Analysis from Israel

The recent wave of deadly attacks on Iraqi Christians must have cast a pall over Christmas celebrations worldwide this year. But one can’t help wondering whether it also prompted any soul-searching at the Vatican.

After all, it was just two months ago that a synod of Middle East bishops proclaimed Israel the main source of Middle East Christians’ woes. As the Jerusalem Post reported, it “blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for spurring the flight of Christians from the Middle East” and “laid much of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel.” The synod’s president, Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, even implied that Jews had no right to a state here at all and that Israel should be eradicated through the “return” of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees. And though the Vatican disavowed that comment, Pope Benedict XVI also said that Middle East peace – a term usually synonymous with “Israeli-Arab peace” – was the best way to halt Christian emigration.

In reality, of course, the plight of Palestinian Christians pales beside that of their Iraqi brethren. More than half of Iraq’s Christians – hundreds of thousands in all – have fled their country since 2003, after being targeted in numerous deadly attacks. And not even Al-Qaida has tried to link these attacks to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, though it’s not shy about inventing “justifications”: For instance, it deemed October’s bloody siege at a Baghdad church retaliation for an alleged offense by Egypt’s Coptic Church.

Compare this to the booming business scene in Bethlehem, where tourism is up 60 percent over 2009 despite Israeli “oppression.” One astute Palestinian businessman attributed the boom to the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to reduce violence – a tacit (and correct) acknowledgement that what previously destroyed the PA’s economy was not Israel, but Palestinian terror. Or compare Iraq’s Christian crisis to the fivefold increase in Israel’s Christian population, from 34,000 in 1949 to 152,000 in 2009.

This month, the New York Times reported that many fleeing Iraqi Christians “evoked the mass departure of Iraq’s Jews” after Israel’s establishment in 1948.

“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said Nassir Sharhoom, 47, who fled last month to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, with his family from Dora, a once mixed neighborhood in Baghdad. “They want us all to go.”

It’s eerily reminiscent of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous statement about the Nazis: “They came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me. And by that time, there was no one left to speak for me.”

But there’s one crucial difference. The Church, as the synod statement shows, isn’t merely remaining silent; it’s actively speaking out against the Jews – and thereby collaborating with its own enemies, the radical Islamists.

It evidently hopes to thereby turn the Islamists’ wrath away from Christians. But as the recent attacks show, appeasement hasn’t worked.

So perhaps it’s time for the Church to learn from its mistakes in World War II and instead try speaking out against its true enemies – the radical Islamists who seek to cleanse the Middle East of both Jews and Christians.

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Why equality doesn’t belong in the nation-state law

Ever since Israel’s nation-state law was enacted in July, one constant refrain has sounded: The law should have included a provision guaranteeing equality to all Israelis. It’s not only the law’s opponents who say this; so do many of its supporters, liberals and conservatives alike. But they are wrong.

Adding a provision about equality to the nation-state law sounds innocuous because civic and political equality is already implicitly guaranteed through the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Basic Laws are Israel’s closest approximation to constitutional legislation, and the 1992 law, which protects the “dignity of any person as such,” has been consistently interpreted by the courts as enshrining equality on the grounds that discrimination violates a person’s dignity. So what harm could it do to offer an explicit guarantee in the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People?

The answer is that doing so would elevate Israel’s democratic character above its Jewish one. And that would negate the entire purpose of the nation-state law, which was to restore Israel’s Jewish character to parity with its democratic one—not superiority, but merely parity.

To understand why this is so, it’s first necessary to understand why adding an equality provision would violate basic constitutional logic. This argument was cogently made from the liberal side of the political spectrum by Haim Ramon, a former senior Labor Party Knesset member and former justice minister. Writing in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition last month, Ramon argued that if anyone thinks equality isn’t sufficiently protected by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, they should work to amend that law rather than the nation-state law, as the former is where any provision on equality belongs.

This isn’t mere semantic quibbling. A constitution, being a country’s supreme instrument of governance, isn’t supposed to be a jumble of random provisions thrown together with no more thought than a monkey sitting at a keyboard might provide; it’s supposed to be a carefully crafted document. That’s why constitutions typically group all provisions relating to a given topic into a single article or chapter. Each article has equal status; none is more or less important than the others. And together, they create a comprehensive document that addresses all the basic questions of governance.

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