Tuesday, April 14, 2015

John Kerry Recognizes Islamic Holidays, Largely Silent on Christian and Jewish Occasions

    Secretary of State John Kerry has often spoken to the Arab world during his tenure, particularly during the past year as negotiations with Iran have intensified and conflict with the Islamic State has escalated. But what Kerry has not said during the past twelve months is also significant. The secretary's official remarks and statements noting special dates on Islamic and Arab calendars stand in sharp contrast to his relative silence on Christian and Jewish occasions.
    Last June, less than a month from the initial July 20 deadline for the nuclear talks with Iran, Kerry issued a statement marking the beginning of Ramadan. Kerry said that it was a "time for peaceful reflection and prayer, a time for acts of compassion and charity -- universal values and aspiration ingrained in every human heart." In October, again with a rescheduled talks deadline approaching, Kerry addressed a reception celebrating Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage. He spoke extensively of the meaning of that day and how "[t]here’s nothing Islamic about what ISIL/Daesh stands for", pointing out in contrast that Eid is "a moment when Ibrahim is celebrated for not slaying – for being willing to slay his son in order to provide for people and to prove something." Finally, with yet another talks deadline bearing down in March, Kerry took the time to directly address the Iranian people in recognition of Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
    In contrast, Kerry made no remarks regarding either of the recent Easter or Passover celebrations. In addition, Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, passed unremarked last October, and unlike the Iranian New Year, Kerry issued no statement recognizing the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah in September. (Kerry mentioned in passing at the Eid al-Adha reception that "the Jewish religion just went through its holiest moment of the year with Yom Kippur, which is also a moment of huge introspection and re-evaluation," but that's as far as he went.)
    Kerry did attend a "Holiday Reception" in December at the State Department, but his recognition of those holidays consisted of simply saying, "Happy Hanukkah, second day of Hanukkah. Merry Christmas." His remarks did not include any words on the meanings of the celebrations, unlike his remarks on Ramadan and Eid. The most recent Jewish or Christian religious occasion marked at length by Kerry was Passover in April 2014, although he did make remarks for Holocaust Remembrance Day in January 2015.
    In addition to the overlooked religious holidays, Kerry even passed over the celebration of Israel's independence day last May. This apparent snub is particularly curious since the secretary issued statements commemorating the independence or "national" days of nearly 170 countries in the past twelve months, including marking China's 65th year as the communist Peoples Republic of China.
    When asked to comment on the apparent disparities, a senior state department official issued the following statement:
The State Department and White House work together to address national days and religious holidays to share the sentiments and best wishes of the American people. 
The White House makes statements for major holidays in the U.S. – as it did for the recent Easter and Passover holidays. 
Often, Secretary Kerry will also offer remarks or attend events to mark such occasions, as he did this year when celebrating Christmas and Chanukah with the Washington diplomatic corps, the families of overseas Department employees serving at difficult posts, and the State Department press corps, and like he did last year when he attended a Seder at the home of Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.
    While it is true that the White House issued statements regarding Easter and Passover, the White House also issued statements for Ramadan, Eid al-Adha and Nowruz, duplicating the efforts of the State Department. Similarly, while Kerry also released remarks on the occasion of the Lunar New Year and the Hindu celebration of Diwali, the White House covered those events also. The White House also noted Israel's independence day that was overlooked by the State Department.
    Whether by oversight or design, the apparent lack of attentiveness to religious occasions celebrated by many in this country and many in Israel, one of the Unites States' closest allies, seems indefensible. While the State Department must show an understanding of and appreciation for cultures and religions outside this country's traditional circles, adherents to traditional ones increasingly appear to be taken for granted at best, snubbed at worst.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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