A yearly Christian festival has come in for criticism to the extent that Greenbelt felt compelled to put out a Statement on Israel/Palestine programming by Greenbelt. Whilst there is the broader question of, whether or not Westerners should be interfering in the Middle East, there should be no circumscription on criticising the human-rights record of any governments. Any.
There is much to criticise in the Middle East and the Israeli government is not immune from it. The continued occupation in the West Bank. The treatment of immigrants to Israel and the rise of right-wing racist ideas. However, we must not forget that it has been Israelis at the very forefront of these issues and opposing their own government. That opposition takes various forms from the human-rights organisations, such as B’Tselem to Rabbis For Human Rights and beyond.
Where it is, Syria?
Except that Israel is not the only country in the Middle East.
Nor is it the only one connected to the Christian faith and therefore of interest to many Westerners or festivalgoers at Greenbelt.
I could not help notice a strange omission from the festival programme, any mention of Syria. Whilst it has slid down the news agenda, the 2½ year conflict involves many millions, with probably over 120,000 dead, millions of refugees flooding into neighbouring countries and should deserve at least one word of commentary. I thought it was a peculiar oversight, but then, is it?
I wondered, could it be that those fixated with Israeli misdemeanours give the rulers of Syria an easy time? There is one whole article on the Greenbelt site relating to Syria, whereas the search result on “Israel” amount to 7 pages of searches, 63 entries.
The hypothesis, that strident and negative views on Israel would lead to a bias in reporting of the Middle East needed testing, the question was how?
Well, I supposed that choosing the most strident Christian critics of the Israelis I could think of might prove illuminating. Surely, I reasoned, they could not fail to indict Bashar Assad for instigating the conflict in Syria? Or using tank shells and aircraft on unarmed civilians?
All of this did not happened overnight. The conflict started in March 2011 when the Syrian government decided to shoot peaceful demonstrators. The Western media begun to document the abuse by the Assad regime, including disappearances and regular use of torture.
I thought that even the harshest adversary of the Israelis would not be so lopsided as to moderate their acerbic attitudes when it came to the quasi-dictatorship in Syria.
British Christian Critics of Israel
Two names sprang to mind, Rev. Stephen Sizer and his friend, Jeremy Moodey. They are fierce analysts of the Middle East, and particularly when Israelis come into the picture. I have dealt with them before.
Still, it seemed to me unlikely that they would neglect censuring Assad’s regime.
Fortunately, examining that hypothesis was made easier, as Rev. Sizer and Jeremy Moodey’s writings are scattered across the Internet.
The former has a few scattered references to Syria. Google could not find any disapproval of Assad, it revealed numerous testimonials, certifying that Rev. Sizer is most certainly not antisemitic in anyway. Bizarrely, over 42 endorsements. A touch narcissistic for my taste, but I am sure he has his reasons.
Applying Google’s search engines to his latter blog with all of their unrestrained power was slightly more successful, but Google was unable to find a single word of rebuke against the Syrian government from Dr. Sizer. It is possible that Google missed it.
Next, I thought a numerical analysis would take out any potential sampling bias. The past 38 posts on Rev. Sizer’s blog: two cover Syria. In the same period, back to the 19th of July, there were some 6+ posts relating to Israel, a few relating to photography, some on Iran and an abundance of testimonials
Overall, not one expression of admonishment for Bashar Assad, in presiding over 2½ years of slaughter. In the past few years Rev. Sizer has unrelentingly poured scorn on Israelis, yet can’t manage a solitary utterance against Bashar Assad.
Embrace And The Occupation
Thankfully the charity of which Jeremy Moodey is CEO, Embrace, made up some of the deficit. More recently and commendably they have raised money for Syrian refugees. Its blog has very compassionate accounts of Syrians’ suffering. Its Facebook page contains a few mentions of Syria.
Moodey is careful to remind us of fuelling the conflict in Syria. However, he seems to neglect Russia and China’s role in obstructing the UN attempts at finding peace. Starkly missing in those blog entries is criticism of foreign intervention from Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary guard, an unusual blunder as Moodey is an expert on foreign policy. It is merely seen as an extension of the Great Game, worthy of comment but no significant reproach.
Embrace were innovative as ever, even developed a game called Occupation, which is given a prominent position on their web site.
Nevertheless, I would have been more impressed if they had made one, even a solitary condemnation, of the Assad regime. No need to invent a game called Slaughter, as Assad’s government has been doing that for over 2½ years, a fact which seems to have eluded the inventors at Embrace.
Pondering The Evidence
A true interest in the Middle East or Holy Land means questioning all forms of abuse, including that of the Assad regime, not just muttering a few words and then moving on, as I found in my unscientific research. I have no problem with any government being criticised for human rights abuses, that includes the United Kingdom, Australia or the Israeli government, etc.
However, to neglect the human rights of the Palestinians merely because the attacker is not Israeli is more than negligence. NB: the largest number of Palestinian deaths in the past 2+ years has been in Syria.
That said, it is not terribly surprising that Bashar Assad has escaped criticism from various partisan evangelical Christians in Britain, their focus is elsewhere. The evidence suggests a political form of obsessive compulsive disorder and a serious lack of empathy, which does tend to confirm my original hypothesis.
Far better that Christians and other activists reflect on the fact that there are over 20 countries in the Middle East, not just one.
I would like to think that these views and omissions are confined to a minority of Christians. I am left with the feeling that interest in the Palestinians depends on who is abusing them, not the intrinsic nature of the abuse.
In short, it is perfectly justifiable for Western Christians to be interested in the Middle East. However, their vistas should not consist of one country, Israel and its near neighbours, the Palestinians. To do so suggests an unforgivable myopia. Criticising the Israeli government is perfectly acceptable, but neglecting to utter a word against the Assad regime is unconscionable.
I wonder if Christians at Greenbelt will ask why that happens? Or has the last 2½ years of slaughter in Syria passed them by?
Update 1: Martin in the Margins previously commented on Greenbelt:
“You’d search in vain on the Greenbelt website for any suggestion that there might be other causes for the sufferings of the Palestinian people, besides the perfidious actions of the despised state of Israel. You’ll find no reference to the failure of Arab states to provide homes for Palestinian refugees or to support the development of a Palestinian state, or to the Islamist takeover of Gaza by Hamas and its increasingly repressive restrictions on the lives of the local population, not to mention its refusal to allow supplies to cross from Israel, even from the Islamist-infiltrated flotilla. Nor will you find any mention of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and uprooting of thousands of its settlers, which has produced not an iota of compromise from Hamas, but instead has been followed by deadly rockets targeted at civilians in towns such as Sderot. “
Update 2: The above is only a sampling of two distracted individuals. I wondered if the hypothesis could be applied to another obsessive Christian, Ben White?
White’s work is freely available on the Internet and seemed a good choice for sampling. Although some years back he said he could understand antisemitism hopefully the passage of time have moderated White’s pungent views.
It seemed unlikely that White would miss thrashing Assad for the slaughter of Syrian civilians, after all his bio suggests a wider expertise in the Middle East:
“Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. He has been visiting the region since 2003 and his articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian’s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, New Statesman, Salon, Christian Science Monitor, Middle East International, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and others. “
Liberal Conspiracy keep a selection of White’s writing, which are a fair sample to use.
Of some 19 blog posts at Liberal Conspiracy going back to February 2009, some 8+ are expressly on Israel, about another five on Palestinians and Gaza, few on his vendetta with the Jewish Chronicle, two on anti-Muslim themes, a couple slating political opponents on the Left and a Tory, and another defending himself.
However, I could not find any criticism of Assad or the Syrian regime.
I am sure that he must have written them elsewhere, as White is prolific on the Middle East. Assuredly he could not have missed off skewering the Syrian government for the killing civilians?
Remember, White has criticised his political opponents for doing much less.
Update 3: Jeremy Moodey has post his reply, Embrace at Greenbelt 2013.
Update 4: I thought it best to restate the hypothesis to clear up any potential misunderstanding or misreading. It is fairly simple there are two parts:
1. That strident and negative views on Israel would lead to a bias in reporting of the Middle East.
2. That such a bias would largely manifest itself in an inability to criticise Bashar Assad or his regime over the slaughter of civilians in Syria in the past two plus years.
This hypothesis is independent of the author (me). It can be independently verified using pronouncements and material found on social media, Twitter, blogs, etc as sampling material.
It does not assume that all of those sampled will comply with the hypothesis 100%, more likely to be about 80%+ of cases