Religious Freedom Commission Spares Israel, Lashes Out at Egypt, Saudi Arabia

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom report, issued earlier this month, targeted the Middle East, primarily on Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel. And while Egypt and Saudi Arabia were blamed for violations minority religious rights, Israel, despite it's current violence against Christians and Muslims, was spared from any criticism. 

According to a press release issued by the commission on Wednesday May 16, the newest report and its recommendations were based on information collected by seven commissioners who visited the Middle East late March.

The 27-page report criticized both Egypt and Saudi Arabia for what it perceived as their ill treatment of non-Muslims. Egypt was condemned for its alleged discrimination against Coptic minority in Egypt, and the government run news outlets were singled out by the commission for their anti-Jewish and anti-Baha'i rhetoric.

"With respect to the Christian community, restrictions on church building and repair continue to exist and religiously-based discrimination, particularly in government employment, the military, and security services, remains a pervasive problem."

The commission held the Egyptian government, it's judicial system and media responsible for much of the mistreatment of it's religious minorities, pointing out that "while television is beginning to be more inclusive of non-Muslim themes, the government-controlled press continues to engage in virulent hate speech against certain groups such as Jews."

Saudi Arabia also received much of the commission's rebuke. The Saudi Kingdom was dubbed by the comprehensive report and the press release as a ""country of particular concern" asserting that "freedom of religion does not exist."

But the report's chapter on freedom of religion in Israel was conspicuously missing.

The commission attempted to explain its failure to expose the seemingly nonexistent religious freedom in Israel.

"The Commission sees its study of the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories as a complex matter requiring additional work. Commissioners did not feel they were ready to make formal recommendations," a press released issued jointly with the report explained.

But for those fully aware of Israel's practices against its non-Jewish residents, mainly Christians and Muslims, and the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, the commission's failure to criticize Israel was unfair and biased.

One of those critics was Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, a member of the commission herself, who decided to express a dissenting view toward the end of the report.

"I am opposed to the decision to refrain from commenting on the situation in Israel/OT (the Occupied Territories)," Al-Marayati said in her statement.

"The complexity of the situation as well as differences of opinion should not prevent the Commission from issuing a statement. Indeed, human rights in general and religious freedom in particular occur all over the world under complex social, cultural, political and economic circumstances. This has not impeded our ability to discuss these issues in many countries."

"Muslim and Christian citizens of the state (of Israel) face considerable official discrimination in many areas of life including distribution of social services, employment, land ownership and habitation rights, education and government funding for religious institutions," said Al-Marayati.

And among a long list of religious rights violations committed by Israel, Dr. Al-Marayati referred to the Jewish State's Law of Return, perceived by many as racist.

"[Israel's] Law of Return...grants automatic citizenship (with certain rights afforded therein) to any Jew who immigrates to Israel, while simultaneously denying Palestinian Muslims and Christians expelled from their homes in 1947-48 the right to return simply because they are not Jewish."

Meanwhile Muslim and Christian groups in the United States echoed Al-Marayati's concerns with the report.   A statement issued by six major American Muslim and Christian organizations in Washington last week said the report "ignores Israeli abuses" and "raises serious questions about the Commission's objectivity and integrity".

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 created the USCIRF to  "give independent recommendations to the executive branch and the Congress".


Ramzy Baroud is a free-lance writer living in Seattle, Washington.





  Category: Life & Society
  Topics: Egypt, Freedom Of Religion, Human Rights, Occupation, Saudi Arabia
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