Vice President Mike Pence’s recent visit to Jerusalem provided an opportunity for the anti-Israel Christians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to run for the cameras and tell everyone how bad Israel is.
In a now all-too-predictable turn of events, a Christian “leader” who has little, if any influence on life in Palestinian society, was recently portrayed as a credible source of information about the Arab-Israeli conflict by journalists in the United States.
The Christian in question is the former Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, who has made a career of demonizing Israel and downplaying Muslim violence against Israel — and Christians. In a segment that aired on Monday January 22, 2018, he told a reporter, “Our fear is not from our people, from Muslims,” Sabbah said. “Our fear is from America.”
H.B. Sabbah’s message fit in neatly with the thrust of CNN reporter Ian Lee’s report — that “U.S. foreign policy is hurting the local Christian community” in the Holy Land. The problem for that narrative is that Israel’s local Christian population has increased from 34,000 in 1949 to 130,000 today, an increase of 282 percent.
This increase did not stop H.B. Sabbah from chiding the U.S. for its support of Israel, declaring that it is bad for Palestinian Christians. “American policy must change in the Middle East,” he told CNN. “If truly the American administration is Christian, go back to the commandment of love. You love Israel. That’s very good. But you [should also] love the Palestinians if you’re Christian. Jesus said, love everyone.”
It is hard to believe that after recent events, Christians in the Middle East fear American policy more than they do the prospect of jihadist violence, but His Beatitude Sabbah is a former Catholic Patriarch — in Jerusalem no less — so who are outsiders to argue?
And not only is he the former Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, H.B. Sabbah served as International President of Pax Christi, a Catholic charity organization for eight years, from 1999 to 2007. (The fact that he was able to hold onto this position in light of what he said during the Second Intifada — documented below — is a shock.)
The problem is that Sabbah is simply not the type of person CNN should rely on as a source for information about the Middle East.
It going to be hard for some people to believe, but His Beatitude Michel Sabbah is an inveterate propagandist who has regularly shilled for the PLO and demonized Israel.
Sabbah has downplayed the horror of Palestinian terrorism, defended suicide bombings, denied centuries of persecution of Christians in Arab countries, suggested that jihad is somehow compatible with the teachings of Jesus Christ and has even defended Hamas.
He did most of these things in an interview with Newsweek in December 2002, when Israeli civilians were getting killed by Palestinian suicide bombers on a regular basis.
During this interview, Sabbah was reminded by Newsweek correspondent Alessandra Borghese that the Israelis were “overwhelmed by continuing acts of terrorism.” Sabbah’s response is appalling:
Under attack, by whom? Israel occupies and attacks someone else’s land and finds resistance. Israel is not being attacked. When Israel ceases to attack and to occupy [the Palestinian territories], they won’t suffer any further counterattacks. If Israel wants to end violence, it only needs to end occupation. I’m 200 percent certain of this, and I’ve said it many times. (Emphasis added.)
The problem is that when Israel withdraws from territory in the Middle East, it is used as a staging ground for further attacks. This was proven by Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which resulted in increased rocket attacks in the years ahead.
And instead of condemning suicide bombings as the abomination that they are, he punted. In the interview, His Beattitude was asked if he saw suicide bombers — who killed hundreds of civilians during the Second Intifada — as “true martyrs.” His response was evasive and cowardly:
According to Islam, they are. It’s necessary to treat each one according to his own principles. As Muslims see it, suicide bombers are giving their lives for their country, to gain their liberty. As a Christian, suicide is not permissible in any case, even for your country. You may not kill yourself.
Sabbah was asked as one of the leading Catholic figures in Jerusalem if suicide bombers were true witnesses to faith.
Instead of responding with the horror that the murder of civilians would demand of a Catholic theologian, His Beatitude Sabbah punted in an outrageous manner by merely condemning suicide — but not the murder of civilians.
By declaring that the Israelis were not under attack by the Palestinians and by failing to condemn the murder of civilians perpetrated by suicide bombers, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah effectively put an asterisk next to the Sixth of the 10 Commandments that declares “Thou Shall Not Murder.” And this asterisk leads readers to a footnote at the bottom of the page that reads something like: “Except those damn Israelis!”
In this same interview, Sabbah declared that there had been no persecution of Christians in Arab countries, declaring “In Arab countries there is no persecution of Christians. I don’t speak of Pakistan, but in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon—no. Historically, there have been some massacres, beginning when Europe entered the Middle East.”
This is a profoundly deceptive statement on Sabbah’s part.
As this list of attacks on Copts in Egypt indicates, the oppression of Christians in Egypt, an Arab country, was a huge problem before Sabbah’s 2002 interview with Newsweek.
Moreover, during Lebanon’s civil war, hundreds of Christians were murdered by Yassir Arafat’s PLO in the city of Damour in 1976. Writing in Arutz Sheva in 2002, Murray Kahl provided some detail:
Before the arrival of the PLO, [Damour] was a town of some 25,000 people, with five churches, three chapels, seven schools, both private and public, and one public hospital, where Muslims from nearby villages were treated along with the Christians, at the expense of the town.On 9 January 1976, the priest of Damour, Father Mansour Labaky, was carrying out a Maronite (Roman Catholics [sic]) custom of blessing the houses with holy water when a bullet whistled past his ear and hit one of the houses. He soon learned that the town was surrounded by the forces of Sa’iqa, a PLO terrorist group affiliated with Syria. The shooting and shelling continued all day. When Father Labaky telephoned a local Muslim sheikh and asked him, as a fellow religious leader, what he could do to help the people of the town, the sheikh replied, “I can do nothing. They want to harm you. It is the Palestinians. I cannot stop them.” Other Lebanese politicians, of both the Left and the Right, proved equally unhelpful, offering only apologies and commiserations. Kamal Jumblatt, in whose parliamentary constituency Damour lay, told Labaky, “Father, I can do nothing for you, because it depends on Yasser Arafat.” The Maronite priest then called Arafat’s headquarters, but was deferred to a subordinate, who told him “Father, don’t worry. We don’t want to harm you. If we are destroying you it is for strategic reasons.”
Despite the pleas, the violence continued against the Christians of Damour. Labaky described the final attack that took place on January 23, 1976:
It was an apocalypse. They were coming, thousands and thousands, shouting “Allahu Akbar! God is Great! Let us attack them for the Arabs, let us offer a holocaust.” They were slaughtering everyone in their path, men, women, and children. Whole families were killed in their homes. Many women were gang-raped, and few of them left alive afterwards.
Sabbah might argue that these outrages took place after Western imperialism disrupted life in the Middle East, but the fact, is, Arab Muslims were oppressing Christians in the Middle East before the Crusades which began in 1095. This oppression was one of the factors that contributed the Crusades.
This oppression, which has been well documented by numerous commentators — too many to count — explains why Christianity has largely disappeared from North Africa and declined so precipitously in the Middle East over the centuries.
Let’s face it. With his declaration that there was no persecution of Christians in Arab countries, H.B. Sabbah lied to his audience and left them ill-prepared for the anti-Christian genocide that was to come in the years after his 2002 interview with Newsweek.
H.B. Sabbah’s 2002 interview with Newsweek should have destroyed his credibility as an honest commentator on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but it didn’t.
More recently, in 2014, Sabbah gave another interview in which he declared that “in Gaza, Christians are protected by Hamas, so often presented as a terrorist organization.” Can His Beatitude call Hamas a terrorist organization or not?
Probably not, because it was responsible for many of the suicide attacks that he had a tough time condemning as murder in 2002.
And when it comes to Christians being “protected by Hamas” H.B. Sabbah appears to have forgotten the murder of Rami Ayyad, the manager of a Christian book store in Gaza in 2007. Was he protected by Hamas?
And while we’re at it, what about the forced conversion of Christians in the Gaza Strip that Reuters reported on in 2012, two years before he said declared that Hamas “protected” Christians in that area?
Despite his titles, Michel Sabbah is simply not a credible commentator on life in the Middle East. He says things that aren’t true and fails to condemn evil acts that any responsible Catholic leader would condemn unreservedly.
The problem is not just with CNN, but with Catholic leaders who failed to hold him to account over the years. The fact that he served seven years as International President of Pax Christi and as Patriarch of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem from 1987 to 2008 is, in light of his public statements, a shock.
Still, CNN did its viewers a disservice by portraying him as a credible source for their reporting.