May 01,2017 – JORDAN TIMES – James J. Zogby
This week, nearing the end of four years of service as an Obama presidential appointee to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), I felt compelled to issue a public dissent to USCIRF’s 2017 annual report.
While the larger part of my dissent dealt with the way the commission does its work (which I will discuss in a future column), what moved me to go public was the glaring refusal of some commissioners to allow even a consideration of religious freedom in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
I did not bring this matter before the commission. It was brought to our attention by two letters urging us to consider Israel’s discriminatory behaviour towards Palestinian Christians and Muslims, and non-Orthodox Jews.
The first of these was signed by leaders representing 11 major US religious communities and 34 Christian groups from the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.
Their letter noted that the commission had “never reported on religious freedom in Israel and the occupied territories” calling it a “conspicuous gap”.
Its authors argued that Israel has established “the dominant privileged position of Jewish Israelis in a manner that discriminates against the Christian and Muslim Palestinian population in Israel and the occupied territories… [while] also negatively affecting non-Orthodox and secular Jews”.
They cited “discriminatory laws that impact the freedom to marry, family unification, discrimination in housing and land ownership, the freedom of movement, and the right to worship” at a main holy site.
The letter closed by urging USCIRF to conduct “a comprehensive review of religious freedom in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, consistent with the principles it has established with respect to other states”.