attend each other’s religious services and weddings. After the invasion we hoped democracy would come; but instead all that came was bombs, kidnapping and killing. Now at least 75% of my Christian friends have fled. There is no future for us in Iraq.” Since this article appeared, Syria has erupted into a bloody war and the U.S. has been largely pulling the strings behind the scenes with its covert support of the Islamist rebels (which the White House and Pentagon falsely assert are ‘moderates’) attempting to overthrow the Syrian government. The Guardian article was chillingly prophetic with its seeming warning: “Now there are worries that Syria, one of the last countries in the region without an Islamist movement, is also in Washington’s cross hairs”.
Also noteworthy is this line from a 2013 Los Angeles Times article:
“It’s ironic that many Americans who complain about a ‘war on Christians’ in the Middle East supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq and also agitate for U.S. military action to depose [Bashar al] Assad.”