The Catholic Near East Welfare Agency, a Papal charity that helps beleaguered Christian populations in the Middle East, is not being honest with its donors and the general public. It is misinforming its donors and the public in a report titled Middle East Christians On the Move.
Two Big Problems
The report claims to provide information about Christian populations in various countries in the region. In particular, the report obscures two important facts about Christian populations in the Middle East.
The first important fact about Christians in the Middle East that the CNEWA report obscures is that Israel is the one country in the region where the indigenous population of Christians has increased in recent decades.
CNEWA obscures this reality with a graphic that declares Israel's Christian population has declined by 50 percent since the 1940s. By picking the 1940s as the starting point for this comparison, CNEWA included the impact the War for Independence on Israel's Christian population, thus obscuring the dramatic increase in this population since 1948.
Here is the graphic in question:
This graphic obscures another reality. The Christian population in Israel now matches or exceeds what it was in the 1940s. According to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, there were approximately 136,000 Christians in Palestine at the end of 1944
According to CNEWA's own numbers (see below), there are approximately 170,000 Christians living in Israel today, and Israeli figures indicate that approximately 130,000 of these Christians are Arab Christians living in Israel. In other words, there are more Christians living in Israel today than there were in the 1940s, prior to the War for Independence. Moreover, the indigenous Christian population has recovered to close to what it was in the 1940s. As humiliating as it may be for CNEWA to accept, Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel has proven to be beneficial for Christians living in the Holy Land.
The second important fact about Christians in the Middle East that CNEWA obscures is that more than 1 million Christians have been driven from their homes in Iraq since the ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by U.S. forces in 2003. Instead communicating the reality of this decline to CNEWA donors, the text associated with the graphic reports that 50,000 Christians have left the country since 2014.
Here is the graphic in question:
After comparing the two graphics shown above, the question is obvious: If CNEWA is going to factor Israel's War for Independence which took place almost 70 years ago into its story about Christians in Israel, then why did it omit the impact of the U.S. invasion of Iraq which took place only 14 years ago on Christians in that country?
To be fair, viewers who read the report closely will learn more about the ongoing catastrophe and the departure of approximately 1 million Christians from the country since 2003.
But the problem remains: In its report, CNEWA is clearly attempting to downplay the number of Christians who have been driven from Iraq since 2003 while at the same time obscuring a dramatic increase in Israel's indigenous Christian population since 1948.
CNEWA did not play it straight.
Producing a text with graphic images that obscure the increase in Christian population in Israel since 1948 and which downplay the 1 million-plus decrease of the Christian population in Iraq since 2003 is an egregious distortion of reality.
CNEWA's report about Christian populations in the Middle East comprises an interactive map of countries and territories in the region. Viewers can click on the name of a country or territory to see more information about the population of Christians in that country. Here is a screenshot of the website's title page:
Major Decline Vs. In Flux
The CNEWA website divides the countries in the region into two categories countries where the population of Christians is in Major Decline and areas where the Christian population is In Flux. Here is the relevant graphic:
According to CNEWA, the countries that are in Major Decline are Iraq and Syria. The places In Flux are Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Palestine.
Readers will note that the CNEWA report separates Israel from its capital, Jerusalem, and designates the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a state (Palestine), which does not in fact exist.
These editorial decisions are in line with a lingering belief in some quarters that Jerusalem should be a corpus separatum a separate international entity (and not controlled by any particular country, Israel especially) and Vatican policy affirming the Palestinian's desire for self-determination.
The phrase Major Decline is self-explanatory, but the phrase In Flux actually obscures more than it communicates.
With the phrase In Flux CNEWA is conveying the notion that the Christian populations in these areas is subject to uncertainty, change and fluidity. (Flux is derived from its Latin root fluere which means to flow.)
In light of the circumstances facing Christians in the Middle East CNEWA is using the phrase In Flux to convey the notion that while Christian populations in these areas are not on the verge of impending collapse, there is some degree of risk associated with these communities.
Israel's Christians In Flux?
Putting Israel into the category of In Flux as CNEWA has done, suggests that the future of Christians in the Jewish state is uncertain or in doubt, just as it is in other countries of the Middle East. This is simply false.
As the numbers will reveal below, the indigenous population of Christians in Israel has increased by close to 300 percent since 1948. On average, Christians enjoy higher levels of education than Israel's Jews. Christians are not leaving Israel like they are other countries in the region. That's not a community that is in flux.
If CNEWA wanted to accurately convey to its donors and supporters the status of Israel's Christian population, it would have established a third category for countries where the population of Christians is growing in number something like On the Rise, Growing or even Stable.
But that's not what CNEWA did. Instead, it lumped Israel into the In Flux category along with Egypt, a country where Christians who serve in the army have been murdered by their fellow enlistees (with the connivance of their superior officers), church-goers are massacred and churches themselves are subject to regular bomb attacks. Here is what CNEWA says about Egypt:
Just a few years ago, Islamic extremists burned down an estimated 76 churches around the country, and Christian institutions have struggled to rebuild and retain their foothold. The upheaval has prompted some Christians simply to pull up stakes and move, with a growing number of Copts emigrating to the United States and Canada.
Putting Israel's Christian population in the same In Flux category as Christians in Egypt is profoundly deceptive.
Total Percentage Versus Absolute Numbers
Anti-Israel propagandists oftentimes attempt to portray Israel as a bad place for Christians by highlighting the decline of Christians as a percentage of the overall population of the Jewish state while omitting numbers that reveal a substantial increase in the number of Christians in absolute terms.
The Associated Press fell for this strategy in 2015, which has been used by Sojourners in 2013, by National Geographic in 2009, and by 60 Minutes in a notoriously dishonest segment it broadcast in 2012.
Sadly, CNEWA has done the same thing. The text of the report's entry on Israel states that when the Jewish state was founded in 1948 Christians numbered almost 20 percent of the population but that the War for Independence caused many Christians to flee. Today, the report states, Christians comprise a small minority, estimated to count for 2.4 percent of the population or roughly 170,000 people.
By reporting solely on the percentage of Christians in Israel's population, CNEWA's report obscures the increase absolute numbers of Israel's population. In 1949, there were approximately 34,000 Christians in the Jewish state, the vast majority of whom were Arabs. Today there are more than 130,000 Arab Christians living in Israel. That's an increase of 282 percent. That's a remarkable increase that CNEWA should have reported to its donors.
Interestingly enough, viewers who look at the hard-to-read data sheet included in the report will find that CNEWA's own numbers reveal that there has been an increase in the population of Christians in Israel.
In 2010, CNEWA reports that there were 145,000 Christians in Israel and that in 2016, there were 170,000. That's a 17 percent increase that clearly should have been highlighted to CNEWA donors. It's not something they should have to dig around for.
The report's page on Jerusalem is also marred by an attempt to obscure what is actually happening with the Christian population in that city. This page states that The Christian population has been dwindling for decades and then quotes Rev. Dr. Neuhaus, a Jesuit Priest with anti-Zionist proclivities, who declares that despite an overall slight increase in the number of Christians from year to year, there is a significant decrease in their proportion in the overall population.
This decrease in the proportion of Christians living in Jerusalem is the result of substantial increases in the Jewish and Muslim populations in that city, a fact that is obliquely acknowledged by Father Neuhaus who reports, Christians also have smaller families than both Muslims and Jews.
CNEWA's use of the word dwindling to describe the population of Christians in Jerusalem is contradicted by the statistics included in the report. According to the CNEWA statistics in the previously mentioned in the hard-to-read data sheet, there were 12,750 Christians living in Jerusalem in 2010 and in 2016, there were 15,580 Christians living in the city. That's a 22 percent increase, which cannot honestly be described as dwindling.
The sad truth about CNEWA's report is that it authors tried to lump Israel, the one country in the Middle East where the indigenous population of Christians is growing, into a larger narrative of decline and catastrophe for Christianity in the Middle East.
This is not fair, it's not honest, nor is it excusable.