Analysis: Despite plight of Mideast Christians, some leaders still single out Israel

The disengagement of the US and West from the Middle East will only compound the misery of Middle East Christians.

Iraqi Christians at mass 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iraqi Christians at mass 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The deadly bomb attacks in Christian districts of Iraq’s capital Baghdad on Christmas Day caused the deaths of 37 people.
One bomb appeared to target congregants leaving a Catholic church.
Last December, The Jerusalem Post delved into the question “What do Mideast Christians face in 2013?” The results were horrific and lethal.
In October, four Coptic Christians were riddled with bullets in front of their church in Cairo, and the Islamic Republic of Iran sentenced Christians to 80 lashes for drinking wine during communion and operating a satellite television dish.
Also in 2013, Muslim Brotherhood activists torched Egyptian churches and kidnapped Coptic Christians. Radical Islamic extremists stamped out a Christian presence in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.
Jihadists are believed to be behind the kidnapping of 12 Syrian nuns.
Sadly, if past is prologue, next year will see continued waves of bloody repression against a highly vulnerable minority in the Mideast.
In a December Wall Street Journal book review of John L. Allen Jr.’s book The Global War on Christians, the review quotes Allen Jr. saying Christians “indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet.”
The ongoing decimation of Middle East Christians prompted Prince Charles and Pope Francis to spotlight the need to help struggling Christians in the region.
“It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are increasingly being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants,” said Charles.
In November, after meeting with patriarchs from Syria, Iraq, and Syria, Pope Francis said: “We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians.”
There was a growing trend – perhaps nearly a consensus – in 2013 that Islamic radicalism poses the gravest threat to Christianity in the Middle East.
All of this makes all the more bizarre the remarks of Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, on Christmas.
“Today, singing of Bethlehem, we see injustices in Palestine and Israel, where land is taken or rockets are fired, and the innocent suffer,” said Welby.
In sharp contrast to Welby, the archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said “Christians are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world today, and this evening we think especially of the Middle East, especially of Egypt, Iraq and Syria.”
Why Israel was singled out by Welby in the midst of massive violence directed at Christians in Egypt, Syria and Iraq is nothing short of perplexing.
After all, Israel’s Christians are largely immune from the persecution and violence inflicted on their fellow Christians in the heartland of the Middle East and other nations in the greater Middle East (Pakistan and Nigeria).
Writing for the Fox News opinion page, Lela Gilbert – who lives in Jerusalem – notes, “Some Arabic-speaking Christians in Israel are well aware that they live in the region’s only safe haven for their faith. And they have decided to do more than give thanks.”
Gilbert, the author of Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner and co-author, with Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, writes that Israeli Christians “want to defend their homeland, and a number of them have chosen to take action. Not only do they want to serve in the IDF, but they also are forming a political party and seeking reforms in Israel’s educational system, insisting that its curriculum include Christian history alongside that of Judaism and Islam.”
While Israel remains the principal safe haven for Christians and the practice of their faith in the Middle East, the situation is not perfect. There have been “price-tag” attacks on Christian institutions in Israel and the disputed territories, including the scrawling of anti-Christian graffiti on Christian worship sites.
To return to the question of what Middle East Christian will face in 2014, times will likely grow even tougher and more grueling for this persecuted minority in Muslim-majority countries. The disengagement of the US and West from the Middle East will only compound the misery of Middle East Christians.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on Christians in the Middle East for The Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.