What ’60 Minutes’ & Bob Simon got right and wrong

If you haven’t seen it, yesterday’s installment of CBS’s long-running news program “60 Minutes” included a very important segment where journalist Bob Simon investigates what is behind the dwindling presence of Palestine’s Christian population. The segment was powerful and overall very positive. Here is what Bob Simon got right and what he got wrong:

What he got right: The question of the status of the Palestinian Christian population in Palestine is not a new one. In fact, the broader question of ‘Christian Flight’ has long been around, particularly in western discourse. Often, however, investigations into this question in the past have looked superficially at population numbers and come to conclusions without any rigorous inquiry.

What Bob Simon got so right was his approach to the story. To find out what was bothering Palestinian Christians, Bob Simon thought it might be a good idea to talk to them, their representatives and the leaders of their institutions. This shouldn’t be revolutionary, but when it comes to the question of Christians in Palestine in the mainstream US media, allowing Palestinian Christians to actually speak for themselves is sadly novel.

oren

Perhaps this is why the segment managed to draw ire from the Michael Oren, the Ambassador of Israel, even before he saw it. Bob Simon asked Oren how he could draw conclusions about a report he has yet to see. Oren stumbled to respond to a rather straightforward question, first half-saying he assumed it would be bad for Israel then saying he had ‘information’.

Unless Oren and the state of Israel has a network of spies at CBS the only information he must have had is who Bob Simon spoke to: Palestinian Christians. I’m sure Oren was also able to figure out no official representatives of the State of Israel were interviewed either. So, what set off alarm for Oren was that Palestinian Christians where actually going to have an opportunity to narrate their own story to a national American audience.

That is all Oren the ‘information’ needed to freak out and Bob Simon, recognizing how ridiculous this was, gave Oren the opportunity to expose himself to an national American audience. Bob Simon did not intend his piece to be a comment on the way Israel attempts to control the discourse on Palestine and Palestinian Christians, but Michael Oren made that especially news worthy.

anastas

The Anastas house, (pictured left) which is surrounded by Israel’s apartheid wall on three sides and was featured in the CBS segment, is very much symbolic of the larger issue Oren helped Simon expose. Michael Oren and others want to wall-off the discourse so only one angle, one direction, one perspective- the official Israeli perspective- is visible. Bob Simon’s segment busted through some of these walls by simply going to the source of the subject matter; Palestinian Christians.

Simon’s segment made clear that Israel isn’t targeting Palestinian Christians as Christians, rather they are targeted by Israeli policies because they are Palestinians. Israel is an Equal Opportunity Occupier and its walls, checkpoints and restrictions do not discriminate between Christians and Muslims. There is no doubt, however, that Palestinian populations in cities like Bethlehem and Jerusalem, which have historically been home to a significant number of Christians, face some of the most severe effects of Israeli policies.

By giving voice to Palestinian Christians and by showing how this community in Palestine was particularly vulnerable to Israeli occupation, Simon struck a devastating blow at a pillar of Israeli propaganda which became most prominent after 9/11; that Israel is at the front lines in a common Judeo-Christian battle against Islamism.

The Israel Lobby’s alliance with American Christians, particularly evangelicals, is a integral part of its successful efforts to influence American policy makers. How Israeli policies effect Palestinian Christians might change this and there were stirrings of concern in the Jewish community about a change in this relationship prior to Simon’s 60 Minutes segment. Thus, the preemptive strike against CBS was entirely predictable.

Oren seemed to be at a loss for words at some points and when Simon, a veteran journalist, told him he had never in his years of reporting received complaints on a story before it aired Oren replied “Well, there is a first time for everything, Bob.”

Oren’s right, there is a first time for everything. This is the first time that an Israeli Ambassador’s intimidation tactics were so bravely turned against him by a journalist who just wasn’t going to take it any more. Hopefully it is a harbinger of things to come.

The Israeli Ambassador is right to complain of a ‘hatchet job’ but he was the one who brought the hatchet then proceeded to turn it on himself. Simon just kept the cameras rolling.

wall

What he got wrong: Bob Simon made one glaring factual error which was disappointing. Almost in passing, as he narrates over imagery of Israel’s wall in the West Bank, Simon says that: “Israel built the wall over the last 10 years, which completely separates Israel from the occupied West Bank.” But, of course, this is far from true. In fact, the wall cuts deeply into the West Bank and is not built on the green line, the West Bank’s perimeter. What makes this error more disappointing is that in an 60 Minutes segment that Mr. Simon did in 2009 (also very much worth watching) he described the wall’s path far more accurately:

“Israel is building what it calls a security wall between the West Bank and Israel to stop suicide bombers. The Palestinians are furious because it appropriates eight percent of the West Bank. Not only that. It weaves its way through Palestinian farms, separating farmers from their land. They have to wait at gates for soldiers to let them in.”

Overall, this story was a very important expose of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and also how Israel attempts to regulate mainstream American discourse on the issue. For this, we have to thank Bob Simon and the folks at 60 Minutes, and of course, Ambassador Michael Oren.

For how much longer will Israel’s oppression of the native Palestinians last? For how much longer will the US mainstream media hesitate to tackle this issue and give voice to Palestinians?

The clock is ticking and thanks to this 60 Minutes segment last night it is ticking a little faster this morning.

This post first appeared on the Palestine Center blog Permission to Narrate.

About Yousef Munayyer

Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, The Palestine Center.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, Media, Occupation

{ 25 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. radii says:

    Simon just kept feeding Oren rope … and boy did that nervous, twitchy apparatchik sweat as he wrapped it round and round his own neck! Oren’s meltdown was was gold – pure gold! More evidence fascistic, racist zionism is on the ropes and history is surely going to sweep it aside

  2. eGuard says:

    Yes, what Simon got wrong (of course the Wall is in West Bank) hit me as by a hammer. Bad point, but Simon did a brave thing at the main stage.

    Thank you for the map. Maybe Mondoweiss can have permanent links to good maps.

  3. US Citizen says:

    No doubt AIPAC and Israel Lobby’s sayanim gave the “information” to Mr. Oren. Mr. Simon should have pointed out that unlike Israel, in the US there is still freedom of speech and Mr. Oren’s attempt to stifle criticizing Israel does not work anymore. I quickly emailed 60 Minutes a huge BRAVO for airing this story and exposing the ugliness and attempted manipulation by Mr. Oren…does the man have no shame?

  4. David Samel says:

    Yousef’s analysis is perfect. This line sums it up: Simon struck a devastating blow at a pillar of Israeli propaganda which became most prominent after 9/11; that Israel is at the front lines in a common Judeo-Christian battle against Islamism. What chutzpah for Oren to presume to speak for Palestinian Christians! For those who have not seen Simon’s 2009 segment, click on Yousef’s link. If anything, it is even more powerful than yesterday’s, and does not include that unsightly bow to prevailing hasbara about the wall and Ari Shavit’s moral equivocation disguised as wisdom.

    Oren is bright, personable, and articulate, and is absolutely unencumbered by any inconvenient traits such as integrity and honesty. He is Dershowitz with polish covering up the rough edges. His dishonesty is almost pathological. A perfect choice for Israeli government spokesman. Despite the shortcomings of his piece, Simon’s ability to make the usually smooth and slick Oren visibly uncomfortable is priceless.

  5. ahadhaadam says:

    Palestinian Christians is kryptonite to Israeli Hasbara. The latest report from ynet reveals that in fact Bob Simon’s segment was softened after Israeli intervention and lobbying by a number of operatives including the Israeli embassy. The story also reports that Oren updated Netanyahu about the CBS segment and Netanyahu was personally involved. Oren referred to the segment as a “strategic terrorist attack”.

    I just wonder how long it will take until even the most naive Christian Zionists look at each other and realize they had been taken for a ride and the entire narrative that Israel crafted of “enlightened Judeo-Christians against evil Muslims” collapses.

    Expect heavy “Christian-washing” (we already have whitewashing, pinkwashing, greenwashing, blackwashing, Druzewashing) from Israel’s Hasbara brigades in the months to come. Their belief in their moral superiority is steadfast!

    Perhaps the Palestinian Christian community is key to dismantling Israeli Apartheid? One can only hope.

    • Walid says:

      “I just wonder how long it will take until even the most naive Christian Zionists look at each other and realize they had been taken for a ride and the entire narrative that Israel crafted of “enlightened Judeo-Christians against evil Muslims” collapses. ” (ahadhaadam)

      Don’t hold your breath, there’s nothing naive about them. Christian Zionists or whatever they called themselves back then have been at it for a few hundred years and they need the occupation to continue cleansing the land for them for the big day. So they’re really taking Israelis for a ride much more than the other way around and they’re not going to let them quit for any reason.

  6. Pamela Olson says:

    What Bob got even more wrong was saying the Wall “succeeded” in stopping terrorism. That wasn’t the case. Even the Israeli army conceded that the main factor that stopped terrorism wasn’t the Wall but Hamas’ decision to end suicide bombings and enter the political fold.

    “The security fence is no longer mentioned as the major factor in preventing suicide bombings, mainly because the terrorists have found ways to bypass it… [T]he main reason for the reduction in terrorist acts over the past year is the truce in the territories, as partial as it may be. The fact that Hamas, in general, stopped engaging in terror activities changed the picture.

    “The Islamic Jihad network in the West Bank upgraded its capability and was responsible for the murder of 23 Israelis in 2005, but during that time, Hamas – the leading terror orgnanization in recent years – has scaled back its engagement in terror. Its focus on the political arena and the preparations for the Palestinian parliamentary elections have limited its active involvement in terror to a large extent. The Shin Bet holds Hamas directly responsible for only one fatal attack in 2005…”

    link to haaretz.com

    The Wall was never (primarily) about security. I wish people would quit repeating that trope. Think about it: Even the Israeli government knows that Hamas entering the political fold *reduced* terrorism *far* more than the Wall. And what did they do? Make it impossible for Hamas to enter the political fold while continuing to build the sodded Wall on other people’s property.

    Their priorities are clear.

    • bijou says:

      Bob also omitted any direct contextual mention of Israel’s rampant and explicit policy of judaization of Jerusalem. It is the demographically driven policies around residency, birth, death, and existence that have been the primary factor in the Christian exodus. Inserting even the possibility of a “rampant Islamicization” was a really cheap shot that is not worthy of good journalism. All he needed to do was search through some back archives of Israeli TV news for some real choice quotes in Hebrew from politicians about the imperative of maintaining the demographic balance there in the magic mandated ratio of 78% to 28% (if memory serves me correctly) to make the point. He also could have shown some current maps. He also should have explained better how the wall was demographically positioned to keep Jews in the city limits and Arabs out… and all the policies to strip Arabs of their residency.

      However, all things considered, this was a massive improvement on what one usually gets. My favorite moment was when Oren tried to call the report “anti-Semitic” and even he nearly choked on the words, they were so blatantly and egregiously false.

    • Mayhem says:

      @Pamela: This business about the wall not stopping terrorism, but rather Hamas having made a ‘judicious’ decision to stop it as being the reason for the huge drop off in suicide bombings, is chicken and the egg stuff.
      No doubt the existence of the barrier makes it virtually impossible for terrorists to smuggle themselves into Israel. Hamas are aware of this and would therefore have seen the need to change their strategy accordingly.
      The stopping of reward payments to the families of suicide bombers would have certainly influenced potential recruits to change their minds.

      • MarkF says:

        “The stopping of reward payments to the families of suicide bombers would have certainly influenced potential recruits to change their minds.”

        No doubt about it. And it was such a bargain – only a couple trillion American dollars and 4,000+ dead Americans to halt the payments.

        Betcha no Mayhem children in those Iraqi foxholes.

      • Greta says:

        So your take is that stopping payments to the families of fighters is what stopped the bombing? You’re kidding, right? You think Palestinians will strap on a bomb and kill themselves for $25,000 and that’s the motivation? Are you nuts? First of all, it was primarily Saddam who paid these soldiers just like we pay our soldiers. You don’t have to like their methods of resistance, but you do have to see why they do it.

        If the U.S. was willing to provide the Palestinians with tanks, mortars, phosphorus bombs, helicopters and F-16 fighters, the battle would be even, and no one would have had to strap on a bomb in retaliation.

        Your kind of comments are ignorant of the facts and fail to see the desperation of an occupied people fighting for their freedom. Guess that’s OK for everyone BUT the Palestinians

      • Pamela Olson says:

        Hey genius (@Mayhem) — read what the Shin Bet itself said (this was in my comment, btw):

        “The security fence is no longer mentioned as the major factor in preventing suicide bombings, mainly because the terrorists have found ways to bypass it.”

        • Mayhem says:

          @pamela: what is irrefutable is that the security fence was built originally and primarily to stem the tide of terrorism and suicide bombings. Since it was built its existence has been bandied around for various political purposes. To claim the fence was built to steal Palestinian land is pure propaganda.
          You can conjecture all you want as to what factors are keeping the number of terrorist episodes right down to almost zero today.
          The fact is that Hamas, in general, has stopped engaging in these kinds of terror activities for the time being. Hamas are intending to introduce Hebrew as a language in their schools. Maybe they are planning long term for their terrorism to get ‘cleverer’.

      • Shingo says:

        No doubt the existence of the barrier makes it virtually impossible for terrorists to smuggle themselves into Israel.

        On the contrary. 1,500 Palestinians are able to climb over, around, under and through the wall every week. Any suicide bomber could easily get into Israel.

        The stopping of reward payments to the families of suicide bombers would have certainly influenced potential recruits to change their minds.

        Idiotic argument. No suicide bomber is persuaded to commit suicide because of money.

    • Freija says:

      You are right , Pamela, the “Security Wall” is just for grabbing more land and at the same time justifying their control of “terrorism”. International terrorism is an Israeli speciality on all five continents and on sea, as we still witness. The first car bomb in the middle East was a Jewish one. The state of Israel was not even established. Then they continued with this kind of terror attacks. Of course the evicted Palestinians immediately used this kind for the liberation from the zionist ignominy. Propaganda is made by blaming the oppressed to be the oppressor (Malcolm X). Nothing new.

  7. Blake says:

    First WSJ in its article “Israel Really Isn’t All That Friendly to Its Christians”
    link to online.wsj.com
    and now 60 minutes.

    Yes the truth is finally coming out!

  8. thetumta says:

    Anybody have any ideas why RT tv on time-warner and other networks is “under maintenance” just before Julian Assange interviews your favorite current right wing Zionist and a former Communist vs. a former Communist now an anti-Zionist, capitalist. I guess the last interview with the leadership of Hezbollah was just too much for the supporters of hope and change. Looked like an interesting interview. Are Americans going to get to see it?
    Hej! Tumta
    P.S. National Security Letter?

  9. Henry Norr says:

    To send feedback to CBS re this 60 Minutes segment, go to:

    link to cbsnews.com

    Choose “60 Minutes” from the pop-up menu at the top.

  10. Greta says:

    The irony of Simon’ comments about the wall is that Hamas, in Gaza, was responsible for most of the suicide bombers. But the wall is built in the occupied West Bank and has NOTHING to do with stopping Palestinian resistance factions. The wall is built to separate Palestinian from Palestinian, and to make it impossible for Palestinians to go get to school, go to the doctor, travel from one city to the next and have any kind of freedom of movement.

    Israel’s on-going slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian Christians and Muslims is personified by that evil 28 foot wall.

  11. Refaat says:

    israel is a self-destructive entity. Even its supporters have started to back off. Tik Tok Tik Tok tik Tok

  12. Kathleen says:

    “Oren’s right, there is a first time for everything. This is the first time that an Israeli Ambassador’s intimidation tactics were so bravely turned against him by a journalist who just wasn’t going to take it any more. Hopefully it is a harbinger of things to come.”

    Most of us know that this is not the first time an Israeli official, or the I lobby have contacted MSM outlet owners, producers etc to block or interfere with any type of programming that would clarify or report accurately about the I/P conflict or the situation with Iran.

    When the map of the West Bank was shown on this 60 minutes program they of course did not show the illegal settlements. Standard on US MSM outlets.

  13. ymedad says:

    He had a few other errors, actually and basically, threw the Jews to the lions.

    link to myrightword.blogspot.com

    • Shingo says:

      He had a few other errors, actually and basically, threw the Jews to the lions.

      Thanks for teh comic relief ymedad. I love how you correct “errors”, not by provising answers, but by playing dumb and asking infantile questions.

      Here’s a few of your funnier moments:

      This is a trend that mirrors the Christian flight throughout the Palestinian Authority. However, this exodus began long before Israeli checkpoints and the security wall.

      Of course it did you dolt, because the occupation preceeded the Israeli checkpoints and the apartheid wall.

      It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the Christian population fled during the time when Jordan occupied the West Bank.

      Acording to what source?

      The Christian population under the Palestinian Authority has suffered from a negative growth-rate and now number less than 50,000, or about 2.4 percent of the population”.

      Under the Palestinian Authority? Who are you kidding? Israel controls 100% of the West Bank and EJ.

      Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian, a Christian and a Lutheran minister from Bethlehem. He runs schools, cultural centers and health clinics. [and Israel considers him ma 'racist' and an 'anti-Semite']

      Oh, well if Israel says so, then it must be true.

      Israel is the only Middle East nation where the Christian population has grown in the last half century

      That’s hillarious. The Palestinian population in 1940 was roughly 1 million, 11 to 12 percent of the which were Christians. That means that prior to the ethnic cleansing carried out by Israel in 1948, the Christian population in Palestine was roughly what it is today. Yeah, some growth!!

      And what is this doing in the transcript?

      Yeah damn it, who allowed that bit in? Hasbra hasn’t come up with a talking point to cover that one.

  14. stevieb says:

    I have say I don’t think this is the first time Israel’s treatment of Christians has been brought up – maybe about Palestinian Christians – maybe. I recall a 60 minutes segment dealing with American Christians in Jerusalem having their digs burnt down(and then building them up again)a few times over; as well as showing orthodox rabbis insulting, spitting at etc at Christian tourists and Christian authority figures.