newsJewish & Israeli Holidays

US, UN officials use ‘puzzling’ language equating tensions with Ramadan, Passover and Easter

“With this statement, the State Department has effectively given Palestinian groups a green light to attack Israel,” Jonathan Schanzer, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS.

Palestinian Arabs celebrate the first night of the holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's Old City on March 23, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Palestinian Arabs celebrate the first night of the holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's Old City on March 23, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.

Briefing the U.N. Security Council from Jerusalem on March 22, Tor Wennesland, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, urged “all sides to refrain from unilateral steps that escalate tensions” ahead of Ramadan, Passover and Easter. “This should be a period for safe and peaceful religious reflection and celebration for all,” he said.

Twice the day before, on March 21, U.S. State Department officials issued similar calls for calm ahead of the three overlapping holidays.

When Wendy Sherman, U.S. deputy secretary of state, summoned Michael Herzog, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, the two discussed the disengagement law. Sherman stressed “the importance of all parties refraining from actions or rhetoric that could further inflame tensions leading into the Ramadan, Passover and Easter holidays,” per Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesman at the State Department.

And at the podium during the department’s daily press briefing, Patel said the Knesset vote came “at a time of heightened tensions” and was “particularly provocative and counterproductive to efforts to restore some measures of calm as we head into the Ramadan, Passover and the Easter holidays.”

Violence from terrorists who self-identify as Muslim during Ramadan is documented, but suggesting that Jewish and Christian extremists act more violently during Passover and Easter respectively appears to be Foggy Bottom’s religious holiday adaptation of “all lives matter.”

“This formulation is puzzling, and that’s being generous,” Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS. “In fact, there is nothing inherently violent about Ramadan, Easter or Passover. With this statement, the State Department has effectively given Palestinian groups a green light to attack Israel.”

Officials, who lump the holidays together, also imply that Jews, Christians and Muslims “wield their holidays as tools of political violence,” added Schanzer. “So much for diplomacy.”

U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland, Jan. 26, 2021. Credit: UNSCO Photo by Daniela Penkova.

‘Marred by violence and conflict’

Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the Israel-based International Legal Forum and a human-rights attorney, also shared concerns about the language with JNS.

“Like clockwork, every Ramadan, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority use the opportunity to incite Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem and around the Temple Mount, with various incendiary remarks and outright lies, that invariably result in a spike in violence,” he said. “The situation is already very tense on the ground with a massive surge in Palestinian terror attacks. The international community, including the Biden administration, ought to be placing greater pressure on the Palestinian leadership to calm the tensions, rather than pour more fuel on the fire during this holiday period.”

Sandra Parker, chairwoman of the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Action Fund, told JNS that anyone who denies Israel the right to self-defense “betrays their own ignorance and bigotry.”

“The U.N. is a cesspool of anti-Israel animus, so we’ve no expectation they would take an appropriate position on these issues,” she added. “If the Biden administration is to reflect the will of the American people, they will—as have the president’s predecessors—acknowledge that Israel faces intransigent, violent enemies and defend Israel’s right to protect its people.”

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to questions from JNS.

“That is not what the passage suggests,” Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said of Wennesland’s briefing to the Security Council. When asked to respond to claims that the statement makes a false equivalence between tension on the three holidays, Haq did not respond to JNS questions.

Much ink has spilled on the alleged rise in violence during the Muslim holy month.

“There has been an effort by those who wish to promote violence to use Ramadan as a war cry to mobilize the forces, to mobilize people,” Ambassador Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, wrote last year. “There’s really no basis in Islamic theology for doing that.”

“What is supposed to be a time of self-sacrifice, prayer and piety is again being marred by violence and conflict,” Voice of America reported in 2017, during Ramadan.

That same year, The Atlantic recorded, “Previous Ramadans have witnessed a stunning rise in attacks relative to other months in recent years—an increase attributed, in part, to the Islamic State, and its attempts to transform the month of prayer and atonement to one of bloodshed and violence.” ISIS called for “increased attacks during Ramadan, often referring to the holiday as ‘the holy month of jihad,’ ” it added.

U.S. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, then-senior military spokesman in Iraq, said in 2006: “If you historically look at this time period just before and going into Ramadan, there has unfortunately been an increase in violence.”

There have been internal quarrels at Jewish and Christian holy sites in Israel, particularly during holidays, for which police are on alert. Unfounded antisemitic rumors for centuries that Jews used the blood of non-Jewish babies for making Passover matzah have also formed the basis of blood libels and antisemitic tropes that have led to extensive violence against Jews.

Ramadan began on March 22 this year and runs for a little less than a month. The eight-day holiday of Passover begins after sundown on April 5 and lasts through April 13 (it is celebrated for seven days in Israel). Easter takes place this year on April 9.

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