Jesuit Magazine’s Reliance on CNS and Sudilovsky Reporting a Bad Thing

America Magazine, founded by the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits) in 1909, has been a persistent source of anti-Israel propaganda over the years. Under the leadership of Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J. in the early 2000s, the magazine was particularly hostile toward the Jewish state in the aftermath of the Second Intifada. During Christiansen’s tenure, the magazine regularly deployed a deceptive narrative and loaded language to encourage its readers to falsely conclude that the Jewish state was violating the Catholic Church’s Just War Doctrine.

It did this by publishing numerous articles that failed to address the reasons why Israel and the Palestinians used violence (jus ad bellum) and instead merely assessed how Israel (and not the Palestinians) used violence to achieve their goals (jus in bellum).

The magazine’s overarching narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict failed to acknowledge that while Israel had agreed to the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state, Palestinian elites demanded a state for their people while denying Jews the right of self-determination.

And even in its analysis of the jus in bellum issues, the magazine was particularly one-sided, failing to address Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties and Palestinian terrorists’ efforts to cause them.

Under Christiansen’s leadership, the magazine’s coverage of the conflict in the Holy Land was a disgrace. (For an in-depth analysis of the magazine’s coverage in the early years after the Second Intifada, please see this article published in 2007 by the now-defunct Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, on the Wayback Machine.)

Sadly, the magazine currently exhibits much of the same animosity toward Israel it showed under Fr. Christian’s leadership.

Part of the problem is that under its current editor, Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., the magazine relies extensively on reporting from the Catholic News Service, which has been a persistent source of anti-Israel bias over the years.

For example, one CNS article published in 2014 quoted Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem saying that rockets fired from Gaza “never killed one person,” without reporting that two Israelis were, in fact, killed by such rockets days before Twal made this false claim. To its credit, CNS did report on fatalities caused by Hamas rockets in a subsequent article, but never highlighted the dishonesty of Twal’s claim. In fact, numerous Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets since the beginning of the Second Intifada.

CNS also regularly passes on accusations against Israel leveled by religious leaders in Jerusalem and Christians in the West Bank without offering Israelis a chance to respond. Even if Israeli officials do not respond to CNS inquiries, there are many other people in Israeli public life that can be contacted to respond to calumnies directed at their country by folks interviewed by CNS. (The leaders in the Jerusalem and the Christians in the West Bank are rarely, if ever quoted offering any criticism of the Palestinian Authority, by the way.)

America’s reliance on Judith Sudilovsky’s reportage from the Holy Land is another factor contributing to the magazine’s anti-Israel bias. A regular contributor to CNS whose byline regularly appears in America Magazine, Sudilovsky has become a pipeline of anti-Israel propaganda.

Here is a sampling of problems with four of Sudilovsky’s articles recently published in America Magazine that demonstrate the author’s and the magazine’s bias.

  1. “The little town of Bethlehem is slowly getting smaller because of expanding Israeli settlements” – October 15, 2020 – Judith Sudilovsky

 As detailed here, this story falsely indicates that construction outside the city of Bethlehem somehow causes the city to shrink. It also refers to the impact of Israeli security measures on the city of Beit Jala without mentioning that buildings in this city were used as shelter by Palestinian snipers who fired into the homes of Israeli Jews living in the nearby neighborhood of Gilo. That’s a material omission.

There are some other problems with the story.

The article makes no mention of when the land in question was confiscated from Mr. Abu Eid. As it turns out, the land confiscation took place 15 years ago, in 2005.

Motorists on Route 60 in the West Bank are protected by a barrier that prevents sniper attacks. (Photo: Dexter Van Zile)

This was right after the end of the Second Intifada, which was marked by numerous terror attacks against Israeli civilians, including sniper attacks on Route 60 in the West Bank. These attacks prompted the construction of a wall surrounding the highway to protect Israeli motorists.

Predictably, the story omits any reference to the fact that the land was confiscated by the Israeli government to prevent terror attacks on motorists traveling on Route 60 in the West Bank.

Omitting the date of this confiscation, and the historical context of the confiscation in question, deprives readers of the context they need to judge the legitimacy of the action being highlighted.

The article omits that the military order that resulted in the confiscation of Mr. Abu Eid’s land, which can be found here, allowed for him to pursue compensation in Israeli courts. It states that, “the owners of the lands will be entitled to contact [Coordination and Liason Headquarters] Beit-Lehem to find out their eligibility for usage fees and compensation.”

So has Abu Eid been compensated or not?

Mr. Abu Eid has been brought forth before to condemn Israel in other articles, but none of these articles have ever reported whether he sought or obtained compensation from the Israeli government for the loss of his land.

As stated in the article linked above,

Sudilovsky doesn’t provide any dates about when Abu Eid’s land was confiscated, nor does she tell readers if he was compensated for the loss of his property. If Abu Eid had strong title to the land, he would very likely have been compensated, but if he had been compensated, it would undermine the premise of Sudilovsky’s story.

This raises a few questions. Was he or his family compensated for the loss of their land? Just what type of title did Abu Eid’s family have to the land? Were there any lawsuits regarding the confiscation?

These questions should have been reported already numerous times. When it comes to highlighting the tragedy of Palestinians losing their property as a result of Israeli security measures, Mr. Abu Eid appears to be the go-to guy to approach for personal narrative.

Sudilovsky interviewed him in this story published in 2015. There appear to be other articles about Mr. Abu Eid’s difficulties with owning property in the West Bank. See here, here, and here.

Clearly, some digging is required to get the full story, but for some reason, this digging hasn’t been done.

Readers who investigate the comments section underneath Sudilovsky’s article will see a complaint that she did not solicit comments from Muslims living in the West Bank.

In response, an editor from the magazine thanked the commenter and said he would keep this issue in mind, declaring, “Our best contacts in Palestinian community naturally are with Christians, but your point is well taken.”

The irony is that the article does not give Israelis a chance to respond to the issues Sudilovsky raised.

If she had, they might have said that the tunnel constructed on Abu Eid’s land will make it much easier for Palestinians living in Bethlehem and its suburbs of Beit Jalla and Beit Sahour to drive into the southern part of the West Bank.

Brian Schrauger, an American journalist affiliated with the USA Radio Network who lives in the Holy Land, explains that under current conditions, Palestinians living in these municipalities must drive through several back roads to get onto Route 60, which is regularly afflicted with terrible traffic jams as Israelis drive from their jobs in Jerusalem to their homes in the West Bank.

It’s also currently very difficult for Palestinians living in Bethlehem, Beit Jalla, and Beit Sahour to get on the road to go south.

“It’s making it easier for everybody to go south on route 60 without having to go through a checkpoint,” he says. “It will be a huge benefit for Palestinians. It’s going to make travel easier for everybody.”

Eminent domain is a reality in any country, but with her monomaniacal emphasis on Abu Eid’s 15-year-old loss of land, Sudilovsky is depriving her readers of the information they need to make reasonable judgements about the rights and wrongs of Israeli actions in the West Bank.

  1. Christian leaders: Israeli occupation of Palestine is cause of conflict – June 23, 2020 – Judith Sudilovsky

In this article, reprinted from the Catholic News Service, Sudilovsky reports that according to three religious leaders in Jerusalem, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is Israel’s fault. The first sentence of the article states, “the Israeli ‘military occupation of Palestine’ is the ‘root cause’ of the continuing Israel-Palestinian conflict, said three retired Christian leaders.”

The leaders who issued a statement to this effect are retired Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, retired Anglican Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, and retired Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan.

The article does not include a response from anyone who disagree with these statements. If Sudilovsky showed any curiosity, she might have found someone who would have told her readers that all three of the retired Bishops are well known propagandists against the Jewish state who have failed to offer even the softest word of criticism of the Palestinian Authority.

Patriarch Michel Sabbah, for example, has affirmed the Palestinian right of return, which would result in the destruction of Israel,  and has suggested that “jihad” is compatible with Christian teachings. He has also called for Israel to abandon its status as a Jewish state.

And Anglican Bishop Ria Abu El-Assal once falsely declared that 500 Palestinians were killed by Israel soldiers at Jenin, when in fact the true number of dead was much lower and many Israeli soldiers were killed during a gun battle with terrorists at this camp. This didn’t stop him from peddling the story of Jenin as the possible beginnings of a “Palestinian Holocaust.”

And for his part, while Munib Younan has not been as irresponsible in his commentary about Israel, he has been much more critical of Israel, its leaders, and its defenders than he has been of Arabs and Muslims and their leaders. Younan, who has been relatively quiet about the issue of incitement in Palestinian society, was quite vocal in his criticism of European cartoonists who drew pictures of Mohammed in the early 2000s, but has rarely if ever condemned antisemitic incitement in Palestinian media.

Was there no one in Israel that Sudilovsky could have contacted for a response or even to provide context to what the three clergy members said? 

It is irresponsible for Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service, and America to pass on such one-sided statements without scrutiny or context to their readers.

It’s dishonest.

  1. Church leaders oppose Israeli plans to annex unilaterally West Bank Land – May 12, 2020 – Judith Sudilovsky

In this article, Sudilovsky transmits complaints from Church leaders in Jerusalem about Israeli policy in the West Bank.

It reports that Heads of Holy Land Churches warned against “an array of plans for Israel to unilaterally annex West Bank land, backed mainly by right wing factions.” The Heads of Churches declared that the plan “raises serious and catastrophic questions about the feasibility of any peaceful agreement to end the decades long conflict.”

The Heads of Churches also called on the Palestinian Liberation Organization to “resolve all internal factional conflicts so it could present a united front ‘dedicated to achieving peace and the building of a viable state that is founded upon pluralism and democratic values.’”

What Sudilovsky obscures with her reporting is that this is a call for the PLO, which controls the West Bank, to achieve some sort of rapprochement with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Sudilovsky does not confront her readers with the contradiction in the Heads of Churches’ oblique call for the PLO to make peace with Hamas, an organization that oppresses Palestinians and seeks Israel’s destruction, as part of an effort to “achieve peace” and promote “pluralism and democratic values.”

Like the articles highlighted above, it provides the reader with no response from Israeli officials who could provide badly needed context to the annexation proposal. The Heads of Churches declare that the annexation plans are supported mainly by “right wing factions.”

The article does not report that that more than half the Israeli electorate supports annexation. A report from the Israeli Democracy Institute issued two days before Sudilovsky’s article was published states:

The Israeli Voice Index for April 2020, found that 52% of Jewish Israelis support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated policy of extending Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, however only 32% believes Israel will move forward with this in the coming year.

A responsible journalist might ask why more than 50 percent of the Israeli voting public supports a policy that the Heads of Churches have declared so catastrophic, but that question is left unaddressed. Instead, this majority is dismissed with the moniker of “right wing factions.” Because they are “right wingers,” their concerns don’t matter in the journalistic worldview propounded by CNS and America Magazine and their correspondent, Judith Sudilovsky, even if they represent a majority of Israeli voters.

Is there something about the “lived experience” of the Israelis that leads them to think that annexation is the way to go? Israelis attempted to negotiate with Yassir Arafat in the early 2000s and he said no to two peace offers, one from Ehud Barak and the other from U.S. President Bill Clinton. (And Ehud Olmert made another offer in 2007 and never got a response from Mahmoud Abbas.)

The article also reports that the Israeli government approved a construction project near the West Bank Israeli settlement of Efrat. The project, which has been “under discussion for 20 years,” is called Givat Eitam. Sudilovsky’s readers might want to know that part of the recent impetus for the construction in Givat Eitam was the murder of Ari Fuld at the hands of a Palestinian teenager who stabbed him to death in 2018. The new construction was dedicated in his honor.

Maybe, just maybe, years of violence at the hands of Palestinian terrorists has inured the Israeli public against warnings of “catastrophe” from the Heads of Churches who have been so reluctant to condemn Palestinian violence even as they call on the PA to make peace with Hamas.

By omitting the context of Israeli “lived experience,” Sudilovsky is implicitly portraying Israeli Jews as obdurate, hard-headed, stiff-necked zealots who cannot receive instruction from Christian leaders in Jerusalem because of their hardness of hearts. This is not responsible journalism.

There’s more. In the article, Sudivlosky highlights controversy over Har Homa, a settlement in the West Bank. She reports that “Israel considers Har Homa neighborhood of Jerusalem, but Palestinians call it a settlement built on land belonging to Palestinians from the city of Beit Sahour.”

Israel took possession of the land comprising Har Homa in the mid-1990s. It was vacant. This CAMERA article published in 1997 provides important background about the land in question:

  1. The government acquired an area of 1850 dunams (about 460 acres) by eminent domain for the Har Homa project. Of this, 1400 dunams came from Jewish owners and 450 dunams from Arab owners. Among the parcels expropriated, the largest (almost 800 dunams, or about 43%) belonged to David Mir, who is Jewish.

  2. Much of the 1400 dunams owned by Jews was acquired prior to 1948. Following the 1948 War of Independence, in which Jordan occupied the West Bank and half of Jerusalem, the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property planted a pine forest at Har Homa to prevent misuse of the land by local Jordanian residents. Since 1967 that forest has been maintained by the Jewish National Fund.

  3. All the land in question is vacant, most of it forested. No homeowners, Jewish or Arab, will be displaced by the project.

  4. Although full compensation was offered, both Arab and Jewish owners contested the eminent domain order in court. The matter eventually reached the High Court, which denied the claims and ruled in favor of the government.

Instead of providing readers with even a few of these details, Sudilovsky reports on the site in a “he said/she said” manner.

If Sudilovsky had done some digging, she would have been able to tell readers that most of the land that comprises Har Homa was historically owned by Jews, undercutting Palestinian assertions that it was built on land “belonging to Beit Sehour.” Even the name of the Jordanian bureaucracy charged with managing the land (“Custodian of Enemy Property”) provides evidence that the land was owned by Jews.

4. Palestinians say Trump peace plan does not bode well for the future – February 4, 2020 – Judith Sudilovsky

This article, published soon after the Trump Administration issued its “Peace to Prosperity” Plan in January 2020 is, like Sudilovsky’s other articles, a one-sided analysis of the issue at hand.

The article highlights the testimony of three Palestinian Christians who are critical of Israel (but apparently have nothing to say about Palestinian elites and their role in the troubles faced by people living in the West Bank). And predictably, the article provides no opportunity for Israelis to speak.

In Sudilovsky’s reporting, the Trump plan, which explicitly affirms the Palestinian right to self-determination, is given very vague treatment. Her angle is that the plan is bad for the Palestinians because it will result in “more checkpoints and more settlements would be built around Aboud, making daily life even more of a struggle.”

Sudilovsky reports that the plan will “recognize Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank settlements, creating Israeli enclave communities in the heart of the West Bank while promising the possibility of a future independent Palestinian state under certain conditions.”

The article offers no details about these conditions, which include demands that Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine disarm and stop terror attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip, and that the Palestinian Authority engage in a Western-funded campaign to reduce corruption and end anti-Israel incitement.

If Sudilovsky had included these conditions, it would provide some detail as to the role Palestinian leaders play in fomenting violence in the Holy Land.

The Trump Administration’s Peace to Prosperity Plan includes some information about the “lived experience” endured by the Israelis that Sudilovsky  omitted from her reporting. It declares, for example, “Israel has also had the bitter experience of withdrawing from territories that were then used to launch attacks against it.”

Moreover, Sudilovsky offered no details about what the plan would offer Palestinians if they agreed to a peace deal with the Israelis. These benefits include substantial aid from the U.S. to improve the Palestinian court system and help improve revenue collection on the part of the Palestinian Authority, the establishment of a land ownership database, the provision of technical and vocational training, and funds to promote scientific research in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields in the future state of Palestine.

Instead, Sudilovsky acts as a stenographer for Palestinian Authority talking points as to why the plan is no good.

For example, she quotes Boutrous Fawadleh, an English Teacher at the Latin Patriarch school in Aboud, extensively. Here are his quotes:

  • “We’d like to have a better future for our children, but I am afraid for the future.”
  • “What kind of life will it be for them?” (Speaking of his children.)
  • “Before we had hopes, now we have no hopes. Even before this plan, people were suffering; with these measures there will be more checkpoints, more Israeli presence, more settlements.”

Nowhere are any of the Palestinian Christians who condemn the Trump plan asked to respond to the specific benefits offered to the Palestinian Authority, nor are they asked to comment on the role Palestinian elites have played on fomenting hostility toward Israel.

This is not reporting or analysis. It is propagandizing.