WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- As the story goes, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were discussing world peace. "I'll go along with that," said Kennedy, "but I can't speak for the State Department." President George W. Bush has the same problem. And not just on Iraq.
Recently, the State Department released its annual International Religious Freedom Report condemning Israel's "discrimination" and lauding the Palestinian Authority for its "tolerance."
The State Department would have us believe that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority "attempts to foster goodwill among religious leaders" and "makes a strong effort to maintain good relations" with Israel. By contrast, State believes Israel has "discriminatory legislation or policies disadvantaging" other religions.
Anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of actual, real-life relations between the Jews and Christians of Israel and the Palestinian Authority would instantly understand that it is Israel, a democracy and reliable American ally, that has always shown admirable respect for religious freedom. The Palestinian Authority, by contrast, practices obvious and egregious religious discrimination.
The State Department claims that the Palestinian Authority, "generally respects religious freedom" despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority has no legal protections for freedom of religion.
Instead, an official statement by the Palestinian Authority Information Ministry stresses: "The Palestinian people are also governed by (Islamic) Sharia law ... with regard to issues pertaining to religious matters ... any Muslim who (converts) or declares becoming an unbeliever is committing a major sin punishable by capital punishment. … The (Palestinian Authority) cannot take a different position on this matter."
Contrast that -- the death penalty for converts -- with Israel, whose Basic Laws guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion.
What's more, surely the State Department knows that religious leaders with close Palestinian Authority affiliations are today exhorting Palestinians to commit suicide bombings as a religious duty. To the State Department, such rhetoric is "harsh and at times constitut(ing) an incitement to violence" -- a relatively mild criticism that takes up one lonely paragraph of the report, before it launches into a 15-page blast at Israel.
Anyone interested in evaluating whether the Palestinian Authority is inciting religious violence need only switch on Palestinian Authority television -- which is of course financed and controlled by Arafat. They would have seen, as recently as Aug. 3, 2001, Muhammad Ibrahim Madi, a cleric of the Palestinian Authority, exhorting his followers with this prayer: "As we bless anyone who rises against a soldier, we bless all those who educate their children to jihad and to martyrdom, blessings to he who saves a bullet in order to shoot it into a Jew's head."
In another of these "Friday sermons," broadcast weekly from mosques in Gaza and East Jerusalem, Madi proclaimed the following call to worship: "Blessed is he who dons a vest of explosives on himself or on his children and goes in to the depth of the Jews and says: Allah Akbar, Blessed be Allah.’ Like the collapse of the building upon the heads of the Jews in their sinful dance-hall, I ask of Allah that we see the Knesset collapsing on the heads of the Jews."
That was on June 8, 2001, two weeks after 21 Israelis were murdered by a suicide bomber at a discotheque.
Apparently, the State Department thinks these statements, and many, many more just like them, represent "goodwill" and "strong efforts to maintain good relations" with Jews and Christians.
There are many more examples of the Palestinian Authority "attempting to foster goodwill." Ahmed Yousuf Abu Halabiah is a rector at the Islamic University and a member of the Palestinian Sharianic Rulings Council. Appearing on Palestinian television in 2000, he proclaimed his "tolerance": "The Jews are the Jews. There never was among them a supporter of peace. They are all liars ... Therefore it is necessary to slaughter them and murder them, according to the words of Allah ... it is forbidden to have mercy in your hearts for the Jews in any place and in any land. Make war on them anyplace that you find yourself."
It is not going too far to say that such rhetoric is genocidal in its intent. Yet none of this is explored, none of this makes even a cameo appearance in the State Department's Religious Freedom Report.
How can the State Department's "experts" be so confused?
(Gary Bauer is the president of American Values and a member of the Board of Advisers of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism.)
("Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers on issues of public interest.)