Who writes of the “stubborn, feckless resistance of Hamas,” an anti-Israeli jihadist terrorist group? Astonishingly, it is Georgetown University ethics professor and Catholic priest Drew Christiansen, a man like many Georgetown academics who pairs distinguished credentials with abiding antipathy towards Israel and apologetics for Islam.
Christiansen is the former Jesuit weekly America’s editor-in-chief and director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Office of International Justice and Peace. His resume can thus impart considerable authority to his causes. Accordingly, he recently addressed on September 12 yet another event against “Islamophobia” at Georgetown’s Saudi-funded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU).
Notwithstanding Christiansen’s erudite pedigree, his views concerning Islam and Israel are not at all nuanced. His priestly colleague, the late eminent conservative scholar and commentator Father Richard John Neuhaus, already discerned in 2008 that America “under its editor, Fr. Drew Christiansen, has an apparently irrepressible urge to engage in bashing Israel.” The same outlook dominates a National Catholic Reporter blog column begun in 2014 by him and his coauthor Ra’fat Aldajani, described by Christiansen as a “Palestinian-American who represents the majority Palestinian view.”
The pair unequivocally describe Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians as the “West’s last colonial war.” Apparently oblivious to longstanding Arab attempts to destroy an Israel condemned as illegitimate, these authors claim that “Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” after Israel’s 1967 Six Day War victory is the “root cause of the conflict.” This occupation is “illegal,” they proclaim, even though it resulted from Israel’s defensive war and is legitimated by United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. As properly interpreted, this resolution calls upon Israel to make undefined territorial withdrawals while receiving in return “secure and recognized boundaries.”
Not heeding Israeli legal claims to the Jewish ancestral heartland of Judea and Samaria captured by Israel in 1967, Aldajani and Christiansen deem Israeli settlements here “more properly ‘colonies’ as the French call them.” This Israeli “predatory land grab” also includes Jerusalem and “Israel’s illegal and internationally rejected claim” to the entire city unified by Israel’s 1967 victory. “No amount of insisting that all of Jerusalem is Israel’s ‘undivided and eternal capital’ will change the reality that it never will be,” the pair writes, who call for renewed division of the city into the capitals of Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Aldajani and Christiansen’s condemnation of Israel extends beyond 1967 to Israel’s 1948 independence war. “Israel was built on the forced expulsion of Palestinians in what historian Ilan Pappe has described, in the book of the same name, as ‘the ethnic cleansing of Palestine,’” the pair writes. They describe the March 10, 1948, Plan D (Dalat) of pre-independence Jewish military leaders as a “now well-documented plan for expulsion of noncombatant Palestinians that included direct attack and intimidation.”
Yet leading, left-leaning Israeli historian Benny Morris clearly refutes his fellow Israeli Pappe’s distortion of Plan D, a strategic outline that references the expulsion of Arab villages from Israeli territory only in cases of military hostility. Others have noted that Pappe inverts historical reality, attributing to Israelis ethnic cleansing goals actually desired by Israel’s aggressive Arab neighbors who sought to abort nascent Israel’s existence. “At best,” Morris summarizes, “Ilan Pappe must be one of the world’s sloppiest historians; at worst, one of the most dishonest,” an appropriate accusation given that The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine contains fabricated quotations.
Aldajani and Christiansen describe Plan Dalet as establishing what “has for too long been the Israeli way of war: domination by obliteration.” While the authors note indiscriminate Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, their condemnation of such “war crimes” focuses on how “Israel has not shared modern Western scruples about civilian deaths in wartime.” Indeed, Israeli “subjugation of a despised neighboring people” and “disdain for Palestinian life prompts a reciprocal response by groups like Hamas.”
Aldajani and Christiansen’s febrile invective particularly highlighted Israel’s 2014 Gaza conflict with Hamas. Israel’s “[r]epeated attacks on places of refuge, including specifically designated U.N. compounds, are a scandal,” the commentators wrote. Israeli destruction of Gaza apartment buildings was a “flagrant demonstration of Israel’s disregard for civilian immunity in wartime.”
The real “Israeli way of war” involving considerable, well-documented efforts to spare civilians in conflict differs significantly from Aldajani and Christiansen’s imaginations. Fewer than half of Palestinian casualties in the 2014 Gaza conflict were civilian, a ratio no other country, including the United States, has matched. By contrast, Hamas’ “flagrant…disregard for civilian immunity in wartime” uses human shield tactics to transform United Nations schools and apartment towers into military bases.
While Aldajani and Christiansen slander Israel’s jus in bello conduct, the bloggers actually defend Hamas’ jus ad bellum for waging war against Israel. For Hamas, the 2014 “Gaza conflict was one of survival” given the “slow strangulation of the Israeli blockade” and the “suffocating conditions under which Gazans are condemned to live.” “[F]or any other people, Israelis included,” the “pain inflicted by the octopus-like stranglehold of the Israeli embargo of Gaza…would provide a legitimate cause” for self-defense. Hamas “conditions for a cease-fire, namely an ending of the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the opening of Gaza’s borders, are legitimate.” “Even with Hamas in power, if there had been no embargo of Gaza, there would have been no rockets fired into Israel,” Aldajani stated to Christiansen in an introductory interview.
Aldajani and Christiansen’s absurdities once again obscure the realities recognized by a July 2011 United Nations report on Israel’s May 31, 2010, maritime seizure of a Turkish ship seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. “Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza,” making Israel’s naval blockade a “legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea,” the report stated. In contrast, almost all humanitarian aid enters Gaza by land.
Although criticizing an “unsustainable humanitarian and economic situation of the civilian population” in Gaza, the report welcomed Israel’s land-based “efforts to ease its restrictions on movement of goods and persons to and from Gaza.” Perhaps such easing explains a March 2015 report on rising obesity in Gaza, despite Hamas’ predilection for diverting intended humanitarian aid to military uses. An estimated 600 Gaza millionaires also profit from smuggling tunnels,
For Israeli-Palestinian peace, Aldajani and Christiansen call for “negotiations in which the two sides meet as equals, as other insurgents have with their onetime rulers” contra the United Nations report concerning Gaza alone. While the “specific circumstances of Gaza are unique…Gaza and Israel are both distinct territorial and political areas. Hamas is the de facto political and administrative authority in Gaza.” Thus the Hamas-Israel “conflict should be treated as an international one for the purposes of the law of blockade.”
“Israel will sooner or later have to negotiate with Hamas as part of the resolution of the conflict, terrorist organization or not,” Aldajani stated to Christiansen. “Menachem Begin, one of Israel’s most prominent prime ministers, headed the ‘terrorist’ Stern Gang during the 1948 war,” Aldajani stated, confusing Begin, leader of the Jewish paramilitary Irgun, with his fellow Israeli prime minister and Stern leader, Yitzhak Shamir. More troubling than factual errors is Aldajani’s equation of such Jewish groups that used violence against British and Arab enemies in the name of an independent Israel with Hamas and its charter threatening Israel with genocide.
“Most of the world recognizes the Palestinian cause as just,” Aldajani and Christiansen nonetheless simplistically state. Palestinians “have lived on the land of historic Palestine since time immemorial,” the pair writes of a population formed by numerous population flows into a territory named by the Roman Empire “Palestine” after the Philistines. Aldajani and Christiansen praise Palestinian leaders for “keeping the Palestinian cause alive through some very challenging decades,” without explaining how this involved anything more than vicious terrorism. While the bloggers describe the 1987-1993 First Intifada as “mostly nonviolent,” evidence shows that the “intifada was violent from the start.”
By contrast, Aldajani and Christiansen judge that the “dream of a democratic Jewish homeland has morphed into a nightmare of ethno-nationalist extremism.” “The Israeli occupation of Palestine is a long-lasting tyranny” in which Israelis “control and exploit Palestinian water supplies,” the pair writes while citing a common but unfounded canard. Ignoring economic data concerning Israel’s various, diverse communities, the bloggers claim that “institutional discrimination…has relegated Arab-Palestinian citizens to the second-class citizenship.”
Israel’s “occupation” evokes from Aldajani and Christiansen the “duty to resist grave public evils, like genocide, ethnic cleansing and the massive violation of the basic rights of entire peoples.” The pair therefore supports limited Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) measures “not intended to de-legitimize the State of Israel, but rather to oppose Israeli settlement and business activities in the Palestinian Territories.” This naïve delimitation of a vicious BDS movement seeking Israel’s destruction accompanies the authors’ equally fatuous approval that the 2009 “Kairos statement called for the liberation of Palestinians from the yoke of occupation.” Yet as the Central Committee of American Rabbis noted in 2010, Kairos’ radical Palestinian drafters created a “factually, theologically and morally flawed document” containing “explicit supercessionism and inherent anti-Semitism.” Aldajani and Christiansen’s support for radical anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and Zochrot does not surprise.
Affecting voices crying in the wilderness, Aldajani and Christiansen suggest that ignorance blinds most Americans to the duo’s assessments of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Most Americans remain unaware of “Jewish dispossession of Palestinians even prior to the establishment of the state of Israel,” the bloggers claim. In reality, Zionist settlement actually stimulated Arab immigration into the pre-Israel Palestine Mandate.
“Insidious racism colors perceptions of the conflict” between Israel and Palestinians, Aldajani and Christiansen add, while citing presidential candidate Donald Trump’s address to the American-Israeli Political Action Committee. “Trump used the worst sort of stereotyping to claim that ‘in Palestinian society, the heroes are those who murder Jews,’ and that ‘in Palestinian textbooks and mosques, you’ve got a culture of hatred that has been fermenting there for years.’” Yet abundant documentation of Palestinian society verifies Trump’s supposedly “racist and bigoted” claims.
A clue to Aldajani and Christiansen’s thinking comes from their telling claim that “easily Israel’s most balanced newspaper” is Haaretz. Although “considered to be the paper of note by outsiders…the Israeli equivalent of the New York Times,” one Israeli commentator notes, Haaretz is “utterly unrepresentative of the Israeli public and political system at large.” While Haaretz’s English-language website in 2008 received a million monthly users, only 66,000 Israelis subscribed to the paper and Haaretz accounted for only 6.1 percent of the daily newspaper market in the latter half of 2013.
Israel Media Watch has noted that “Haaretz is not so much a newspaper as an ideological tract” for a “far-left agenda,” often featuring “gross inaccuracies.” Haaretz has published false allegations of Israel forcing contraception upon Ethiopian Jews and one Haaretz columnist compared Israeli fascination with Israeli-American Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt to fascism. Pro-Israel media watch dog CAMERA has also found that English-language Haaretz stories often omit facts discussed in the original Hebrew version, thereby biasing the news for Haaretz’s international audience. Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg stopped reading Haaretz in 2016, stating that “when neo-Nazis are e-mailing me links to Haaretz op-eds declaring Israel to be evil, I’m going to take a break, sorry.”
Haaretz goes well with Aldajani and Christiansen, as CAMERA once caught the pair deceptively suggesting that Israel’s Christian population was declining. The bloggers referenced in 2014 Rateb Rabie, a cofounder with Christiansen of the anti-Israeli Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF). Rabie noted that the “percentage of Christians in contemporary Israel has declined from 20 percent of the population at the time of Israel’s founding to 1.5 percent today.” These statistics, while true in relative terms, conceal an absolute growth in Israel’s Christian population during the same period of over 200 percent.
Aldajani and Christiansen also wrote in 2014 that in legislation under consideration in Israel’s parliament, “Arab Christians in Israel will be required to carry an ID card marking them as Christians.” Additionally, “Christians will also be eligible to be drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces” (IDF). Yet the ultimate law recognized on identification cards Israel’s Christian Arameans according to their Aramean nationality, not religion. The law also provided for mailing notices to Israel’s Christians in order to inform them of voluntary IDF enlistment opportunities.
These errors cast doubt upon Aldajani and Christiansen’s numerous benign assessments of the Islamic faith from which so many threats like Hamas to Israel and others arise. The bloggers write that a Western-Islamic “civilizational divide is at its root an opinion harbored by those who really know very little about Islam.” Not surprisingly, the pair praises fraudulent, error-prone Edward Said’s “precedent-setting book Orientalism” for having “exposed and criticized biased western attitudes and portrayals of Muslim and Arab cultures.”
Concerning caliphates past and present, Aldajani and Christiansen write that the “early military expansion of Islam did not include subjugation and conversion of conquered territories, but contented itself with collecting taxes.” The brutal implications of the jizya tax within a wider system of oppression for non-Muslims remain unstated within Aldajani and Christiansen’s description of “Caliphates…as tolerant centers of sophisticated culture.” The bloggers dismiss the “Islamic State’s [IS] bankrupt claim to ‘Muslim’ ideology” that has “misquoted and misrepresented Islam, cherry-picking verses from the Quran and sayings of the Prophet.” Yet expert judgments disagree, while Egyptian observers of Sunni Islam’s most renowned university, Al Azhar in Cairo, including an alumnus Islamic law scholar, have noted considerable similarity between IS and Al Azhar doctrine.
In IS’ current northern neighbor Turkey, Aldajani and Christiansen see in Fethullah Gülen an “adept of Sufi Islam, a mystic, and an advocate of nonviolence.” The “high moral standards of his followers, their competence and standing in society” along with his private school network show an “inspired Muslim cleric who believes Islam does not have to turn its back on the West and Western science.” More thorough, critical observers see in the movement of this Georgetown University benefactor an “Islamic Supremacist Cult” that “bills itself as a proponent of tolerance and dialogue but works toward purposes quite the opposite.”
Concerning Israel’s Palestinian opponents, Aldajani and Christiansen overestimate secular trends in a culture dominated by Islam. “Rooted in the Arab Renaissance of the 1920s and ‘30s, the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] and Fatah, its leading party, are essentially secular,” the pair writes in outdated ignorance of Fatah’s decades-long, widespread Islamization. “Palestinian Arabs,” Morris has noted, “like the world’s other Muslim Arab communities, are deeply religious and have no respect for democratic values” but seek a “Muslim Arab–dominated polity to replace Israel.”
Aldajani and Christiansen’s views on Israel and Islam complement a broader leftwing outlook raising many political and theological objections. The pair has lauded President Barack Obama’s extremely dubious “impressive achievements such as health care reform, the Paris climate agreement, rapprochement with Cuba and the nuclear deal with Iran.” Unbeknownst to many, the latter agreement has caused “a series of diplomatic victories that in a less poisoned time would be feted as proof of his foreign policy prowess.”
In contrast, Aldajani and Christiansen cast criticism upon America’s Christians and conservatives. A “multitude of prominent conservatives, both elected officials and the media figures…tell their followers what to believe every day” the bloggers write, evoking the longtime leftist slur of ill-informed, easily-duped right-wingers. In America, “all our greatest domestic terrorists” (Timothy McVeigh?) were Christian, the bloggers assert without naming specific names and the slightest shred of evidence linking Christian belief to such heinous murderers. Nonetheless, “America has evolved and changed positively” with measures like “legalized gay marriage,” Father Christiansen and his blogging partner write for the National Catholic Reporter.
Christiansen’s leftism extends beyond his blog. He endorsed a leftwing religious group’s report (Be Not Afraid) condemning orthodox Catholic groups for opposing the disbursement of Catholic Church charity funds to pro-abortion and pro-homosexual groups. He also signed a 2013 letter opposing a grant to Catholic University of America by billionaire libertarian philanthropist Charles Koch. Along with Christiansen, the letter’s “signatories include a who’s who of former Catholic leaders who presided over an era of weak Catholic identity,” noted the Catholic Cardinal Newman Society.
Aldajani and Christiansen did not go without rebuttal at National Catholic Reporter, where Catholic writer Michael Sean Winters criticized the pair’s writings on Israel as “tendentious at best and inflammatory at worst.” Winters confirmed concerning Christiansen “one thousand percent certainty that he is not an anti-Semite.” Nonetheless, the “catalogue of mistakes and misrepresentations and misunderstood history and completely missing political context that Christiansen and Aldajani claim is analysis…could be put to good use by an anti-Semite.”
No matter Christiansen’s intentions, his views on Israel, Islam, and other matters are more sophomoric than priestly or professorial. Whatever his sacerdotal and academic gifts, political analysis is not one of them; given his past track record, any such future pontifications should meet with considerable grains of salt rather than any false magisterial aura. Unfortunately for today’s college students, Christiansen’s biases and shortcomings are hardly unique in Georgetown University’s hallowed halls (consider here, here, here, and here) and beyond.