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State Department submits international religious freedom report to Congress

A hefty section on “Israel, West Bank and Gaza” devotes considerably more space to right-wing Orthodox positions on egalitarian worship at the Western Wall than it does to antisemitic attacks on Israelis.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Source: Screenshot.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Source: Screenshot.

The U.S. State Department submitted its “2022 Report on International Religious Freedom” to Congress on May 15. “This report assesses the actions of countries that are our partners and those with whom we have disagreements, evaluating all by the same standards,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.

Among the progress achieved in the past year, the secretary noted that Croatia appointed its first special adviser for Holocaust issues and combating antisemitism. The Balkan country named Sara Lustig—previously deputy head of its delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance—to the role, which advises the prime minister, in September.

A hefty section of the report on “Israel, West Bank and Gaza” runs nearly 19,000 words and devotes considerably more space to right-wing Orthodox positions on egalitarian worship at the Western Wall than it does to antisemitic attacks on Israelis.

In one passage, for example, the ostensibly factual report noted that video footage “showed” Israeli police engaging with people in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound; however, videos only “appeared to show” some Palestinians in the mosque or on the Temple Mount using fireworks, stones and Molotov cocktails. The report often cites “media reports” without specifying the specific outlets or their political leanings or commitment to objectivity.

The report also claims that Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef said after the Nov. 12 elections “that the new government, once it was formed, needed to pass a bill allowing the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions.” The report did not note that the chief rabbi made the remark in a weekly Torah talk on Shabbat, nor that he reportedly added: “Don’t know if it’s possible to fix things. Now is the opportunity to make amends.”

The report added that Christian leaders largely reported “little difficulty obtaining visas for clergy to serve in Israel or East Jerusalem,” except those from Armenia and Arab countries, whom the government said experienced delays during security reviews.

The report also noted that “NGOs reported that some LGBTQI+ minors who revealed their sexual orientation in religious communities faced expulsion from their homes and stigmatization by rabbis,” while “Other NGOs noted that an increasing number of rabbis, educators, and community leaders in Orthodox Jewish communities were adopting a more inclusive approach to LGBTQI+ minors.” It did not note Tel Aviv Pride, a week-long series of events, including a parade, that takes place on the second week of June as part of the international observance of Gay Pride Month.

In a section on Iran, the report noted that a study found elementary and high school curricula “rife with antisemitic rhetoric when Jews are discussed. This consists of heinous and phantasmagoric descriptions of Zionism, anti-Israeli propaganda and a host of Shi’ite-Islamic anti-Jewish anecdotes, which present the Jews as partners to Sunni Muslims who operate against the Shi’ites.”

It added that an imam of a prominent mosque preached in April 2022 that “Jews and Israelites are the dumbest creatures of God, so Britain and the United States use them to spy,” adding that Jews are an “extremely ignorant and cowardly people.”

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