Criticism of Israel is a hate crime but attacking a Christian church is not?

Criticism of Israel is a hate crime but attacking a Christian church is not?

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Whenever a Synagogue is vandalized in the Arab world, or even in the West, the incident is often characterized as a hate crime and condemned widely.

Americans, especially, are exposed to extensive coverage in the mainstream media of such attacks, including reports of the damage to property and implications of antisemitic violence, which feeds the stereotypes and racist tropes associated with Arabs, Muslims and, especially, Palestinians.

Allegations of hate, antisemitism and racism are weapons often used by supporters of Israel to deflect the public from the truth of the often violent bullying of Christian and Muslim Palestinians.

But when a Christian church in Jerusalem is ransacked by Israeli soldiers that were sent to shut down several human rights organizations that have exposed Israel’s criminal apartheid conduct, the stories are turned into political fodder and the damage to the church minimized.

How bad is the situation for Christians in Israel? Well, their population has continued to shrink over the years but a telling reflection of Israeli policies toward Christians was evident when Israeli snipers targeted and killed Shireen Abu Akleh, a Christian Palestinian journalist with Al Jazeera who was also an American citizen.

Amazingly, more than 100 days have passed since she was killed on May 11 while covering an Israeli raid in Jenin. She was shot in the head while wearing a vest and helmet that clearly identified her as a journalist and member of the news media.

Just as the killing of Abu Akleh will drift into an oblivion of rhetoric, attacks against Christian sites will dissipate just as quickly

Ray Hanania

Despite US officials speaking out against the killing, nothing has been done about it and nothing is expected to be done. Continued violence by Israeli authorities and defensive responses from Palestinian civilians overshadow the horror of the crimes that take place and vanish into a background of indifference.

Last week, Israeli soldiers attacked the offices of Al-Haq, an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organization in Ramallah. Established in 1979 to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Territories, two principles that Israel’s apartheid policies often ignore, Al-Haq is recognized internationally for its dedication to human rights and enjoys a “special consultative status” with the UN.

The raid on Al-Haq was part of a widespread crackdown by Israel on human rights organizations. Similar raids were conducted at the offices of Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International — Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Workers Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

To the Israeli government, uncovering violations of human rights, providing services to women and families in need, defending children and conducting “research” are all considered acts of “terrorism.”

And when Israel applies the label of “terrorism” to a person or organization, authorities can pretty much do whatever they want, including damaging a Presbyterian church in which one such organization rented office space. The Christian Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem condemned the attack on St. Andrew’s Anglican/Episcopal Church, which took place at 3 a.m. on Aug. 18. It is located in Ramallah, which has one of the largest Christian communities in the occupied West Bank.

Windows and glass objects were shattered. Doors and shelves were destroyed. Israeli soldiers entered the church firing weapons, used stun grenades and terrorized the people inside.

I did not see any condemnation of the Israeli conduct from Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, or from his predecessor, Danny Danon, in response to the attack on the Christian church.

They are, however, often among the first to scream about antisemitism; like when Emma Watson, the British star of the Harry Potter film series, expressed solidarity with the Palestinian cause by posting a photo on social media taken at a pro-Palestinian rally and stating “Solidarity is a verb.”

Watson also included a quote from British-Australian activist Sara Ahmed, who said: “Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.”

Wow — such dangerous words. So much more violent than damaging a Christian church.

Danon denounced Watson’s actions as antisemitic. He is an articulate spokesman for Israel but could do so much more for the cause of peace if he focused less on demonizing those who legitimately criticize government actions and instead sought ways to bring the Israeli and Palestinian people together.

But Danon and Erdan are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the efforts of pro-Israel movements to minimize the Israeli government’s crimes against Palestinians while exaggerating the nature of opinions voiced by Israel’s critics, however inane or mild.

Nothing escapes their exaggerated wrath because it is a strategy designed to deflect public attention from Israel’s actions and mold a pro-Israel understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict among target audiences, including Americans.

Just as the killing of Abu Akleh will drift into an oblivion of rhetoric, attacks against Christian sites will dissipate just as quickly. Because before you can focus on what Israel did to Abu Akleh or to St. Andrew’s Church, something just as egregious will take place that creates a blur to obscure Israel’s racist apartheid crimes.

If Israel can keep target audiences, such as Americans, distracted long enough, they will eventually embrace its lies and propaganda without challenge. No one knows better than the Israeli government that the greater the intensity of the crimes against a civilian population, the more difficult it is for that population to foster understanding of the underlying principles that drive those crimes.

Tragically, the Palestinians make it easy for Israel through their lack of professional communications and their lack of knowledge of the power of perception.

Because perception, not truth, is the reality in Western communications.

  • Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at Twitter: @RayHanania
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