This is interesting, especially in light of what the post below this one had to say about Christians in the Middle East.
From Haaretz by Barak Ravid
Every year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publishes a Christmas message for Christians in Israel and abroad. One of the message’s objectives is hasbara, or public diplomacy, to the Christians of the world. But this year’s greeting was especially political. Netanyahu chose to radicalize his traditional greeting into an attack on Muslims in Arab countries.
In his December 2011 greeting, Netanyahu made do with pointing out the fact that in the Middle East “Christians are persecuted in a routine manner, and there is little tolerance toward them.”
In his 2012 greeting, Netanyahu, who continuously cautions the world that Israel is under existential threat from Iran, asserted that the Christians in the Middle East are in danger of extermination. No less.
“Today Christian communities throughout the Middle East are shrinking and many of them are in danger,” said Netanyahu, according to the announcement published by his bureau in Hebrew and English. “…this is of course not true in Israel. Here there is a strong and growing Christian community that participates fully in the life of our country.”
Netanyahu did not specify in his greeting exactly who is threatening to annihilate the Christians, but it’s clear from the wording that he means the Muslims. As he did last year, he emphasized that the Christian community in Israel is large and that it enjoys freedom of religion and freedom to worship, but this year he added a hinted reference to the “Judeo-Christian heritage.”
The reference is to a sensitive term taken from the conceptual world of the rightist-evangelical anti-Muslim wing of the Republican Party. After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. conservative politicians and intellectuals used this term in criticizing American multi-culturalism and claimed that the Muslims were engaged in a culture war against Judaism and Christianity.
Paul Ryan, the Republican candidate for vice-president in the recent U.S. election, employed this notion. “Obama is threatening the Judeo-Christian values of the United States,” Ryan told evangelical Christians in a conference call.
“So as you celebrate Christmas and your holy holidays, we hope that you will recall the places where Judaism and Christianity emerged and then come see our ancient land with your own eyes,” Netanyahu said. “Visit Nazareth and Bethlehem, wade into the Jordan River, stand on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and next year come visit our eternal capital Jerusalem.”
Incidentally, in last year’s message Netanyahu did not refer to Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital.
Video can be viewed at youtube here
Soon after posting this I realized some people reading it may not be subscribed to Haaretz and would not be able to read the remainder of the article. So for those who cannot access it, below you’ll find the rest of the article.
In this year’s message, Netanyahu referred to attacks on Christians in Israel over the past year. “Israel will continue to safeguard places of Christian worship throughout our country,” he said. “We will not tolerate any acts of violence or discrimination against any place of worship; this is not our way and this is something we cannot accept.”
Netanyahu’s statements on freedom of worship for Christians in Israel come against the background of a highly critical investigative report on the subject broadcast on the CBS-TV “60 Minutes” program and a record number of “price tag” attacks against churches and monasteries in Israel over the past year.
The escalation of attacks against Christian institutions in Israel was heavily criticized by European and U.S. Christian communities, and was strongly condemned by France, the U.K. and the Vatican. Criticism intensified after it became apparent that not one of the attackers had been apprehended and brought to justice.
Israel’s use of Christmas in its public diplomacy became a topic for discussion last week, after *Israel’s embassy in Ireland posted a picture of Jesus and Mary on Facebook together with a caption asserting that if the two of them now resided in Bethlehem, they would be murdered by Palestinians. Strong protests prompted the embassy to remove the photo and caption from its Facebook page and apologize.
Netanyahu did not go so far as to use the Christian holy figures for political purposes. But it is possible to understand what the diplomats in Ireland were thinking after viewing the Christmas message distributed today.