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Michael Weiss

Heritage Foundation Hosts Pro-Hezbollah Christian Clerics

"Marked for Destruction" conference presented a distorted narrative of the treatment of Syrian Christians

Riad Jarjour

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative American think tank once known for incubating Ronald Reagan’s policy agenda, hosted an event on January 27 in Washington, D.C. titled, “Marked for Destruction: The Plight of Syria's Christians with Syrian Christian Leaders.” The event itself was superficially noteworthy for the panelists’ refusal to assign any blame for the current crisis in Syria, or for the plight of the country’s Christian population, on the Assad regime, Iran, or Hezbollah. Instead, the focus throughout was on the threat posed by Sunni jihadism and its supposed state sponsors, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, a theme that tracks well with propaganda from Damascus that is now being used to extravagant effect by the regime’s representatives at the Geneva II conference.  However, unmentioned by Heritage and seemingly unknown by the attendees of this discussion was that at least two of the invited speakers – both Syrian Christian clerics from different denominations – have a long history of denouncing Israel and Zionism. One of them has also accused the United States of perpetrating terrorism in the Middle East and praised both the “Lebanese resistance” and Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah.

 

These are views that, to say the least, do not conform to the politics of the staunchly pro-Israel and anti-Iran Heritage Foundation. I asked the think tank if it felt that the presentation assigned adequate responsibility to the Assad regime for the plight of Syrian Christians. Jim Weidman, a spokesman for Heritage, replied by email: “It may be possible that some who attended do not believe that there is religious cleansing… or they may wish those who spoke had focused more on who to blame. But our goal was to raise awareness among American policymakers and the American public of the wanton murder of Christians and the devastation of the region's Christian community.” Weidman would not say if Heritage had vetted any or all of the speakers beforehand.

 

The “Marked for Destruction” panel discussion consisted of “the first delegation of Syrian Church leaders to visit the United States since the start of the civil war,” as Heritage described it on its website. This delegation was brought to Washington by two other groups, the Westminster Institute, with which Weidman said Heritage “partnered” for the event, and Barnabas Aid.  The first is a research organization, also based in Washington, founded in 2009 with a “focus on the threats from extremism and radical ideologies.” The second is a Virginia-based NGO dedicated to “support[ing] Christians where they are in a minority and suffer discrimination, oppression and persecution as a consequence of their faith.”

 

Both are admirable objectives, yet some of the Syrian clergy on display on Monday are questionable champions of them.

 

One was Reverend Dr. Riad Jarjour, a Presbyterian clergyman from Syria who is now based in Lebanon. He is the former General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches and now is partly responsible for distributing humanitarian supplies from Barnabas Aid inside the war-torn country. Yet on May 5, 2003, Jarjour delivered a lecture to the Imam Khomeini Centre for Culture in Beirut – a pro-Iranian regime, pro-Hezbollah venue – on the subject of “Christian Zionism.” Support for the Iraq war, he said on that occasion, was “founded upon a Zionist imperialist expansionist racist ideology.” Jarjour also praised Hezbollah, which is wholly blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist entity, for fighting Israel: “We must resist. We must resist because we are the possessors of the right and because we are the sons of right, justice, and peace. And just like the valiant Lebanese resistance overpowered the mighty Israeli military machine, each of us must be committed to its position in that resistance.” Of Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah, Jarjour said: “I note with appreciation all the leaders of our country, political and religious, who are working to deepen the national unity and solidarity and to address potential perversions that may spoil our unity and solidarity. I would like to single out especially Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, who said a few days ago in front of tens of thousands of Lebanese, ‘We will search for a different slogan for this American war on Iraq other than [the phrase] the Crusade.’”  The United States’ response to 9/11, he said, included “waging a campaign of terror in the world to address the so-called terrorism that reached it.”

 

Yet “so-called terrorism” was very much on Jarjour’s mind on January 27. At Heritage, he claimed that “[o]ur suffering as a Christian community started especially when many radical groups came to fight in Syria. We have 15- to 20,000 – I’m not sure about the number – of armed jihadis who came from 50, maybe 60 countries from all over the world to fight in Syria.” The regime earned no mention for its responsibility for the displacement and dispossession of thousands for Christians in Syria and for the destruction of churches. “We have witnessed from the very beginning, in the city of Homs,” Jarjour said, “when the militants were cornered in Khaldiyeh and Bab al-Hama, they came to the Christian quarter of the city of Homs. And somehow they occupied that Christian quarter that has the most ancient churches in Syria and all the Christians of that Christian quarter somehow were forced to leave. All the churches and more than maybe eight of them were destroyed, they were shelled. And people have been uprooted from their homes.”

 

The implication here that the rebels shelled Homs’ churches is in marked contrast to numerous reports about both the origins of the siege of that city and what continues today. The Telegraph’s Ruth Sherlock noted the cancellation of Easter in April 2012: “Two weeks ago [Syrian Christian] Moussa’s relatives fled from Homs as government forces began shelling the Christian neighborhoods of Hamidiyah and Boustan al-Diwan where they lived. Videos of the area show streets riddled with debris, and concrete buildings shattered by shells and bullet holes.”

 

Syrian photographer Yazan Homsy wrote on the Syria Deeply website in August 2013:

 

“Christians who stayed in their neighborhoods alongside Muslim rebels, neutrality was not an acceptable position for the regime. Security checkpoints were erected in an attempt to separate mixed residential quarters. Attempts to remove the checkpoints were met with random shelling that did not differentiate between Christian and Muslim homes or churches and mosques.

 

“The mainly Christian districts of al-Hamidiyeh and Bustan al-Diwan suffered the brunt of the army bombardments due to their location in the heart of liberated [rebel-held] Homs. Residents were forced to flee at a moment’s notice, leaving most of their possessions behind. Those who remained suffered a worse fate of raids and massacres when regime forces advanced.”

 

No one contests jihadist persecution of Christians and other minorities in Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra is widely suspected of kidnapping a dozen Greek Orthodox Syrian and Lebanese nuns from the ancient town of Maaloula, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has burnt churches in Raqqa. Italian Jesuit president Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who has supported the anti-Assad protest movement since its inception, was also kidnapped by ISIS in Raqqa. But the Syrian opposition disputes the allegation that Christians have suffered sectarian persecution at the hands of other rebel groups. “There is absolutely no ethnic cleansing of Christians in Syria by rebel forces,” a representative of the U.S.-recognized Syrian National Coalition told NOW. “In fact, Assad’s forces kill indiscriminately, whether people are Christian, Muslim, or Alawite. Father Francis, leader of the Christian community in Homs, made an appeal for Assad to lift the starvation siege as the Muslim and Christian communities are suffering together.”

 

Jarjour’s pro-Hezbollah position does not seem to have faded with the passage of time. As recently as September 2011, he took part in another delegation, this one to Lebanon to meet with al-Sayyid Ibrahim al-Amin, the head of Hezbollah’s political office. That group, as reported by NOW’s Arabic site at the time, expressed “its pleasure in its meeting with the leadership of Hezbollah, which represents a line of victory for the will of the people through the achievements of the resistance in Lebanon. [It also] praised the positive role played by the party in Islamic-Christian relations in Lebanon and in the Arab and Muslim world.” In 2012, the United States Treasury and State Departments both accused Hezbollah of playing a central role in Assad’s crackdown and aiding agents of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria. Nasrallah, the Treasury found, was overseeing Hezbollah’s “increasingly ruthless efforts to fight against the opposition.” Nasrallah was personally sanctioned for his role in the war by an executive order signed by President Obama in August 2011.

 

Another speaker, Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawak, is the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church from the old city of Damascus who has previously served at both St. Efraim’s Church in Washington, D.C. and at a parish in Indiana. Currently, Kawak is the president of the Patriarchal Development Committee and director of Syrian youth program as the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese in Damascus.  His presented comments during the panel were generally more anodyne than Jarjour’s; however, after the event, he explained to two anti-Assad dissidents in the audience who the real culprit was for the humanitarian catastrophe in the Levant. “Believe me, believe me, believe me,” the bishop said, “the game from the beginning was drawn like this. The region is going to be partitioned. A sectarian partition to secure the legitimacy of Israel. Trust me.”

 

This view certainly jibes with what Kawak has said elsewhere, including on the “Here is Damascus” show on Lebanese Top News TV on December 13, 2013:. “Another problem which we have in the Middle East is our inability to accept each other,” he said, “especially after the establishment of Israel which was established according to a religious logic that, in my opinion, is contrary to all human rights in the world.”

 

Finally, Bishop Armash Nalbandian, the Primate of the Armenian Church of Damascus, who only spoke during the question-and-answer period of the discussion, has himself made his position on Israel clear. On January 6, 2009, Nalbandian delivered a Christmas sermon, in the midst of Operation Cast Lead, that was cited in the Syrian Arabic News Agency, the mouthpiece organ of the Assad regime: “We stand with our people in Gaza in their suffering and their steadfastness in the face of the Israeli occupation, although the whole world is silent for its crimes, because Zionism revealed its true face, has returned to the gangs of Irgun and Haganah.”

 

In recent years, the Heritage Foundation has come under fire not just from liberals and Democrats, but also from Republicans who see the think tank as having strayed too far into the orbit of the Tea Party movement and away from intellectual conservatism. Accusations have been leveled against it that its activist wing, Heritage Action, headed by former Rudolph Giuliani presidential campaign staffer Michael Needham, is more interested in holding members of the GOP to an austere ideological litmus test than in shaping Republican Party policy. Indeed, a founding trustee of the Foundation, Mickey Edwards, who is also a former Republican congressman, told the New Republic magazine in November 2013: “I don't think any thoughtful person is going to take the Heritage Foundation very seriously, because they’ll say, How is this any different from the Tea Party?”

 

Nevertheless, much of the above will no doubt sit uneasily with many of the think tank's board or research staff, given what the latter have lately produced on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. In fact, on the same day as the “Marked for Destruction” event, Charlotte Florance wrote on Heritage’s Foundry blog: “Assad’s so-called war on terrorism is a double-edged sword. Negotiators in Geneva should not fall for the trap. If Assad wants to fight terrorism, he should look in the mirror and end his support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.”  

 

“The U.S. should stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel in confronting Iran’s growing nuclear menace,” concluded James Phillips, the Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs, and James Jay Carafano, the Vice President of the Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, in February 2012. “If Jerusalem decides to exercise its right of self-defense,” they wrote regarding a possible Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program, “then the U.S. and its allies should support that decision, not condemn it.”  Furthermore, Phillips and Carafano found, the “Obama Administration should also offer to further deploy land- or sea-based missile defense systems in the greater Persian Gulf area with the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – the alliance formed in 1981 by Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to provide collective defense against Iran and other threats.”

 

Yet America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia and Qatar was precisely the problem, according to several speakers at the event, who blamed these countries – and Turkey – for facilitating or sponsoring jihadism. “We accept to be marked for destruction if it comes from Paul’s mouth,” said Reverend Adib Awad, the General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. “But we do not accept to be marked for destruction by terrorists coming from 83 countries, sent, funded, and armed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. We do not accept that.”  

 

Awad used much of his opening remarks to glorify the United States and the schools in Syria in which he was educated. “I learned in the American schools the basis of my life. I learned what we used to call American values at that time; later I discovered they are Christian values simply because our history books were books of the American history.” 

 

Awad is from Qardaha, Latakia, the ancestral home of the Assad family. According to Ayman Abdel Nour, a Syrian Christian who edits the pro-revolutionary All4Syria website and whose grandfather was a prominent Protestant clergyman in Syria, Awad used to be famous for giving sermons on state television during Christian holidays praising both Jesus Christ and Hafez al-Assad. “He is connected to the Assad family and the security services,” Abdel Nour told me. “Everybody knows that. It’s not a secret.”

 

Closing the proceedings at Heritage was Patrick Sookhdeo, an ordained pastor and the international director of the Barnabas Fund. He said that “the information that comes [from the media on Syria] is only one side.” He also urged the Obama administration to be “even-handed” in its response to the conflict and to “recognize that under the UN principle of the responsibility to protect that the international community, coupled with individual countries, have a duty and a responsibility to protect beleaguered minorities.”  Like the previous clerics, Sookhdeo made no mention of the war crimes committed by the regime, Iran, or Hezbollah in Syria. Instead, he too blamed Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey for helping al-Qaeda, and went so far as to declare that “Syria and the Christians of Syria have been shaped by American values, and Heritage stands for American values, so stand with us at this time.”

 

Ahed al-Hendi, co-founder of Syrian Christians for Democracy, an anti-Assad Syrian-American organization, attended the discussion. “They tried to play the role of neutral observers in Syria, but the blame of Assad was absent,” he said, referring to the panelists. “They did not mention Assad in any way. They did not say that he empowered the Islamists in Syria when he cracked down on secularists and put a lot of moderate people behind bars.”

 

“They were fearful to blame Assad in any way, but they were not afraid to blame al-Qaeda or the Islamists. That shows you who they fear most.”

 

Michael Weiss is a columnist at Foreign Policy and a fellow at the Institute of Modern Russia. He tweets at @michaeldweiss

Pro-Assad clergyman Riad Jarjour speaks before the Heritage Foundation. (YouTube)

"Just like the valiant Lebanese resistance overpowered the mighty Israeli military machine, each of us must be committed to its position in that resistance.”

  • GOTC

    Rodriguez, You can read about the great relationship between Lebanese Jews and Lebanese Christians in Laura Eisenberg's "My Enemy's Enemy: Lebanon in Zionist Imagination" The Gemayel family had a great relationship with Jews. In fact, phalangists and Lebanese Jews formed militias during the Nasserist war on Lebanon in 1958 to protect Jewish neighborhoods. Lebanon's Christian community was never hostile towards Jews. Rodriguez you need to read up more on the history. Lebanon did not expel its Jews like the other Middle Eastern countries. Hanibaal goes a little overboard sometimes, but his dislike of Israel is not based on anti semitism. Many Lebanese dislike Israel because of relationship and potential alliance that went sour partly because of the incompetence of Lebanese Christian leaders and partly because of Israeli incompetence. Hanibaal has mentioned in the past he respects Etienne Sakr. If that is the case, then Hanibaals dislike of Israel is most likely based on a sense of Israeli betrayal towards its Lebanese allies from 1980-2000.

    February 4, 2014

  • RODRIGUEZ

    GOTC thanks for your kind explanation , I read a lot about the lebanese jews and how they lived in lebanon and enjoyed good life ... they started to leave lebanon in the 60 . many of them did not have the money to leave so the jewish agencies looked after them and helped them to leave to go to israel , to the usa , canada etc.. many of them prospered and repaid the agencies .. what I do not accept is that he compares israel to saudi ; don't you find this ridiculous ? also that the jews were not expelled from egypt of irak ( they were slaughtered) .. so syrian jews I met in NYC ( they own half manhattan !) told me that they escaped syria by foot crossing the mountain to go to beirut.. and the lebanese army turned a blind eye when they went to the south of lebanon and an israeli navy boat picked them up at nakoura.. this was lebanon in the 60. Israeli army never comitted atrocity even close what the syrian army is doing .. sharon did not do to his people what gaddafi did .. I think that the arabs should learn a lesson of humanity from israel.. Israel saving syrian lives as syrians flocked across the border to israel for threatment . arabs spent 70 years trying to destroy israel and the only thinks they achieve ... you only look at the middle east .. they destroy themselves... why? because they hate each other !! only compare the emirates to refugee camps in lebanon ? golden tabs and bathrooms vs open sewers and they claim that they are brothers !!! I do have not any interest with israel or the jews but the only thing I know if someting is succeeding we have to copy it ! that is all !!

    February 4, 2014

  • astaris

    ...which was based on the Lebanese Maronites betrayal of their alliance with Israel in 1982, after the assassination of Bashir Gemayel by the Syrians.

    February 5, 2014

  • RODRIGUEZ

    AGAIN HANNIBAL; read history book do not be a revisionist on top of an antisemite ! jews were kicked out of egypt by nasser ( another retarded ) in Irak too after being there for 2500 years - what about baghdad pogrom in 1941 and the 9 jews hanged on baghdad square in 1969. sure that pushed them to stay and prosper in irak . how about Libya - kicked out ... so the jews will remain part of the middle east and in Israel wich became a superpower thanks to all the jewish brains flocking into israel .. talking about the americans .. lebanese should erect an immense statue of george bush thanks to him they were able to kick out the syrians .. don't you think that the syrians would have turned lebanon into a museum if the GI's were not in Irak ? You are a typical lebanese brain washed for many years by the arab propaganda .. israelis treat the palestinians much better than lebanese who out them in squalid refugee camps for decades !!! the arab are the biggest racist on earth and people like you do not want to face it .. I feel ashamed that there is still lebanes that thinks like you.............

    February 4, 2014

  • RODRIGUEZ

    HANNIBAL , the only country where jews were not kiked out is lebanon because not because lebanese were in love with their jews but because as other confessions jews were listed as a religion in the constitution . saying so they were not offered any money to leave .. jews in lebanon were helped by jewish agencies to leave .. to go and find better place to live .. AND YES THEY WERE KIKED OUT BY ALL OTHER ARAB COUNTRIES AND THEIR NATIONALITY STRIPPED .. Now you compare israel to saudi arabia .. I suggest that stop it here because your ignorance and the propaganda that the arabs have instilled in your mind is hopeless . let leave it .. here .. for your info .. I grew up in LEBANON and still have a lot jewish friends lebanese and non lebanese .. let me tell you something ..in 100 years maybe the arab world will be out of the tunnel .. why because of many people that still think like you!!!

    February 3, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    So now you admit that they were not kicked out of Lebanon. Why don;t you move next to Morocco for example, where the Jewish community is thriving, and admit that they were not kicked out of Morocco either . Or Iraq where it was thriving along with the Christian community until the Americans invaded. Or how about Egypt? LIES LIES LIES...Fact is that Israeli propaganda wants to make the world believe that the Jews were persecuted in Arab countries IN ORDER TO JUSTIFY THE WARMONGERING AND THE CONTINUED STEALING OF PALESTINIAN LAND AND TO MAKE THE NAIVE, STUPID AND CREDULOUS AMERICANS BELIEVE YOUR FABRICATED LIES SO THEY KEEP HELPING YOU WITH BILLIONS... Problem is no on believes your lies anymore, except the stupid Americans. But they will wise up one day too. Israel will not survive one second without the Americans, and this for one reason only: You have made no effort whatsoever to endear yourselves even with those Arabs who should otherwise like you. You live up to your reputation of a half-crazed people who think God chose them and therefore take everything to such extremes that in the end you fall flat on your faces. In 100 years, who knows? Just like the Crusaders, you will be boarding boats en route to Cyprus where you will stay another 100 years, and then?? If you want to stay in the Middle East, you have to be nice to the locals, and you have so far failed. Good luck, again, because deep down I like you.

    February 3, 2014

  • RODRIGUEZ

    answering hannibal atheos who is blinded by his antisemitice view to tell him that jews have been in the middle east before the arabs .. they have been kicked out of all arab countries without a penny after spending centuries. now they have thrived and become educated and civilized citizens of Israel ; USA, canada .. they are not eternal refugees as the palestinians treated like less than human beings by their arab ''brothers '' .. a country that lose its jews will loose it soul !! we have seen it in irak , in egypt , in syria , in lebanon and all other countries ..israel is not an arab hating countries .. arabs are self hating ! they have killed their arab borthers 100 times more than israel has killed arab . stop to be blinded by a propaganda that for 70 years took the arab nation the the abyss of humanity !!

    February 3, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    I grew up in peaceful Beirut of the 1950s and 1960s, in a Lebanon that refused to join the other Arab countries in their wars against Israel. Our pharmacist, my teachers, our neighbors with whose children we played were Jewish. Then one by one, they let us know, in a visit over coffee or a confidential comment over the counters of their business or on the street, that they are moving to Israel, that they were given lots of enticements (money, homes, etc.) to make the move. We were saddened and sometimes cried over friendships lost. NO LEBANESE KICKED THEM OUT, NO LEBANESE ASKED THEM TO LEAVE. THE ISRAELIS ASKED THEM TO MOVE TO ISRAEL IN ORDER TO INCREASE THE JEWISH POPULATION OVER THAT OF THE PALESTINIANS. Stop the lies. Why do Jewish Americans from Brooklyn continue to "emigrate" to Israel? Why don;t they stay as good Americans? Why do they need to fulfill stupid archaic biblical BS from the Stone Age, leave America to take other people's space and land? Americans are not kicking them out of New York. They are willingly moving to Israel, just as they moved from Lebanon, for the sole reason of fulfilling a biblical piece (...) known as the promised land, just like all other religious illusions and lies of splitting oceans, messaiahs, virgin births, rising to heaven on winged horses and last prophecies (...). If there is any conclusion to be drawn in this 21st century is that Israel is just like Saudi Arabia and other fundamentalist religious countries: They are based on a religious identity that goes counter to any decent definition of what it is to be human. You are as backward as the Saudis and the Iranians because you are fundamentally a religious people.

    February 3, 2014

  • astaris

    Actually, Israel is a very very secular country, and Tel Aviv is the most gay-friendly city in the world. The Jewish population of Israel is 6 million and as for Jews from Brooklyn, you're not likely to meet any of them there. Immigration to Israel from the entire US since 1948 (66 years) has been only 145,000 people, that's an average of 2,200 per year. You really need to visit there some time. And by the way, of course Lebanon did invade Israel, check out the Lebanese Fawzi al-Qawuqji and his Arab Liberation Army. They were more Lebanese than anything else, and bear prime responsibility for the effects of the Nakba in northern Galilee.

    February 4, 2014

  • GOTC

    Hanibaal, What do you think of Etienne Sakr's view that the Lebanese/Israeli alliance never formed as it should because of Geagea's antics in the Chouf and Aoun's refusal to be open to an alliance in the late 80s?

    February 4, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Israel twice betrayed the Christians: In 1985 when it withdrew suddenly from the Chouf, abandoning their allies to b slaughtered by the Druze (whom Astaris cites as an example of civilized friends of ISrael when they are no more than primitive peasants who are Zionists in Israel, Baathists in Syria, and everything else in Lebanon). The second time is when they also withdrew from the south in 2000, leaving their Lebanese Shiite and Christian allies to the mercy of Hezbollah. Israel has this uncanny skill at making enemies and never making friends. Perhaps it is because history taught them to never trust anyone. Fine. But we, unlike the Jews, have survived more or less intact in the same hostile environment because we have played it smart, not hard, and we are more supple and willing to compromise and fine-tune our existence depending on the historical and political juncture. We will never adopt the Israeli Nazi-inspired model - become a militarized society continuously on a war footing - and Israel cannot survive if it believes that this is the only way. In fact, I believe it is too late. The harm has been done. The genocidal annihilation and identity eradication of the Palestinian people cannot be forgotten. Exactly like the Crusaders who came by force and violence (though their claims, as the claims of the Jews, might have had some justification), stayed 200 years in a limbo of violent occupation and never truly integrating or completely winning, they eventually lost. I fear that Israel will suffer the same fate. It is just a matter of time.

    February 5, 2014

  • astaris

    Middle Eastern Christians are under their greatest threat since the inception of Christianity - except in Israel, where they have thrived since the end of the 1948-1949 war, when they threw in their lot with the wrong side, unlike the Druze, Circassians and Bedouin. Meanwhile they waste their time obsessing with Israel instead of with their imminent destruction at the hands od Sunnis and Shia alike. What has Israel to do with the Syrian civil war? 90% of Israelis have no idea what it is about, do not know the difference between a Sunni fundamentalist and a Shiite one and have never heard of the Alawites. (...). The current generation has no interest whatsoever in the current Middle East or the endless impasse with the Palestinians, and that includes both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. Israeli Arabs in the border areas with Palestine vehemently oppose their areas being swapped into the Palestinian state. They speak Israeli Heb-Arabic at home, Hebrew outside the home and thank Allah every morning for being Israeli and not Syrian, Lebanese or Palestinian/Jordanian. They serve as Israeli Supreme Court judges, national team footballers, Knesset members, Israel's beauty queen Miss World contestants, Israel's Eurovision contestants, local millionaires, Head of the Income Tax Authority, Minister of Sport, Israeli ambassadors and consuls, the District Court judge who sent Israel's ex-President to jail for rape - the list is endless. Both Muslims, Christians and Druze. So good luck to the great Middle Eastern obsession with Israel which replaces what could have been a beneficial engagement with the Israeli powerhouse economy. The Israeli train has left the station. And it might be a good idea if meanwhile you stopped killing each other and destroying UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    February 3, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Then why is Michael Weiss obsessing about Syrian Christians siding with Assad and not with radical Sunnis? And why don't the Israelis and the Palestinians stop killing each other? And why can't the Israelis leave the West Bank and let the Palestinians form their state, instead of continuously displacing the Palestinian population and stealing their lands? The Israeli train has not left the station. It is an experimental train that has yet to have a functional engine. And in my opinion, the experiment will fail because, unlike the Christians, the Druze and other minorities, the Jewish minority has managed the illusion of a running train by means of a hyper-militarized society that is dependent of the benefaction of outsiders and the ultimate protection of the West. Other minorities cannot afford that model, and have to live with a Muslim majority still operating in the Stone Age. Please dispense yourself with lecturing other minorities or attacking them because, unlike Israel, they do not afford American generosity and protection, nor can they build themselves into a super-militarized nuclear power, nor can they build walls of separation to exclude others who want them ill. The Israeli train, to my chagrin in all honesty, will one day go down history just like the Crusader kingdoms of the Near East. Still, I wish you good luck.

    February 3, 2014

  • astaris

    With respect, all I can say is that I understood every word individually. I don't know Michael Weiss or very much about the Syrian Christians. But I do understand that Assad's murderous regime is also secular which might be the reason that some Christians prefer it to al-Qaeda/Nusra etc. It's no secret that Christians are having a bad time throughout the Middle East, except in Israel-proper (not including Palestine/West Bank from where they have mainly emigrated). As for Israel, you seem to know very little about it. You don't understand Israeli Jewish-Muslim-Druze-Christian society, it's tenacity and inner strength and if you think that Israel is dependent in any way on the outside world, you are stuck somewhere in the 1970s. How you resemble 6,000,000 Hebrew-speaking Israeli Jews, the vast majority of which were born in Israel, to the Crusaders, is beyond my comprehension. The separation barrier (mostly a simple border fence) is basically the 1967 borders which Israel is supposed to return to, so I can't see your point. Israel is Israel and Palestine is Palestine, at least it should be and hopefully will. As for the Iraqi Jews, you are seriously confused. The huge, ancient (First Temple - 1000 years before the Arabs), well-established community left in its entirety in the early 1950s, due to the persecution and anti-Jewish riots.

    February 5, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    I have an idea: Why doesn't Michael Weiss interview and investigate whose side Syrian Jews are on: The Assad brutes or the Sunni savages? That would probably be more appropriate to his line of thinking. And if he doesn't find any Syrian Jews left in Syria, he should just hop over the border into Israel where they have all probably huddled, just as I think he would like to see all the Christians of the Middle East huddled in another tiny country in the region, right next door to Israel. This way, there will be two - not just one - racist, supremacist, militaristic, Arab-hating, Muslim-hating theocratic minority country, and Israel would, finally, no longer be alone.

    February 2, 2014

  • RODRIGUEZ

    HANIBAAL ATHEOS RELAX .............IT SEEMS THAT YOU ARE LOOSING YOUR NERVE..... LEBANESE CHRISTIAN AS AL CHRISTIAN OF THE MIDDLE EAST ARE CONDEMNED TO LIVE UNDER THE MUSLIM RULE .. THEY HAVE BECOME A DISCOUNTED COMMODITY.. THEY NEVER HAD ANY SPINE IN POLITICS .. SO THAT IS WHY THEY DO NOT COUNT .. THEY ARE DOOMED AS A POLITIC FORCE AND THEY TRUELY DESERVE IT................SO DO NOT BLAME THE JEWS AND THE ZIONIST AS THE ARABS HAVE BEEN DOING FOR OVER 70 YEARS .. THESE TACTIC TOOK THE ARABS TO WHAT THEY ARE TODAY AND TO WHERE THEY BELONG... THEY HAVE BEEN TRASHED BY HISTORY....

    February 1, 2014

  • jsall

    Syrian Christians refuse "to assign any blame for the current crisis in Syria, or for the plight of the country’s Christian population, on the Assad regime, Iran, or Hezbollah. Instead, the focus throughout was on the threat posed by Sunni jihadism and its supposed state sponsors, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey" quite possibly because Sunni jihadists are actually killing them and destroying their churches and monasteries. Terrible article.

    January 31, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Michael Weiss is a Jewish Zionist who continuously attacks Syrian Christians, not because they are trying to survive in a dangerous war zone, but because they denounce Israel and Zionism. Why do we need to inject additional sectarian mistrust and suspicions by having a non-credible third party like Weiss pretend to defend one minority against another? Doesn't that qualify as insidious incitement? Why do Jewish Zionists like Weiss insist on bringing down Middle Eastern minorities who are trying to fend for themselves and survive when neither side in the Syrian conflict (or the Iraqi one or any other Arab Sunni cesspool of a country) has any real empathy for them. Just look at the Lebanese Christians and their history over the past 40 years: They tried alone to defend themselves, they were accused of isolationism and of being self-hating Arabs. They tried to rely on Syria, and it back-stabbed them. They tried to rely on Israel and it back-stabbed them too. Both the West and the Muslim Arab world traded them and their survival for ulterior purposes. In the end, they lost, and have become "good" domesticated Dhimmis who tow either the Shiite line or the Sunni line. Meanwhile, the Jewish minority in Israel, is a foreign, imported, racist, Jewish supremacist militaristic machine bent on annihilating the native Arab Palestinians and eroding every bit of their millennial existence, and we have Jewish Zionists like Weiss preaching in Arab media about how Christians should be good Dhimmis to the Sunnis? If this is not trash journalism, I don't know what is.

    January 31, 2014

  • LamaH

    In reply to MJAY, what is your conception about the minorities before the rule of Assad family? Were they dead before them and came to life afterward? I mean really people, how about those who are butchered, bombarded, tortured, etc by Assad forces? Are not they humans as well? Do not they deserve your concern and compassion as human beings, who happen to be from a Muslim sect that is, unfortunately, demonized (and hence punished) by the crimes of some terrorist groups that in no possible way represent the whole sect? I am a Syrian, from an Alawite background, and I confess, the (near) future is predictably horrible not only for God's chosen minorities (pun intended) but for ALL! Thanks to Assad in the first place, and then to the regional and international powers that clearly have a conflict of interests over Syria.

    January 31, 2014

  • micheal.xender

    There were 2.5 million Christians in Syria before Hafez Al Assad staged a military coup and installed a sectarian regime. Now there are only 200,000 Christians left in Syria. The regime is to secular. They have killed 45000 MB members in Hama in 1982 while letting Shia opening Hussain shia convert-center in sunni populated areas with "free healthcare".

    January 31, 2014

  • mjay

    syrian christians fear a failed state. under assad, the state was at the very least secular and nationalistic. with the breakdown of the state and of a national identity, christians and other minorities (alawites, druze, twelver shia) will find themselves vulnerable to attacks from rebels who are misguided in their religious beliefs and have a thirst for vengence. one cannot blame any Syrian christian for standing with Assad or his allies, as they see no future in a failed state with no national identity

    January 30, 2014

  • micheal.xender

    So arguing now that for the alleged risks for minorities sectarian Assad should continue to wipe out the majority sunni pollution?. How about bringing the iraqi sunni arab minority in to power again after Amliki rode on american tanks to power in Iraq? Why is Maliki helping the Assad regime?

    January 31, 2014

  • mjay

    because Assad and Maliki are fighting the same enemies- radical islamists.

    February 1, 2014