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Post-Zionism Baffles Washington Post: The Media Project, November 28, 2014 November 28, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Islam, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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Soldiers_Western_Wall_1967It comes as no surprise that Jordanian officials believe that Israel bears responsibility for tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is it proper for the Washington Post to believe it, too?

The Post is well within its rights to make this assertion on its editorial page. I may disagree with its arguments, but opinion journalism is designed to offer these arguments. The classical model of Anglo-American journalism, however, mandates a news story offer both sides of a story equal time.

I have my doubts about a recent article by the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief entitled “Relationship between Israel and Jordan grows warier amid tensions in Jerusalem”. My reading of this piece leaves me wondering if it is unbalanced, incurious, incomplete, or lacking in context. Could it have been written from a mindset that blames Israel first?

Or is there something more at work here? The Post appears to be ignorant of the change of religious Zionist sentiment in Israel. Could the Temple Mount be a flashpoint between Muslim Arab and Israeli Jews in 2014 because Judaism has changed?

The story with a dateline of Amman opens with the Jordanian perspective on the recent clashes over the Temple Mount. The lede states:

Jordan’s king and his people are bristling with anger over Israeli actions at a sacred site for Muslims in Jerusalem, threatening to turn a cold peace between Israel and Jordan into a deep freeze.

After defining the issue from the Jordanian perspective, the second sentence states why this is of consequence.

The rising animosity between Jordan and Israel, whose governments are tethered by a peace treaty, could undermine U.S.-led efforts to fight Islamist extremists. It also threatens a multibillion-dollar natural gas deal that is important to both countries.

The story continues with analysis, ending with the line: “A king who cannot protect the mosque or that delicate arrangement may lose the support of his people.”

A quotation from a Jordanian official closes out this section, placing the blame on the changing “status quo” on the Israelis.

“The Israeli extremists are playing with fire.”

A counterpoint from unidentified Israeli officials is offered that serves to identify the actions in question.

Israeli officials say they were forced to temporarily restrict access to the mosque in response to rioting, after a Palestinian’s recent attempt to assassinate a prominent activist who agitates for Jews to have the right to pray at the site. The first and second Jewish temples once stood at the site, a spot considered the holiest in Judaism.

If the article ended at this point, the lack of balance would not be as problematic. Written from Amman, the parameters of the piece could have been set as the view from that country. However, at this stage of the story we are only a third of the way into the piece, and the article now opens up with further commentary and analysis from the Jordanian perspective.

The problem for the Jordanians — and from the tone of the story up to this point for theWashington Post, too — is the Israeli response to terrorist attacks launched by Palestinians against Jews who seek to pray at the Temple Mount.

Half a dozen descriptive paragraphs follow developing these arguments before we hear an Israeli voice — who speaks not to the issues raised by the Jordanians, or to the cause of the alleged change of the status quo — but to the problems instability brings to the region. This is followed — 23 paragraphs into the story — by a denial by the Israelis of any change in the status of the Temple Mount.

Immediately afterward, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel had no intention of changing a delicate “status quo” agreement that grants Abdullah custodial rights over al-Aqsa and other holy sites in Jerusalem, most prominently the raised esplanade known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The next day, Israeli police lifted age restrictions and allowed all Muslim men to attend Friday prayers at the mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

The article closes out with further Jordanian claims. A reader unencumbered with knowledge of the region or the religions involved, might well scratch his head and ask “what was all the fuss about?”

A terrorist attack led to the short term closing of the Noble Sanctuary. It has since been reopened and the Israeli government has reaffirmed the status quo. Why are the Palestinians and Jordanians so exercised about this?

If all one knew was what one read in the Post, it would not be unreasonable to conclude the Jordanians and Palestinians are a childish excitable people — full of bluster, quick to take offense, and slow to reason.

The story dances round the religious element in this story that provides the necessary context. There has been a shift in Israeli sentiment about the Temple Mount in recent years. As a detailed article in Ha’aretz pointed out last week, religious Zionists have a new attitude about the Temple Mount.

[B]efore 1967 – and afterward – all the leading poskim (rabbis who issue halakhic rulings), both ultra-Orthodox and from the religious-Zionist movement, decreed as one voice that it is forbidden to visit the Temple Mount, for the same halakhic reasons. … Indeed, in January 1991, Rabbi Menachem Froman could still allay the fears of the Palestinians by informing them (in the form of an article he published in Haaretz, “To Wait in Silence for Grace”) that, “In the perception of the national-religious public [… there is] opposition to any ascent to the walls of the Temple Mount… The attitude of sanctity toward the Temple Mount is expressed not by bursting into it but by abstinence from it.”

Ha’aretz reports that in 2014 this school has lost ground.

No longer. If in the past, yearning for the Temple Mount was the preserve of a marginal, ostracized minority within the religious-Zionist public, today it has become one of the most significant voices within that movement. In a survey conducted this past May among the religious-Zionist public, 75.4 percent said they favor “the ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount,” compared to only 24.6 percent against. In addition, 19.6 percent said they had already visited the site and 35.7 percent that they had not yet gone there, but intended to visit.

The growing number of visits to the mount by the religious-Zionist public signifies not only a turning away from the state-oriented approach of Rabbi Kook, but also active rebellion against the tradition of the halakha. We are witnessing a tremendous transformation among sections of this public: Before our eyes they are becoming post-Kook-ist and post-Orthodox. Ethnic nationalism is supplanting not only mamlakhtiyut (state consciousness) but faithfulness to the halakha. Their identity is now based more on mythic ethnocentrism than on Torah study, and the Temple Mount serves them, … as an exalted totem embodying the essence of sovereignty over the Land of Israel.

The religious element is missing from the Post’s report. Could not an awareness of the change in Israeli society, a shifting center of religious-Zionism from halakha to ethnic-nationalism which if successful would see the restoration of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount motivate Muslim fears?

Without the context of religion to explain these currents, the article leaves itself open to charges of paternalism. By not rising above a parochial American mindset, the paints Arabs (Jordanians and Palestinians) as an immature and excitable people that cannot be held accountable for their actions.

Even if the Post is allergic to mentioning the topic of religion, there is the problem of context. The article tells us little about the Israeli side of the story. Why is the Temple Mount a source of controversy now? Since Israel defeated Jordan Arabs in the 1967 Six-Day War and took possession of the Noble Sanctuary, as it is called by Muslims, what has changed?

The answer given by Jordan, and unquestioned by the Post, is that some Israeli officials are thuggish bully boys, engaged in loutish behavior for short term political gain. I have no doubt that some politicians fit the bill, but as an explanation for recent events, it is unconvincing.

First printed at The Media Project

The WaPo wants to know — who built the Second Temple?: Get Religion, May 26, 2013 May 27, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Kudos to the Washington Post for moving quickly to correct an error in Wednesday’s article on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

In a story entitled “An audacious plan at the Western Wall”, theWaPo reports on plans under consideration by the Israeli government to double the space available for worshipers at the Western Wall to accommodate the fissiparous Jewish community.

The story is well written, well researched, and offers views and statements from all parties concerned. There were, however, two things that caught my eye when I first read the story. When the article moved from  current events to background it stated King Solomon built the Second Temple. A bell went off in my head when I read that.

According to 1 Kings chapters 6-7 in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, Solomon built the first temple on Mount Zion. The Bible goes on to record its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 2 Kings 25. Archaeological and rabbinic opinions differ as to the period of the temple’s construction and destruction offering dates of 10th century BC to 587 BC v. 832 to 422 BC. The Old Testament goes on to state in Ezra chapter 5 the Temple was rebuilt and completed during the six-year of the reign of King Darius the Great — approximately 517 BC.  Flavius Josephus records that Herod the Great completely rebuilt the Temple In the first century — and it became popular known as Herod’s Temple. In 70 AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and leveled the temple. The lower levels of the Western Wall are all that remain of Herod’s Temple.

I jotted down this error onto a notepad thinking I would return to it later in the day for a GetReligion piece. When I returned that afternoon to the web version of the article I found a correction had been posted at the top of the story. It read:

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that King Solomon built the Second Temple. Solomon built the First Temple. The story has been updated.

The body had been corrected to say that Herod built the second temple. Not quite – – still a mistake but not as big a brick as the first printing. I put the story to one side to move to pressing business and when I returned to the article on Thursday I thought it’d been corrected once more. The new correction states (and is at the top of the article as the date of this post):

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Jewish temple built by King Solomon. Solomon built the First Temple, not the Second. The article also incorrectly referred to Herod as the builder of the Second Temple. Although the temple is sometimes called Herod’s Temple in honor of his expansion of it, the original construction occurred centuries earlier.

The body of the story was corrected a second time too. I give them credit for fixing this error so swiftly, but it did rob me of a GetReligion story.

Did I not mention that I saw the second problem? The Washington Post fixed theGetReligion issue but left a GetPolitics problem. Just after the Herod/Solomon confusion comes this paragraph.

Muslims call the same site the Noble Sanctuary, where they built the Dome of the Rock shrine and al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, after capturing Jerusalem in the 7th century. The mount is administered by the Islamic Waqf trust, headed by the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who is appointed by the Palestinian Authority. Armed Israeli security forces that often patrol the site are a source of constant friction.

Is it fair to say that the Israeli security forces are the source of friction? Does that not place the blame the tensions on Israel? One could just as easily say Palestinian political agitation and protests, mixed with the occasional stoning of Jews worshiping at the base of the Temple Mount by Palestinians on the top, is the cause of  the tension.

The Washington Post just can’t seem to get a great a break with this story. Muslim activists claim there is no historical link between the Jews and the Temple Mount — and dispute the history set forth above and is recorded in the current version of theWashington Post article. It is impossible to satisfy everyone when reporting on Israel. Apart from the two small items I mentioned, this article does a pretty good job.

First printed in GetReligion.

Is Christian Zionism off the radar for the NY Times?: Get Religion, January 24, 2013 January 25, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Judaism.
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Comments given to an American church audience in 2011 by an Israeli rabbi, who stood for election this week to the Knesset on the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) ticket were a one-day wonder over the weekend in the Israeli press. Atlanta-native Jeremy Gimpel was lambasted by the liberal press in Israel for allegedly calling for the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim mosque built atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to be destroyed and replaced with a new Temple.

The controversy was also an example of the importance of fleshing out religious ghosts in a story. The American and Israeli press that picked up this issue focused on the political angle. If they had developed the religious elements of the story they would have turned a campaign “gotcha” story about one politician into a better story about the links between Christian Zionists in the U.S. and conservative religious political parties in Israel. Looking into the faith element would have made this a better political story.

Let’s run through the coverage first then ask the faith questions that were left unasked.

On Saturday Ha’aretz’s English language website ran a profile of Gimpel following a broadcast the previous day on Channel 2 of comments made by the rabbi in 2011 to a church in Florida.

The Times of Israel summarized the controversy this way:

Fending off a frenzy of political criticism over a 2011 speech in which he appeared to speak with relish of the theoretical prospect of the Dome of Rock being “blown up” and a new Jewish Temple being built in its stead, prospective MK Jeremy Gimpel claimed in a TV interview on Sunday that he had actually been telling a joke meant to “parody” the extremists who want to destroy the 1,300-year-old Muslim shrine.

Statements Gimpel has made in the past, examined by The Times of Israel, indeed show no record of him explicitly calling for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock. They do indicate that he considers the golden dome atop the Temple Mount an alien element which he wishes would be replaced by the third Jewish temple.

A candidate for the Orthodox, right-wing Jewish Home party, Gimpel also sports a long history of hard-line statements that would raise eyebrows in many circles in Israel and large parts of the Jewish world, including calling the Jewish outlook of non-Orthodox Jewish movements “nonsense” and questioning whether Israel is truly a democracy because it forbids freedom of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount.

The Israeli political left jumped on Gimpel, with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s  liberal Hatnua party calling for his disqualification from the election for allegedly having uttered hate speech. The Anti-Defamation League’s Israel office weighed in also, saying they were appalled a rabbi would condone terrorism, Forward reported.

The New York Times‘ Israel correspondent picked up the story and it appeared in Monday’s edition on page A9 under the headline: “Rightist Israeli Candidate’s Remarks Cause Stir”. I imagine the American angle — Gimpel is a dual Israeli-American citizen and the Florida setting of the speech — prompted the editors to give the story space. The Times‘ article repeated the basic facts of the story of the speech and fleshed out the Israeli political context. It also carried the incendiary quotes that raised the ire of the left.

During a November 2011 lecture about biblical prophecies at the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs, Fla., Jeremy Gimpel, who is now a Jewish Home candidate, told the audience: “Imagine today if the dome, the Golden Dome — I’m being recorded so I can’t say blown up — but let’s say the dome was blown up, right, and we laid the cornerstone of the temple in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? I mean, none of you would be here, you’d all be like, I’m going to Israel, right? No one would be here. It would be incredible!”

After this mention of religion, the Times moves back into politics. This was unfortunate for if they had done some simple internet searching they would have learned some interesting things about the Florida church that calls into question Gimpel’s explanation.

A look through the website of the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs shows it to be a non-denominational Protestant Church that identifies itself as being part of the Christian Zionist movement. Among its outreach projects are the Temple Mount Faithful, whose mission according to its website is:

The goal of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement is the building of the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in our lifetime in accordance with the Word of G-d and all the Hebrew prophets and the liberation of the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation so that it may be consecrated to the Name of G-d.

How credible is Gimpel’s explanation that he was making a joke that satirizes the views of those who want to destroy the Dome of the Rock and replace it with the Third Temple?

There are also questions that were left unasked as to what Gimpel meant when he told the Christian audience that if the Third Temple were rebuilt they would all “going to Israel.”

The question “why” a group of Central Florida Christians would go to Israel is not examined. Perhaps this statement from the Temple Mount Faithful website provides context for Gimpel’s words.

It is the view of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful that the redemption will proceed in an orderly fashion according to G-d’s plan.

  • First is the foundation of the modern state of Israel and the miraculous victories that G-d gave the people of Israel in the wars against 22 Arab enemy states.
  • Second is the regathering of the people of Israel from all over the world to the Promised Land.
  • Third is the liberation and consecration of the Temple Mount and fourth is the building of the Third Temple.
  • The final step is the coming of the King of Israel, Messiah Ben David.

The existence of the state of Israel and the return of the people of G-d to the Promised Land is the biggest G-dly event and miracle in the history of mankind – ever. This was predicted by the prophets of Israel. We are calling all the nations to link arms in support of this people and the State of Israel to help her complete this process of redemption. We are not allowed to forget that the redemption of the people of Israel is a condition for the redemption of the earth. Also, we remember what G-d said over 4,000 years ago to Abraham, the father of the Israelites: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”.

The articles note that Gimpel states he was conducting a Bible study on prophecy — but again does not ask what prophecies and why they would be of interest to a non-Jewish audience? By not exploring the religious angle the Times is missing the story. Politicians say dumb things all the time. Leaving the story on that plane makes it old news the moment the it is printed. Exploring the faith angle opens up far more interesting and important questions.

Did the Times simply play follow my lead and not bother with the religion angle? Did they choose not to follow it, or just did not see it? And does the reason for the omission matter? Did ignoring the faith element in this political story leave this incomplete? What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.


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