Posted: 10/11/2015 8:52:00 PM
Author: Jonathan S. Tobin
Source: This article originally appeared in COMMENTARY (onbline) on Oct. 9, 2015.
The Times Declares History Is Bunk
by Jonathan S. Tobin
If the cult of pretended objectivity is the orthodox faith of modern mainstream journalism, there is no greater exponent of this false faith than the New York Times. Those who edit and write for the news pages of the flagship of liberal opinion set great store by their pose of impartiality, even if their left-wing tilt on every issue is obvious to everyone, except perhaps their faithful liberal readership. Though they rarely give both sides a fair hearing in their pieces, their formula is to air the claims of the competing sides in disputes. That’s especially true of the Middle East conflict where the veneer of even-handed reporting is most evident. In the view of the Times, terrorists and their victims are often juxtaposed as just two sides of the same coin, as they did earlier this week when they noted similar casualty figures for Israelis and Palestinians but had to include the slain terrorists along with their victims in order to achieve that balance. But does treating the long war against Israel’s existence extend to proven historical facts? Judging by their piece published today about the dispute about the Temple Mount, apparently so. But in going down this road, the newspaper is doing more than playing the he said-she said game about the Middle East. By treating propaganda about there being no tie between the holy site and Jewish history, they are validating revisionist Palestinian myths whose purpose is to deny legitimacy to the Jewish state and the right of Jews to live anywhere in the country.
The title of the article says it all: “Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place.” The conceit of the piece by Rick Gladstone, one of the Times’ foreign editors, is that it is impossible to determine whether the enclosed plateau above the Western Wall is really where either of the biblical Holy Temples stood before their destruction, the first by the Babylonians and the second by the Romans. Gladstone is able to quote a tiny minority of archeologists who express such doubts and backs them up by citing the fact that there have been no archeological digs on the Temple Mount itself to verify what is underneath the mosques that were built there by subsequent Muslim conquerors.
That’s true as far as it goes. But the notion that belief that the temples were located on the Temple Mount has more what Gladstone calls “circumstantial evidence” behind it. After all, the Temple Mount is surrounded on one side by the last remnant of the Second Temple, the outer enclosure that is now known as the Western Wall. But as anyone who has visited it in recent decades knows, the Wall is more than just the old pile of stones before which Jews have prayed for 2,000 years. It consists of tunnels and other remnants of Second Temple Jerusalem that make it clear that it was only a piece of the large structure that stood at the center of Jewish life before the Roman destruction. In other words, you don’t have to be an archeological expert or a historian to know that the Temple had to exist on the Mount; you just have to have a working pair of eyes.
In order to believe the Western Wall was not part of the Temple complex, you’d have to also believe that every archeological find from the Second Temple era that has been discovered in Jerusalem over the last 200 years is a fake. Indeed, you’d have to think the whole notion of biblical Jerusalem and every bit of evidence we have about the ancient homeland of the Jewish people is just a story told by Zionists in order steal Arab land and Muslim holy sites.
Of course, that is exactly what the Palestinian Authority and its propagandists have been saying for many years as they seek to deny history in order to bolster their claim that the Jews have no ties to any part of the land of Israel/Palestine. That Gladstone leaves this inconvenient fact out of his narrative undermines any shred of credibility the story might have. That’s significant because these laughable assertions are bald-faced lies rooted in hate and the long war against Zionism and have no connection to any serious take on history or archeology.
The one slender reed of truth in this article is the fact that there have been no archeological digs on the Temple Mount. But that doesn’t mean there has been no digging. The Muslim Wakf that Israel allows to administer the Temple Mount has done extensive excavations on the site but not for research purposes. While expanding their facilities, they used heavy building machinery to tear out the guts of the area trashing archeological treasures in an act of vandalism that ranks alongside anything done by ISIS or the Taliban. They dumped the earth outside the Old City walls and teams of archeological volunteers are now going through them finding all sorts of fascinating material — including an ancient seal — that survived this criminal behavior. Nor will the Wakf ever permit any digs, under even neutral auspices, precisely because they fear what will be found will validate Jewish narratives. Their problem is that the best way to prove the ties of Jews to the land is not via arguments but to simply start digging anywhere in the city.
But the so-called “circumstantial evidence” it is also considerable. As one historian told Gladstone, a large number of Roman records, above and beyond the writings of the Jew turned Roman apologist Josephus, tell us that the Mount was where the Temple stood. As was the custom for conquerors, the Romans built their own Temple on the site as a tangible symbol of their supremacy and the end of Jewish sovereignty. In turn, subsequently Byzantine Christians and then Muslims did the same thing without apology or the need to pretend that they were not doing so to erase the symbols of Jewish history. The only reason why the same historian says one has “to be careful” to say that the remains of the Temple don’t lie beneath the Dome of the Rock is to avoid being embroiled in the sort of controversy that can get people killed by Islamists.
While Gladstone’s piece attempts to pretend that “historical certainty is elusive” the only thing he proves is that the Times will go to any length to treat ludicrous denial of obvious historical facts in order to play the even-handed reporter of a distant and fractious controversy where no one side has possession of the complete truth. But one doesn’t need to be an ardent Zionist or to even be a supporter of the state of Israel to understand that the pretense that Temples were not located on the Temple Mount is something that has nothing to do with reasonable doubts or lack of conclusive proof. To assert that the proof of all kinds that exists to prove the Temples were on the Mount are not “beyond a reasonable doubt” is to engage in the sort of hair-splitting fantasy spinning that the newspaper would never accept about virtually any other topic; especially those where secular liberal sensibilities are involved.
By treating lies denying the historical ties of Jews to Jerusalem as being deserving of a fair hearing, the Times is calling into question more than claims about who gets to pray on the Temple Mount. The reason why Palestinians say such things isn’t because they have a solid historical case, but because their goal is to treat Jews and Judaism as alien to the place where the Jewish history began. The stakes here are not about archeology but about the right of Israel to exist. The Times has a long history of journalism malpractice with regard to Israel and Jewish issues dating back to the Holocaust. But Gladstone’s atrocious effort to treat history as bunk is an act of intellectual dishonesty that will rank it beside the worst articles ever published by the newspaper.