As Easter approaches, Israel’s UN ambassador warns of “the Middle East war on Christians,” rising persecution in Islamic countries. Notes that Israel’s Christian population is growing.

crossAs Jews celebrate Passover and Christians celebrate Easter this week, Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, has written an excellent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on the intense persecution followers of Jesus Christ are facing in Islamic countries.

He notes that there is an “exodus” of Christians leaving the Middle East today, just as Jews had to flee many Arab countries in the 20th century. That said, he also points out that Israel “is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today, in large measure because of the freedoms Christians are afforded.”

I commend the article to your attention, and encourage you to share it with others.

THE MIDDLE EAST WAR ON CHRISTIANS

Muslim-majority nations are doing to followers of Jesus what they did to the Jews.

By Amb. Ron Prosor, Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2014

This week, as Jews celebrate the Passover holiday, they are commemorating the Bible’s Exodus story describing a series of plagues inflicted on ancient Egypt that freed the Israelites, allowing them to make their way to the Holy Land. But over the past century, another exodus, driven by a plague of persecution, has swept across the Middle East and is emptying the region of its Christian population. The persecution is especially virulent today.

The Middle East may be the birthplace of three monotheistic religions, but some Arab nations appear bent on making it the burial ground for one of them. For 2,000 years, Christian communities dotted the region, enriching the Arab world with literature, culture and commerce. At the turn of the 20th century, Christians made up 26% of the Middle East’s population. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 10%. Intolerant and extremist governments are driving away the Christian communities that have lived in the Middle East since their faith was born.

In the rubble of Syrian cities like Aleppo and Damascus, Christians who refused to convert to Islam have been kidnapped, shot and beheaded by Islamist opposition fighters. In Egypt, mobs of Muslim Brotherhood members burn Coptic Christian churches in the same way they once obliterated Jewish synagogues. And in Iraq, terrorists deliberately target Christian worshippers. This past Christmas, 26 people were killed when a bomb ripped through a crowd of worshipers leaving a church in Baghdad’s southern Dora neighborhood.

Christians are losing their lives, liberties, businesses and their houses of worship across the Middle East. It is little wonder that native Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries—yet in many cases they find themselves equally unwelcome. Over the past 10 years, nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes. Many settled in Syria before once again becoming victims of unrelenting persecution. Syria’s Christian population has dropped from 30% in the 1920s to less than 10% today.

In January, a report by the nondenominational Christian nonprofit organization Open Doors documented the 10 most oppressive countries for Christians; nine were Muslim-majority states noted for Islamic extremism, and the 10th was North Korea. These tyrannical regimes uphold archaic blasphemy and defamation-of-religion laws under the guise of protecting religious expression. In truth, these measures amount to systematic repression of non-Islamic groups.

Last year in Saudi Arabia, two men were prosecuted for the “crime” of converting a woman to Christianity and helping her flee the Islamic kingdom. According to the Saudi Gazette, one of the men, a Lebanese, was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes, and the other man, a Saudi, was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes. Those are relatively mild sentences in Saudi Arabia, where conversion to another religion is punishable by death.

The “justice system” in other Islamic nations is not particularly just for Arab citizens, but it is uniquely oppressive for Christians. Radical Islamists in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa are using an ancient law called the “dhimmi pact” to extort local Christians. The community is faced with a grim choice: pay a tax and submit to a list of religious restrictions or “face the sword.”

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressions of political dissent are regarded as acts of blasphemy. Last summer, three Iranian Christians caught selling Bibles were found guilty of “crimes against state security” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. They were relatively lucky. The regime has executed dozens of people for the so-called crimes of “waging war against God” and “spreading corruption on Earth.”

The scene unfolding in the Middle East is ominously familiar. At the end of World War II, almost one million Jews lived in Arab lands. The creation of Israel in 1948 precipitated an invasion of five Arab armies. When they were unable to annihilate the newborn state militarily, Arab leaders launched a campaign of terror and expulsion that decimated their ancient Jewish communities. They succeeded in purging 800,000 Jews from their lands.

Today, Israel, which I represent at the United Nations, is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today, in large measure because of the freedoms Christians are afforded.

From courtrooms to classrooms and from the chambers of Parliament to chambers of commerce, Israeli Christians are leaders in every field and discipline. Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab Israeli, has served as a Supreme Court justice since 2003 and Makram Khoury is one of the best-known actors in Israel and the youngest artist to win the Israel Prize, our highest civic honor.

Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest living in Israel, recently told me: “Human rights are not something to be taken for granted. Christians in much of the Middle East have been slaughtered and persecuted for their faith, but here in Israel they are protected.”

Nations that trample on the rights of their people sow the seeds of instability and violence. The uprisings that have erupted across the Middle East are evidence that the region’s Holy Grail has become the pursuit of freedom, democracy and equality. Let us hope that this quest bears fruit before it is too late for the region’s remaining Christians.

Mr. Prosor is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

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>> Report on my meeting with Jordan’s Ambassador to the U.S.

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Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Netanyahu calls Israel “epicenter” of innovation at World Economic Forum in Davos. Cites Bible as a reason for Israel’s strength.

netanyahu-DavosSo often there are war or rumors of wars to report from the Middle East. But this week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a fascinating speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It was chock full of good news.

You can read it here, or watch it here.

Several elements caught my attention.

  • One: Netanyahu said “Israel is the epicenter of world innovation right now.”
  • Two: The Prime Minister cited the Bible as one of the reason’s for the strength of the Jewish people and the Israeli economy.
  • Three: He gave interesting examples of Israeli innovation — including how scarce water resources has inspired Israelis to develop the world’s most advance technologies for re-using water, and how scarce agricultural land has inspired Israelis to learn how to get more milk out of every cow (“Whose cows produce the most milk? Don’t guess: it’s Israel. It’s a computerized cow. Every ‘moo’ is computerized and we increased the productivity.”)

I encourage you to read or watch it for yourself.

Excerpts from a Jerusalem Post story about the speech:

  • Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday at the Davos World Economic Forum that investing in the Israeli economy is a way to facilitate peace in the region.
  • In a speech that largely focused on the strength of Israel as a hub for innovation, as well as research and development, Netanyahu said that the advancement of the Israeli economy would help Israel’s Arab neighbors, specifically the Palestinians.
  • The prime minister stated that “Israel is not what’s wrong in the Middle East, it is what’s right with the Middle East.”….
  • The premier used his remarks to praise his country’s economic prowess, which he credited to “the indispensable element of entrepreneurship” as well as “sound macroeconomic policies.”
  • “Israel is often called the ‘start-up nation,’ but I call it the ‘innovation nation,’” Netanyahu said.
  • The premier touted an economic policy of “cutting taxes and removing barriers to competition so that the private sector could run forward and compete.”
  • Netanyahu said that in the ten years since he took over as finance minister during the administration of Ariel Sharon, Israel managed to bring down the debt-to-GDP ratio to 67 percent while reducing inflation and cutting down unemployment.
  • The premier said that Israel’s small size and the Jewish culture of “asking questions” has contributed to the country’s strong economic performance.
  • “From the Talmud to Einstein, Jewish people were always asking questions,” the prime minister said. “The questioning mind is something in our culture and adds very much to our capacities. We’re very small, everything is close by, and everyone competes and collaborates with each other.”
  • “This is an invitation to innovation nation, it’s open for business, it’s open for your business, please come join us,” he stated.


Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Israel’s “Warrior” has fought his last battle: My take on Ariel Sharon.

nationalreview-graphic(Washington, D.C.) — On Saturday, the editor of National Review emailed to ask if I’d like to submit an article looking back at the life of Ariel Sharon. I was honored to do so. It was published Sunday evening.

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ISRAEL’S “WARRIOR” HAS FOUGHT HIS LAST BATTLE

By Joel C. Rosenberg

When Ariel Sharon published his memoirs, he titled the 592-page volume “Warrior.” He could not have chosen a more apt descriptor.

That’s how he saw himself. That’s how every Israeli saw him. That’s how every Arab saw him, and every world leader, too. Love him or hate him — and few Israelis have provoked more controversy — everyone knew the man was, at his core, a fighter.

At only 14, Sharon joined a group of Jewish guerillas to attack British forces and try to drive them out of Mandated Palestine.

From there, Sharon went on to either fight directly in, or oversee in a senior capacity — as a general, as defense minister, and ultimately as Israel’s eleventh prime minister — every single war the modern state of Israel engaged in from the War of Independence in 1948 onwards for the next six decades.

The native-born Israeli didn’t simply engage on the military battlefield, however. He also waged epic diplomatic, political, legal, and media battles that are the stuff of legend.

He sued Time magazine. He built settlements in the West Bank. He gave away Gaza. He blew up his own political party as a sitting prime minister, and created a new one. He was always picking a fight. Sometimes he was right. Sometimes he was disastrously wrong. And he seemed to relish it all.

But on Saturday, the warrior’s final battle ended.

At the age of 85, Sharon passed away at 1:55 p.m. local time, while close family and friends gathered around his bedside to say their farewells.

A funeral will be held on Monday. Israel’s top leadership will attend the memorial service, as will Vice President Joe Biden, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, and former British prime minister Tony Blair, among other world leaders.

Now the war to define him and his legacy will begin.

“The state of Israel bows its head over the passing of former prime minister Ariel Sharon,” said current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a long-time rival, in a warm and generous statement. “His memory will forever be held in the heart of the nation . . . . Sharon played a central role in the struggle for Israel’s security throughout its existence. He was, first and foremost, a courageous fighter and a distinguished general, one of the greatest commanders the IDF has ever known.”

The Arab-Israeli Wars

Born near Tel Aviv on February 26, 1928, Sharon was…..

[To read the rest of the column on the NRO site -- with more detail on some of the key battles Sharon fought, including his decision to give away Gaza for nothing -- please click here.]

[Note: Sharon's memoirs were originally published in 1989, then re-released in the fall of 2001, not long after he had become Israel's eleventh prime minister.]

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Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Inside Israel’s White House: How Netanyahu runs the country (and who is top advisors are).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consults with his advisers at Blair House in Washington, May 2011. Gil Shefer is at far left. Dore Gold is at far right. Ron Dermer sits, second from the right, with back to camera in short-sleeved shirt. Yaakov Amidror (bearded), Yitzhak Molcho (partially obscured by Netanyahu) and former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser (black T-shirt, spectacles) are also at the table. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Flash90/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consults with his advisers at Blair House in Washington, May 2011. Gil Shefer is at far left. Dore Gold is at far right. Ron Dermer sits, second from the right, with back to camera in short-sleeved shirt. Yaakov Amidror (bearded), Yitzhak Molcho (partially obscured by Netanyahu) and former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser (black T-shirt, spectacles) are also at the table. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Flash90/Times of Israel)

“Benjamin Netanyahu will complete his eighth (nonconsecutive) year as prime minister in March 2014, more than any Israeli premier except the state’s founder, David Ben-Gurion,” reports the Times of Israel. “And as the years go by, unsurprisingly, Netanyahu is leaving a deepening imprint on the way in which the country is governed.”….

“Bibi has a dialogical personality,” said one confidant who asked not to be named. “He makes decisions in the course of discussion. He needs a conversation partner to make those decisions.”

“Netanyahu takes a close interest in the views of those around him, confirmed another source familiar with the prime minister’s deliberative process,” notes the Times. “He’s always asking questions, interrogating you for your opinion, and writing down what you’re saying.”

“That aspect of Netanyahu’s personality is both an advantage and a crutch, the confidant added,” the article added. “The advantage: Netanyahu is ‘flexible and thorough’ when making decisions. ‘Every decision requires 10 discussions. He’s not hasty like some previous prime ministers.’ The disadvantage: ‘He can seem indecisive, fickle. No decision is final until it’s actually being implemented. Decisions often change in the course of discussion, both because his reasoning continues to develop and because those who know him well know how to focus their arguments to reach certain conclusions.’ Whether or not this personality trait is beneficial to forming national policy, there is no doubt it gives an outsize role to those who surround and engage the prime minister in those policy discussions. As power concentrates around a premier who gives added weight to his advisers’ views, those advisers are becoming increasingly important for any understanding of how the machinery of power is managed and critical decisions are made in the State of Israel….”

YOSSI COHEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: “For perhaps the most critical and sensitive discussions on the issue Netanyahu himself has called his government’s number one priority, the prime minister chose to send his newly installed national security adviser, Yossi Cohen,” says the Times. “When he appointed Cohen’s predecessor, former IDF major-general Yaakov Amidror, to the top NSC post in 2011, Netanyahu’s public statement left little doubt as to how he viewed the position. Amidror, he said, ‘will lead the National Security Council as a body central to determining Israel’s national and security policies.’ The two national security advisers who preceded Cohen were former Mossad head of intelligence Uzi Arad, a noted expert on the Iranian nuclear question, and Amidror, who has written extensively on the security challenges posed by neighboring Arab states and Palestinian terror groups. Both are known as wide-ranging strategic thinkers. But the choice of his newest adviser, a former Mossad number two, has raised eyebrows. Cohen is generally thought of as a keen operations man, say insiders, not a strategic and policy planning expert.”

“Yossi Cohen is an operational guy,” agreed a source close to the PMO. “He’s very much about implementation. But that’s also part of the NSC’s work. It prepares briefing papers for meeting foreign officials, writes briefings, handles a lot of day-to-day diplomacy. A lot of foreign governments speak to the NSC.”

“Cohen is one of a triumvirate of key national security advisers on whom Netanyahu relies on a daily basis, according to several sources familiar with the inner workings of the PMO,” according to the Times. “The other two are the prime minister’s military secretary, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, and the cabinet secretary, former chief military advocate general Maj. Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit.”

RON DERMER, ISRAEL’S NEW AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: “The NSC’s centrality is also highlighted by the fact that it took on most of the duties held by Netanyahu’s former adviser and new ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer,” the article stated. “The US-born Dermer, who cut his teeth in political consulting as a Republican pollster in the United States in the 1990s, held a unique position at Netanyahu’s side as a political adviser, foreign policy analyst, and a key source of insight into Netanyahu’s main foreign policy target: the United States. He left the PMO in March and was appointed ambassador to Washington in July. Tellingly, Dermer is not being replaced.”

“Dermer was personally close to the prime minister. His job was to be the close adviser,” said one former official. “Now the head of the NSC is filling that role.”

“There’s no doubt Dermer had a unique role with the prime minister,” said another source familiar with the pair. “They had a relationship that predates him taking office. [Dermer advised Netanyahu from 2008, a year before he became prime minister.] Now that Dermer has moved on to Washington, different parts of his responsibilities were divided up. A lot of it went to the NSC.”

YITZHAK MOLCHO, SENIOR ADVISOR ON THE PEACE PROCESS: “The growing centralization of policymaking around the prime minister is also highlighted by Netanyahu’s preference, like other recent premiers, for ‘external’ advisers, individuals who are given senior policy roles but are not government employees. The two key external advisers are attorney Yitzhak Molcho and former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold,” notes the Times. “While Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is the top political face of the peace talks with the Palestinians, Molcho is the personal representative of the prime minister. It is significant that as per Netanyahu’s instructions, the negotiators cannot meet without Molcho being present. A close personal confidante of the prime minister, who also serves as Netanyahu’s family attorney, Molcho has served as Netanyahu’s chief peace negotiator for many years, managing his contacts with Yasser Arafat during his first government in the 1990s, and again with Abbas since 2010.

DORE GOLD, SENIOR ADVISOR ON POLITICAL ISSUES: “Dore Gold…has a similarly long relationship with the prime minister, having served as a peace negotiator alongside Molcho in 1996-7, and then spending much of Netanyahu’s first term, from 1997 to 1999, as Israel’s ambassador to the UN. An outspoken activist — Gold has published three books in recent years about the radical ideology of the Saudi state, Iran’s nuclear drive and the future of Jerusalem — Gold has served as president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative policy think tank in Jerusalem, since his retirement from public service. Last month, it was announced that Gold would return to Netanyahu’s side as an external adviser. While Netanyahu has emphatically placed the peace talks in the hands of Molcho, US-born Gold’s experience at the UN and other international forums, his expertise in Middle East politics (he holds a PhD on the subject from Columbia University) and his knowledge of the United States suggest he will likely fill part of the role left vacant by the departed Dermer.”


Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Israel’s Prime Minister wishes Christians a “Merry Christmas” from snowy Jerusalem.

Israel's Prime Minister wishes "Merry Christmas" to Christians around the world.

Israel’s Prime Minister wishes “Merry Christmas” to Christians around the world.

From the City of Peace, Jerusalem, I extend the warmest Christmas greetings to all of you — Merry Christmas!” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a short holiday video released on YouTube today.

Speaking to Christians in Israel and around the world, Netanyahu said, “We celebrate Christmas with you, we know the importance you attach to our common heritage, to the State of Israel, and to the city of Jerusalem, where so much of our common history was forged.”

As I reported earlier, an estimated 75,000 Christian pilgrims are now in Israel to celebrate Christmas. Many will visit Bethlehem, especially tonight on Christmas Eve.

By the time the Christmas season is over, ”about two million people will have visited Bethlehem in 2013,” which Israeli tourism officials note is “almost double the 2012 figure of 1.18 million” people.

The Prime Minister’s warm relationship with the Christian world notwithstanding, Israelis have mixed views about celebrating Christmas. Many are deeply grateful for the friendship of the international Christian community and supportive of — or at the least tolerant of — the followers of Jesus in the epicenter. Others carry wounds from historical tensions between Christians and Jews and feel uncomfortable with displays of Christmas. In some cases, discussion of Christmas provokes political debates between Israelis and Palestinians. Here are a few articles and columns in recent days on the subject.


Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog