Netanyahu was briefed on efforts to stop '60 Minutes' report on Israel's Christians
PM was fully updated by Israeli ambassador to U.S. Michael Oren on his attempts to halt an investigative report on Israel's treatment of its Christian community which he thought would harm Israel's interests.
The attempts by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren to halt the broadcast of a "60 Minutes" investigative report on the Christian community in Israel and the West Bank were carried out after a series of consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political adviser Ron Dermer.
It is unclear whether Netanyahu or Dermer were the ones who instructed or suggested that Oren directly address the president of CBS in an attempt to prevent the broadcast, but the two were fully informed on the affair almost since its start.
According to a senior Israeli official, Oren visited Israel two months ago for family matters, but met with Netanyahu and Dermer during his visit and updated them on the information he obtained regarding the report in "60 Minutes."
During those consultations, Oren stressed that the report, in addition to other articles recently published on Israel's treatment of Christians, may harm Israel's strategic interests in all matters concerning Israel's image in the United States.
Many Christian communities in the United States, in particular Evangelicals, are considered great supporters of Israel. Netanyahu is closely associated with numerous Evangelical leaders and is a usual speaker at the annual conference of the organization Christians United for Israel.
Oren told Netanyahu and his advisers that the broadcast of the report may harm Israel's ties with those Christian communities in the U.S.
Oren was very wary of the broadcast of the report, particularly in light of the fact that the embassy got wind of it from one of its communiqués, and not from "60 Minutes."
"We conducted a thorough examination and we found out that no official Israeli source was asked to comment on the assertions in the report," an Israeli diplomat said.
Israel's embassy in Washington met with "60 Minutes" several times and found that the report was almost ready for broadcast. In one of the meetings with the investigative reporters, an Israeli diplomat presented an issue of Newsweek with a cover story about the persecution of Christian communities in Arab states.
"The '60 Minutes' reporters said that this was not the subject of their article so it was not relevant," said an Israeli diplomat.
The result of the consultations that Oren carried out with Netanyahu, Dermer, and other officials in the Foreign Ministry, was an op-ed that he published shortly afterward in the Wall Street Journal, in which he stressed that while Christians are victims of persecution throughout the Arab world, the Christian community in Israel is actually growing.
In parallel to the op-ed, Oren gave several interviews to Christian media in the U.S. and Netanyahu spoke before the Evangelical organization Christians United For Israel that took place in Jerusalem in March.
"Israel’s Government will never tolerate discrimination against women, and values that ensure that Israel’s Christian population will always be free to practice their faith," Netanyahu said during his speech.
"[Israel] is the only place in the Middle East where Christians are fully free to practice their faith," he said. "In a time where Christians are under siege in so many places, in so many lands in the Middle East, I’m proud that in Israel Christians are free to practice their faith and that there’s a thriving Christian community in Israel."
A senior Israeli official said that Oren's op-ed, together with Netanyahu's speech and the petition to the president of CBS, were meant to foil the broadcast of the investigative report, or to at least affect public opinion in the U.S., particularly in Christian communities, ahead of the broadcast.
Nonetheless, the attempt to thwart the broadcast of the report has brought up the issue of Israel's treatment of its Christian community all the more forcefully. A source in the Foreign Ministry even said that on some level, the preemptive campaign against the report just intensified the resolve of the "60 Minutes" reporters to air it.
"We awakened the dead - instead of stifling the subject we just increased interest in it," the source said.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said that, on the contrary, the attempts to affect the article proved successful. "The broadcast of the article was delayed for several weeks because they reexamined the entire report," officials said. "The article was malignant and harmful, but the wording was much softer than in the original version."