SHAME ON THE INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM COMMISSION
By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
On May 14, 2001, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (CIRF) issued an addendum to its annual report (http://www.uscirf.gov/reports/01May01/addendum_051501.pdf), which was released on May 1. The addendum is of interest because it includes Israel. Unfortunately the discussion of Israel is the work of a lone member of the commission, fighting a conspiracy of silence. To fully appreciate this disgraceful state of affairs, it is helpful to know the genesis of the commission.
CIRF is a product of the U.S. Congress. It was created in response to intense lobbying from Christian Evangelicals concerned about restrictions on proslytization, especially in Muslim countries, in coordination with a coalition of ex-cold warriors and Zionists seeking a tool to use against China and the Muslim world, whose potential alliance is a new threat against which Samuel Huntington warned in his infamous article in Foreign Affairs. CIRF issues an annual report in May, which should not be confused (although it often is) with the somewhat more balanced annual report issued in September by the U.S. Dept. of State.
An effort by Muslims at the time of CIRF’s creation to make sure a Muslim was appointed to the commission resulted in the appointment of Dr. Laila Al-Maryati to the commission. Dr. Al-Maryati, the only American-Muslim in Hilary Clinton’s delegation to the International Women’s Conference in Beijing, and had previously served on the State Dept.’s Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, survived a Zionist smear campaign that sought to remove her from CIRF and she remains the only Muslim on the commission.
The arguments used against this Palestinian-American women at the time, accusing her of being an extremist, were absurd and, al-hamdullilah, did not prevail. The real reason for the Zionists’ frenzy now is apparent in her contribution to the addendum to this year’s CIRF report. A delegation from the commission traveled to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel. That their reports on the status of religious freedom in these three close American allies were placed in an appendix to the main report makes manifest one aspect of the double standard: Support America’s geopolitical ambitions and your faults will stay our of the main ring in the circus. But ii is clear that in the case of Israel the commissioners, save Dr. Al-Maryati, didn’t want the persecution of Muslim and Christian Palestinians exposed at all, not even in a sideshow. As Dr. Maryati states in the opening paragraph of her dissent, “The Commission decided that no statement should be issued regarding Israel and the Occupied Territories.”
The commission’s professed reason for its silence is the “complexity of the situation” and “differences of opinion.” Yet the commission does not hesitate to give Sudan prime place in its analyses, despite a situation even more complex due to the complications of tribal factors in their ongoing civil war. As for the “differences of opinion,” let’s face the facts. The differences of opinion are really disagreements about whether or not Isarel should be held to the same standard as other countries. Neither the Zionists, who have no quarrel with the philosophy of Jewish Supremacy at the heart of Israel’s apartheid system, nor the Evangelicals, who see Israel as having a special divinely ordained place in the historical approach to a millennial apocalypse, have any reason to hold Israel to the same standard as other countries the conceive denied Israel’s special status.
As for the report itself, Dr. Maryati has not abused the special status that her position as sole author of the dissent might have conferred upon her. She has restricted her observations to issues actually covered during the trip, pre-trip discussions, and the State Department’s annual report. Thus, many well-documented violations (including the Israeli torture of American citizens) are absent from her report. The members of the commission who visited Israel were under constraints putatively due to increased terrorism and the Israeli bombardment of the Occupied Territories. This prevented them from visiting the Occupied Territories and prevented some potential witnesses from traveling to them as well. Despite these constraints, Dr. Maryati has presented a concise but systematic presentation of such issues as can be understood from the these limited sources. She divides the discussion into two parts: (1) status of citizens of Israel and (2) conditions faced by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem).
Within Israel, there is de jure and de facto discrimination among the Jews themselves. For Muslims and Christians, the situation is even worse as they are considered non-nationals. In addition to discrimination in government funding of maintenance of holy places against them, permission for private restoration of such sites is routinely refused. The Law of Return which grants automatic right to citizenship of Jews born anywhere in the world at the same time denies Palestinians who expelled from their homes in Palestine in 1948 or 1967 any right to return at all for no other reason than they are not Jewish. An issue that is of grave concern to Evangelicals as far as Muslim countries are concerned, legal and other barriers to proslytism exist in Israel. Although Dr. Al-Maryati observes that the law in Israel does not seem to be enforced, it is nonetheless the case that harassment and occasional assault of missionaries has, at least until recently, gone unprosecuted. Dr. Al-Maryati adds that a “significant number of Christians and Muslims with whom the Commission delegation met described the dispute” over the new mosque in Nazereth “as being exploited by the Israeli government actions in which religion is being exploited as a source of division between Muslims and Christians.”
Of course, the situation in the Occupied Territories is even worse. In East Jerusalem Christians and Muslims are denied building permits for property they own, are subject to house demolitions, and are in constant jeopardy of having their “permanent resident” status revoked. Yet, the acquisition of property by Israeli Jews is unimpeded (indeed facilitated) even in the Muslim and Christian quarters while Muslims and Christians are prevented from taking up residence in the Jewish quarter. Closure is systematically used to deny Muslims and Christians access to their holy places and Christian clergy are prevented from reaching their parishioners. The impoverishing effects of closure are resulting in the closing of religious schools as parents are unable to afford tuition. Since October of 2000, all Muslim men under 45 are prohibited from worshipping at the Haram ash-Sharif on Fridays.
There are some additional concerns expressed by Dr. Al-Maryati. Since October, 2000, few if any arrests have been made in connection with attacks on Christian and Muslim holy sites, and the Israeli military itself has “engaged in violence against holy sites.”
her conclusion, Dr. Al-Maryati makes eight common sense
which the U.S. government could urge Israel to obey
international law and end
religious discrimination. That
members of the commission should hesitate to be a party to this
for tolerance and rule of law should forever be a source of
shame to the Commission
and to the Congress that created it.
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