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Friday, January 21, 2011

Hunegs: Concern for Christians in the ME also needed

Concern for Christians in the Mideast also needed


By Steve Hunegs [Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas]


It is hard to argue with the [ Minneapolis] Star Tribune's balanced and fair-minded editorial of Jan. 15 ("Redouble efforts on Mideast peace talks").


Indeed, Israel is a "stalwart ally," and the threat of a nuclear Iran is the "real Mideast crisis."

No disagreement exists, either, with the proposition that the United States should broach potential practical solutions to final status issues such as refugees, Jerusalem and water rights.


The intensive efforts of the Carter administration, including Vice President Walter Mondale, resulted in the landmark agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1979.


The Clinton administration followed this approach in 2000 at Camp David and Taba. Much progress was made until Yasser Arafat scuttled this historic opportunity for peace and launched the second intifada.


Thinking positively about "redoubled" American efforts, public opinion polling consistently confirms that a majority of Israelis favor a two-state solution with the Palestinians.


Polls in the Palestinian community reflect smaller but significant levels of support for an accord with Israel.


Nevertheless, significant doubt permeates the Israeli psyche about the possibility of peace.


The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon resulted in Iran, in conjunction with Syria, establishing a Hezbollah armed camp in southern Lebanon, leading to the Second Lebanon War in August 2006.


Hezbollah has now recovered and reportedly has 40,000 missiles aimed at Israel, many with the range to reach Tel Aviv.


Similarly, the Israeli evacuation of Gaza resulted, ultimately, in the creation of Hamastan in Gaza firing more than 8,000 missiles into Israel from 2001 to 2009.


The common denominator is Iran, which -- with all due respect to Michelle Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- endangers American troops in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, as the commentary of Arab diplomats and military officials found in WikiLeaks documents aptly illustrates.


Missing from the Star Tribune editorial is solicitude toward Christians who are suffering throughout the Middle East -- the cradle of Christianity. Deadly church bombings in Iraq last October and in Egypt last month are aimed at driving Christians from lands where they have lived since antiquity.


Iran supplements this terrorism with ongoing persecution of its Christian minority. In the early morning of Christmas Day, 25 Christians were arrested -- 14 remain in prison.

The governor of Tehran has labeled these evangelical believers as "missionaries" and is threatening more arrests in the future.


As was noted in the New York Times on Dec. 13, Nassir Sharhoom, 47, an Iraqi Christian who fled Baghdad last month with his family for the Kurdish capital of Erbil, said: "It's exactly what happened to the Jews; they want us all to go."


While much of the world remains silent on the plight of Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Syria, the Jewish people cannot ignore the situation.


Christianity has traveled a remarkable distance in the aftermath of the Holocaust in coming to terms with Judaism.


The teachings of the Nostra Aetate, the rejection of supercessionism and recognition of the Jewish roots of Christianity have built a foundation of increased theological trust between Jews and Christians.


In Israel, according to Rabbi Eugene Korn, North American director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, the number of Christians in Israel has risen from approximately 40,000 in 1948 to 155,000 today.


By contrast, approximately 2 million Christians have left Muslim countries in the Middle East in the last 20 years.


This greater sense of kinship between Jews and Christians must include the taking of joint steps, when possible, to protect the Christians of the Middle East.


As Pope Benedict prayed in his Christmas message from St. Peter's Basilica: "May the comforting message of the coming of Emmanuel ease the pain and bring consolation amid their trials to the beloved Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East."