CBS News is drawing fire from pro-Israel activists and even the Israeli government for airing what critics say is a grossly distorted report on the migration of Christians from Israel.
"60 Minutes" reporter Bob Simon—who has a record of hostility towards Israel, even referring to it as an apartheid state—filed a report on the dwindling population of Christians in cities such as Bethlehem and Nazareth, which have rich Christian histories.
In interviews with Palestinian Christian leaders and others, Simon concluded that Israel, through its settlement enterprise, is squeezing Middle Eastern Christians into obscurity.
"If you see what's happening in the West Bank, you will find that the West Bank is becoming more and more like a piece of Swiss cheese, where Israel gets the cheese that is the land, the water resources, the archaeological sites," Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Christian, told Simon, who did not question the claims. "And the Palestinians are pushed in the holes behind the walls."
Simon also implied that Israeli security checkpoints—used to prevent terrorists from committing mass killings—have turned the everyday lives of Palestinian Christians into a struggle not worth enduring.
"For all Palestinians, just leaving Bethlehem is a struggle. Getting to Jerusalem, only seven miles away, whether it's to pray, go to a doctor, visit family members, or work, means going through this Israeli checkpoint," argued Simon, who later decried the "Israeli occupation" in an interview with Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. "That can take hours but before Palestinians can get even this far, they need a permit from the Israelis which can take weeks or months to obtain and is frequently denied."
Simon’s erroneous and misleading claims in his report led Oren and a host of pro-Israel observers to launch a counteroffensive decrying what they believe is the program’s anti-Israel bias.
A senior Israeli diplomat told Haaretz that CBS ignored its pleas for neutrality.
"What we asked to do is to comment on it, and also recommended they talk to other Christian officials. As far as we know, they didn't talk to them, but the result is still not as bad as it could have been without any Israeli reaction," one official told the publication. "The final result was just a biased report touching on several familiar issues that should be resolved between Israel and the Palestinians."
The Jewish Federations of North America, in an alert sent to supporters before the segment aired, proactively denounced CBS’ "biased portrayal of Israel."
The Federations’ CEO, Jerry Silverman, explained that "‘60 Minutes’ will likely attempt to demonize Israel and blame it for the very real problems that the Christian community faces within the territories."
"The fact of the matter remains that their difficult position is not a result of Israeli policy, but rather because of social, political, and cultural pressure within the Palestinian society and Palestinian policy toward Israel (ex: terror activities and their refusal to negotiate a peace agreement)," Silverman explained. "Further, the program is being incredibly manipulative in interviewing Christians on camera. The Palestinian Christian community is insecure in the region … and unlikely to state anything that can negatively influence their status within the Palestinian Authority or jeopardize the status of the Christian brethren in Gaza."
Silverman observed that CBS would attempt to manipulate viewers by obfuscating facts and drawing incorrect parallels between Israel’s security situation and the plight of Palestinian Christians.
"We expect that ‘60 Minutes’ will select examples that are not a reflection of Israeli policy towards Christian but rather of security concerns (ex: issues related to the security fence and issues related to demolition orders for projects that were not properly licensed)," Silverman wrote. "These examples will attempt to manipulate the viewer to believe that Israel pressures the Palestinian community to flee the region."