Religious Freedom and World Hypocrisy

Last week’s State Department report on the sorry state of religious freedom in many countries underscores both the heightened assault on the basic right to freedom of worship and the hypocrisy of much of the world towards Israel.

The International Freedom Report for 2012 clearly outlines the dismal state of religious freedom around the world, singling out countries such as China, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and even India. Israel, a nation where 25 percent of its population practices religions other than Judaism, and where many of those minorities openly express a hatred of Jews, is nowhere to be found on the list of nations oppressing those of other faiths. In other words, most of the population of the world doesn’t enjoy the freedom of religion guaranteed to those who live in Israel, but you wouldn’t know it from all the clamoring to punish Israel for its policies.

With such global religious repression, where are the calls from religious groups and leaders for divestments in those countries that are violently intolerant of other belief systems? Where’s the boycott from academics of universities? Where are the conferences? All those who are so quick to strangle Israel economically, academically and culturally are silent in the face of worldwide religious persecution, thereby revealing that the true animus of what lies behind their outrage against Israel is simply repackaged and reformulated anti-Semitism.

At some of America’s universities, protests against Israel are as much a part of the academic program as finals and midterms. In University of California, Berkley, rabid student protests against Israel’s policies have led the U.S. Department of Education to investigate whether Jewish students had their civil rights violated. Have those student groups protested against Chinese students because of what China’s government is perpetrating against those of different religions? In Tibet, Chinese persecution of practicing Buddhists includes imprisonment, torture and execution. Chinese religious suppression and harassment of Tibetans have made their lives so unlivable that an estimated 83 Buddhists have killed themselves by self-immolation.

Recently, controversial British cosmologist and best-selling author Stephen Hawking joined the academic boycott against Israel, declining to attend a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres. Hawking had no issue with Iran, though, traveling to that country in 2007 to attend a physicists Olympiad. In Iran, minority religious groups, including Sunni Moslems, are routinely harassed and imprisoned. One pastor, Saaed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in July for leading a network of houses of worship. Dissenters in Iran disappear into something similar to Hawking’s black holes, rarely seen again. Hawking also has visited China, expressing his admiration for the nation’s universities. Remember, this is a nation where dissent has been brutally crushed, where academic
freedom is virtually non-existent. Furthermore, Hawking seemed to have no moral issue visiting the alternative universe of the former Soviet Union, which he did in the 1970s.

The expectation would be that the State Department report would trigger an outpouring of condemnation from religious figures, groups, and unions, demanding that private and religious groups apply the “Boycott, Divest, and Sanction” punishment to Iran, China, Russia and others who persecute those of other faiths. Instead, there is silence. When it comes to Israel, the one nation in the Middle East where all religions are practiced freely, the Presbyterian Church of the United States, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the United Church of Canada, the Church of England Synod, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the World Council of Churches are either divesting from Israel or have already done so.

Religious and political figures who have been so outspoken in their criticism of Israel seem to have become sudden introverts when it comes to expressing that same outrage against nations persecuting those of other faiths. Take South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for example, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has pleaded for boycotts against Israel, comparing its policies to apartheid South Africa. Using his stature as a religious figure, Tutu has campaigned for the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, one of the largest pension funds in the U.S., to end its association with Israeli companies. He has convinced the University of Johannesburg to cut its academic ties with Ben Gurion University. He has gotten the U.S. Food Co-op to boycott Israeli-made goods.

Tutu should look no further than his own continent of Africa for governments to boycott. In Somalia, Christians and Suffi Moslems suffer stoning, amputation and flogging at the hands radical extremists. Nigeria has also made the State Department’s list of religious intolerance. And if Tutu is so concerned with violence, he should concentrate his efforts on bringing peace to two of the most homicidal nations in the world that are in Africa: Uganda and Zambia.

The latest State Department report exposes not only the rising intolerance to religious practice, but also mounting worldwide hypocrisy and anti-Semitism.