Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Blog

By Jeffrey Wright
2012 Spring Intern

In a story broadcast last night on 60 Minutes, Bob Simon explored the plight of Palestinian Christians who are fleeing the Israeli-occupied West Bank at rates even higher than the larger Muslim population. Though he mentions the problems of other Christian populations in the Arab world, like those in Egypt and Syria, Simon correctly focuses on the unique situation of Palestinian Christians. Simon’s reporting humanizes Palestinian families, like a family whose home is surrounded on three sides by an Israeli wall. Reporting like this, which treats Palestinians as victims worthy of our care and sympathy rather than dangerous potential terrorists, is rare in mainstream American media.

Much of the reaction to 60 Minutes’ piece concerned the segments featuring Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. Ambassador Oren tries to attribute the flight of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank as a consequence of the supposed Islamic extremism of their Muslim neighbors, but this storyline is directly contradicted by the actual Palestinian Christians whom Simon interviews. In reality, Palestinian Christians are eager to leave the West Bank for the same reasons most Palestinians are: the Israeli occupation. Palestinian Christians, like their Muslim counterparts, see no future in the West Bank for themselves and their children, making life abroad more attractive. Palestinian Christian communities tend to have more resources and better connections to the wider world, which helps explain their higher rates of emigration. But the cause is the same: the trials of living under a repressive and stifling occupation.

Simon mentions that Ambassador Oren called high-ranking officials at CBS News months before the story was due to air, in an attempt to have the story killed. He complained that Simon’s story would be “a hatchet job,” though Simon had not yet finished reporting it and Oren had no idea what would appear in the piece. Defenders of the Israeli occupation, like Ambassador Oren, are very sensitive to the portrayal of Palestinian Christians in the American media because they are aware of the resonance of these stories within American Christian groups. Stories like Simon’s present a particular problem for Evangelical groups, which are at the same time strongly supportive of Israel and very concerned about the oppression of Christian minority populations around the world. Concern that the 60 Minutes story might weaken Evangelical support for Israel, and for pro-Israel members of Congress, helps explain Ambassador Oren’s frantic attempts to have the story killed. We should all be glad that his efforts did not succeed, and commend Bob Simon, 60 Minutes, and CBS News for resisting political pressure to produce a balanced and accurate exploration of this important topic.      

Take a moment to email 60 Minutes and commend them for their insightful, fair, and powerful journalism.

You can also find a video of AAI's recent hill briefing on this topic here.

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