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NY Times Skews the News on Christian Decline in the Mideast

ICC Note

The growth of radical Islam in the Middle East is fueling persecution of Christians in the region. Millions of Christians have been leaving the region due to the persecution.

05/17/2009 Islam ( Benedict XVI’s journey through Jordan , Israel and the West Bank prompted Ethan Bronner, Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times, to report on the declining Christian population across the Middle East . But his May 12 story, “Christians in Mideast Losing Numbers and Influence,” misleads on crucial facts about this troubling trend among Palestinian and Israeli Christians. (The article also appeared May 13 in the International Herald Tribune.)

First, while the Christian population is diminishing throughout the Middle East, including the Palestinian areas, the opposite is true in Israel – a key fact Bronner inexplicably ignores.

Second, contrary to Bronner’s article, Palestinian Christians are not emigrating simply because of the “economy, economy, economy,” but largely as a result of systematic Muslim persecution. Again, Bronner neglects this significant factor directly related to the topic of his story.

The thrust of the Times story is that all societies in the Middle East are inhospitable to Christians, who have little future anywhere in the region. Sadly this is true in the Muslim-dominated nations surrounding Israel but it’s not the case in Israel itself.

The Situation Across the Mideast

As Bronner notes, the Christian population throughout the Middle East has been declining for decades. In 1914, Christians constituted 26.4 percent of the total population in what today is Israel, the Palestinian areas, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, while by 2005 they represented at most 9.2 percent (Phillipe Fargues, “The Arab Christians of the Middle East: A Demographic Perspective,” in Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East, Andrea Pacini, ed, Oxford University Press, as cited in Justus Reid Weiner’s Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.)

The Ignored Exception

The exception to this regional trend is Israel , where the Christian population has thrived.

As documented in the Central Bureau of Statistics’ Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008 (Chart 2.2), in the last dozen years, Israel ‘s Christian population grew from 120,600 in 1995 to 151,600 in 2007, representing a growth rate of 25 percent. In fact, the Christian growth rate has outpaced the Jewish growth in Israel in the last 12 years! In 1995, there were 4,522,300 Jews in Israel , and in 2007 there were 5,478,2000, representing a growth rate of 21 percent – 4 percent less than the Christian population grew during the same time.

The fact that the only growing Christian population in the Middle East exists in the sole country in which Islam does not prevail is essential to understanding the fate of Christianity in that part of the world.

In the second paragraph, Bronner gives an apparently inflated statistic for the declining percentage of Christians in the “Holy Land,” which today is generally understood to mean Israel and the Palestinian areas. He writes:

But as Pope Benedict XVI wends his way across the Holy Land this week, he is addressing a dwindling and threatened Christian population driven to emigration by political violence, lack of economic opportunity and the rise of radical Islam. A region that a century ago was 20 percent Christian is about 5 percent today and dropping.

The Palestinian Areas

Bronner correctly reports that consistent with the regional trend, the Palestinian Christian population is drastically declining, but he minimizes a major contributing factor: Muslim persecution of Christians. Thus, he writes:

Among Palestinians, Islam is also playing an unprecedented role in defining identity, especially in Gaza , ruled by Hamas. Benedict’s arrival in Jerusalem on Monday prompted a radical member of the legislature in Gaza to call on Arab governments not to greet him because of his contentious remark in 2006 regarding the Prophet Muhammad.

Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.

In addition, Christians continue to complain about discrimination when it comes to employment in the public sector. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority 15 years ago, not a single Christian was ever appointed to a senior security post. Although Bethlehem has a Christian mayor, the governor, who is more senior than him, remains a Muslim.


Christians in the Holy Land have handed a dossier detailing incidents of violence and intimidation by Muslim extremists to Church leaders in Jerusalem, one of whom said it was time for Christians to “raise our voices” against the sectarian violence.

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