Belief Beat

Belief Beat

Stephen Colbert Tackles Flotilla Raid, Helen Thomas Remarks With Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren

(I was going to save this for Fun Friday, but decided to save that for something more funny ha-ha, less funny tragic.) Last night’s episode of The Colbert Report featured a surprise interview with Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., regarding the fatal raid on the Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla and the controversial remarks that have forced longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas into retirement.

Here’s how Stephen Colbert concluded the interview. See if you can spot where my gasping startled the dog:



I want to say that I repudiate what Helen said. She’s a friend, but I repudiate everything she said. “Go back to Poland, go back to Germany.” That’s ridiculous. Israel is for Israelis. If anything, the Palestinians should go back to where they came from. (Audience laughs, as Oren hesitates.) Do you agree? Do you agree, sir? It’s time to get them back to wherever that was?


Alas I don’t agree. I think there’s room for both of us to share this homeland: Palestinians living in their homeland, Israelis living in their homeland, in a position of permanent and legitimate peace.


For the record, I’ve already explained my professional reasons for not slapping the “anti-Semitic” label on Thomas or what she said, both here and over at this GetReligion post; similar debates are raging in response to Robert Scheer’s Huffington Post column, on Rod Dreher’s Beliefnet blog and elsewhere. Meanwhile, for an in-depth analysis of why Israel (and many American Jews) interprets international criticism over the flotilla raid and its nine civilian casualties as “mostly hyperbole linked to centuries of anti-Jewish persecution,” check out yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor story.


Incidentally, I’ve been hesitant about whether every story about Israel automatically falls under the category of religion news, keeping in mind that I can only link to a fraction of the headlines I read every day from mainstream, Jewish, Catholic, etc. media. (So far, I’ve aimed to cover the obvious stories — the ones making headlines in both secular and religious outlets — while also checking in with as many faith groups as possible every week.) What do you think, dear readers? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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posted June 10, 2010 at 7:37 am

On whether the flotilla incident is “religious news”–No, but very little actual religious news ever takes place, so the category is routinely broadened to include social-political events in which at least one major player or group happens to be strongly affiliated with a particular religion. During the years of “sectarian strife” in Northern Ireland, the SEEMING conflict was Catholics vs Protestants–but does anyone seriously think that the fighting was about a literal-vs-symbolic understanding of transubstantiation of wine and wafers during communion? The battle lines happened to fall along religious lines, but the battle was by no means about religion.
Similarly, the endless conflict in the middle east casts Jews and Muslims against each other, but the hostility is not about Jewish beliefs and practices vs Muslim beliefs and practices.

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posted June 10, 2010 at 8:51 am

A fair point but while it may not be about Jewish beliefs and practices vs Muslim beliefs and practices. the fact that you can identify which side of the issue people are on with a high degree of accuracy simply by knowing there religion mean that religion is defiantly playing a roll. take northern island it wasn’t about the specific definitions of the religions that was the argument, it was that while most of the country was catholic the north was protestant and they didn’t want to rejoin with the rest of the country.
as a result there was violence which then became associated with the one of the two religious groups and made people feel that any member of that group was in some way responsible. The end result is that what starts with a disagreement about non-religious issues often deteriorates into simply US vs THEM mentality with the added problem of each side thinking the ruler of the universe says the’re right.

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lowa kay

posted June 10, 2010 at 9:19 am

Obviously, the nitty gritty details of this incident doesn’t make it seem like a religious issue, but let’s face it, without Israel, Jews will more likely be killed (as history has shown many times, in many places), therefore, as a Jew, and to self preserve my family and my kind, I must believe in Israel…and therefore anyone who wants to anihilate Israel– or deny its existence– I must see as the obvious enemy. Wouldn’t you???

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posted June 10, 2010 at 10:06 am

Iowa kay,
Yes, indeed–and I am not Jewish. BUT, the essential question is: Who is this “anyone” who wants to annihilate Israel or deny its legitimacy? Is it Islam or a violent subset of Islamic fanatics? Is it the Palestinian population or a bunch of terrorists within that population? Is it political leftists or a subset of pseudo-intellectual pseudo-progressives who reflexively blame Israel for all ills in the region?
It may be a natural human tendency to form categories, and national-cultural groupings form easy categories–but that tendency can be deadly. It is not the group identity-label that counts, but the actions of individuals engaging in hate-mongering and terrorism that define an enemy.

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posted June 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm

while Helen’s remarks made up roar in the media, it seems like Colbert can get away with the same comments, because it the other way around. The American media is biased towards Israel no matter what. American media STOP THE HYPOCRISY, and as for Stephen Colbert, he lost his creditability among the comics shows. He lost some and lost a lot.

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posted June 15, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Thanks for the pointer to the Christian science monitor story. It gives a good descriptive overview of the kinds of concerns many Israel supporters have in mind when they see the way different populations and organizations respond to Israel’s actions. Unfortunately it fails to take the perspective it describes seriously. It is one thing to describe a perspective. Quite another to expose it, or unmask it as some kind of ideological goggles that prevent Israels’ supporters from seeing how the rest of clear-eyed humanity sees them, to help these people out of their blindness. I would like to have seen a real confrontation with these ideas, but the article didn’t offer one. Perhaps you have seen a better analysis elsewhere that might help explore the topic more clearly. Since this perspective is held by a great many intelligent people, it is probably important to consider out loud and in detail that it may be true that major international organizations will never be in a position to overturn their decades of hostile treatment of Israel no matter what Israel does in any likely scenario. It may be true. Think of who has influence over the U.N. general assembly and what those nations’ interests are. It may also be true that major news outlets will continue to tell news stories backwards – leading with Israeli responses to Palestinian aggression, and then giving minimal and undigestible accounts of the events that led to Israel’s actions. This narrative schtick obviously manipulates the readers’ emotions, sells copy, and generates a superficially believable post-colonial bad guy and as a side effect incites riots. It will likely continue, no matter how far Israel goes toward the Palestinian peace camp (such as it is), won’t it? (Just think of the results of camp david) Shouldn’t it be discussed? Isn’t it conceivable, just conceivable that a large measure of pessimism toward so called “world opinion is warranted finally? Warrant. This is probably the question to be addressed. I am all ears.

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