It is unwise to invest too seriously as a consumer of political rhetoric. Politicians lie. They must, in order to serve diverse constituencies. Party platforms are designed to up the enthusiasm of those already committed. "Singing to the choir" pretty much summarizes what goes in election campaigns, with parties appealing to their own supporters and slinging nasty stuff at adversaries in order to please their own voters.

Ideology and religion allow, or require invention. We may have to overlook the nonsense in Palestinian claims to having lived forever in a small part of a region that has been crossed and recrossed by migrations since the beginning of recorded history. The myth of Mohammed''s ascension from Jerusalem belongs along with the fables of a talking ass, the division of the Red Sea, and Moses'' receipt of the Torah on Mt Sinai in the Hebrew Bible, and the claims of virginity and ascension in the New Testament.

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In all that we hear from politicians, ideologues, and the intensely religious there are occasional points that justify anger, when someone violates the limits to the game as played in civilized arenas.



What goes beyond tolerance for political blather are assertions by Palestinians--and Jimmy Carter--about Israeli apartheid. The more careful limit their slogans to Israel''s treatment of the West Bank and Gaza, thus excluding my friendships with the Arabs I meet in the university gym, a sizable list of Arabs who have been my students at the Hebrew University, along with Arabs, Chinese, and American Christians who have lived in this building.

However, even assertions of Israeli apartheid imposed on the West Bank and Gaza are out of step with reality. Israel admits to being suspicious of a population that has shown its inclination to violence, and acting to protect Israelis from what comes to us from the West Bank and Gaza. In a number of instances, the Israeli Supreme Court has acted to lessen the constraints imposed upon those areas.

What is particularly galling for a perspective that excuses a great deal of exaggeration and disinformation is the reality that the people in this the long conflict who have been guilt of apartheid or even worse are those who are trumpeting their accusations against the Jews of Israel.

The rulers and crowds of Muslim countries took a large step beyond apartheid by their persecution of Jews. Countries that were home to many thousands of Jews for centuries are virtually without Jews today. The list of those with at least 10,000 Jews in the 1940s and currently with none or only a few hundred includes Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Christians have done only slightly better than Jews in Muslim countries. Several locales in the Middle East figured in the development of Christian doctrine and institutions, but with one prominent exception the region-wide experiences of recent decades has been emigration.

"Christians now make up 5% of the population, down from 20% in the early 20th century. The number of Middle Eastern Christians is dropping due to such factors as low birth rates compared with Muslims, extensive emigration and ethnic and religious persecution. In addition, political turmoil has been and continues to be a major contributor pressing indigenous Near Eastern Christians of various ethnicities towards seeking security and stability outside their homelands. . . .Recent spread ofJihadist and Salafist ideology, foreign to the tolerant values of the local communities in Greater Syria and Egypt has also played a role in unsettling Christians'' decades-long peaceful existence. It is estimated that at the present rate, the Middle East''s 12 million Christians will likely drop to 6 million by the year 2020."

Estimates are that one half of Iraq''s Christians left the country from the early 1990s. The population of Christians in Syria has declined from 2.5 million in 1980 to an estimated 1.5 million recently, minus who knows how many more who have left since that estimate was made in the midst of the ongoing bloodshed.

Palestinians have been no more accommodating with respect to Christians and Jews than other Muslims. The formerly Christian cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah now have sizable Muslim majorities. The Christian population in the West Bank has dropped from about 140,000 in 1967 to 51,000. The Palestinian Authority forbids the sale of land to Jews, with a penalty of death for violators. This continues what Jordan enacted when it occupied the West Bank in 1948. Since then, Amnesty International has reported on the torture of those accused, and several killings

Muslims are also not accommodating to one another. Civil wars or sectarian violence in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now most prominently Syria have produced upwards of a million deaths (estimated) in recent years. Sunnis doing battle with Shiites may be most prominent, but there are also disputes that pit ethnic groups, tribes, clans, or extended families against one another. In the most recent week Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that his troops will bring victory to Assad, and a day later two rockets--made in Russia and presumably taken by rebels from Assad''s arsenals--landed in a Shiite neighborhood of Beirut. Within Israel, Arabs are several times more likely than Jews to be involved in crimes of violence, both as perpetrators and victims.

Christians have also left Israel. The Arab populations of Nazareth and Jerusalem are now heavily Muslim. Palestinians and their friends say that Christians leave Palestinian and Israeli areas due to Israeli oppression, but the flight of Christians as well as Jews from elsewhere throughout the Middle East suggests that Muslim pressure is a more telling explanation. It is fair to accuse Israeli Jews of sentiments and practices vis a vis minorities that resemble majority-minority relations in other countries. But to single them out for a campaign employing the powerful symbol of apartheid, especially in a campaign generated by Palestinians, appears to be a gross distortion of realities.

Israel is the one country in the Middle East where the Christian population has grown: from 34,000 in 1948 to more than 155,000 now.

The status of Arabs within Israel, including the incidence of Arab Members of Knesset, dwarfs the status of Jews anywhere else in the Middle East.

Anyone concerned with ranking the populations of the Middle East on persecution due to ethnicity or religion ought to begin with Muslims, and the Palestinians among them.


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