The New York Times’ blog, The Lede, reports on the latest in a series of provocative, offensive, and frankly fratboyish Facebook posts coming from Israel’s embassy in Ireland. They go from digs at Ireland (“naïve”) for joining Europe and much of the world in voting for an upgrade in Palestine’s status at the United Nations, to the most recent—an allegation that, if Jesus were alive today, he would probably be lynched by hostile Palestinians.
Nobody at the embassy seems to know who’s writing and posting these very ugly statements—and they’d prefer it stay that way; a spokesperson notes that in addition to government staff, everyday Israelis can post, too. (Which sounds like a disaster for any governmental institution, and predictably enough it seems the page has now been taken down, having failed to advance a positive image of the country.)
That the New York Times is reporting on the story indicates how much negative press has been generated; some of the postings are stunningly offensive—and the embassy might be better off looking more seriously into them. Certainly, they do not help the current Israeli government’s declining popularity in the eastern half of the West. More worryingly, the deliberate provocations seem to have emerged from the embassy’s public relations strategy, which includes wondering if pro-Palestinian Israeli activists are motivated less by ideology and more by “sexual identity problems.”
Seriously. Setting that kind of tone will probably only encourage more and more absurd statements.
The recent post on Jesus seems especially insensitive, considering who it is being directed to and where it is apparently originating. A number of Palestinians are Christians, and that Christianity is of course traced back to the time of Jesus himself. The Palestinian weekend is Friday and Sunday. In addition to being the world’s most annoying and dissatisfying weekend schedule (there should be an award for that, or maybe financial compensation), the days reflect the primary religious affiliations of Palestinians—Muslim (Friday) and Christian (Sunday).
Why would Christian Palestinians want to “lynch” Jesus?
Or perhaps the embassy’s unknown provocateur meant to suggest the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, who are Muslims, would “lynch” Jesus Christ. This, too, is an astonishing assertion. There is no school of Islam that does not honor and revere Jesus Christ as a Prophet, as the Word and Spirit of God; moreover, Muslims revere Jesus as the Messiah who is foretold to return in the end times. It would be very strange to suggest that Palestinians, Muslim or Christian, would want to attack a sacred figure whose return is expected.
This is coming from an embassy in an historically strongly Catholic country, too—whose connections to Palestinians are numerous, and include bridges of faith as well as a shared perception of colonialism.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine isn’t at bottom about religion—or, I should say, it shouldn’t be. Some on both sides try to pitch it that way, and considering the territory that is right now fought over, it’s not surprising religion plays that role and is made a justification for actions and policies and aspirations. It’s just surprising when the most basic elements of religious belief are so gravely misunderstood, or so deliberately flouted.