Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hebrew University

Jerusalem Dig Yields Another Historical Gem

Does it matter whether Jerusalem was a major city 3,500 years ago? Surely, nothing that happened that long ago could mean much today, especially since the Israelite Kingdom of David and Solomon — from which Jewish claims date — did not come along until a few centuries later. But the recent find of a clay fragment at the site of the City of David from this long ago actually has a great deal of meaning for the debate over both the Davidic kingdom’s significance and the depth of Jewish ties to the holy city.

The fragment, found in the Ophel area, in a dig carried out by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology and funded by New York philanthropists Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, is a small piece of what appears to have been a larger tablet. What makes it important is that it contains writing in ancient cuneiform symbols. This makes it the oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem. That alone is fascinating but what makes it truly significant is the high quality of the writing that seems to be the work of a highly skilled scribe who was probably part of a royal household. Analysis of the writing by Hebrew University experts shows that it may well have been part of a message sent from a king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.

This matters because many influential archaeologists, as well as Palestinian propagandists, have dismissed Jewish ties to Jerusalem by claiming that the Kingdom of David mentioned in the Bible was an insignificant entity and that its capital in Jerusalem was nothing more than a village. These people scoff at the notion that the effort to restore Jewish sovereignty to the area is based on historical precedent rather than biblical romance.

The lesson of this most recent find is that if Jerusalem were already an important walled city in the centuries before David, it is very difficult to argue that it was a backwater only when the Jews took over, some 3,000 years ago. Since anti-Zionists wish to claim that King David and his kingdom never really existed and that the great city from which he ruled it is a myth, this evidence of the city’s significance even before his time is more proof of the falsity of anti-Israel historical polemics.

The stakes involved in these seemingly arcane archaeological disputes are quite high. That is why anti-Zionists have been at such pains to dismiss or minimize the importance of Mazar’s amazing finds in the course of her exploration of the City of David site. As COMMENTARY wrote back in February, when Mazar released findings that showed that she had found a portion of an ancient city wall as well as other possible royal structures dating to the 10th century B.C.E., the greatest threat to those who think that parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up but when Jews start digging into the ground.

The area in which in the City of David dig is located is often referred to in the press as “traditionally Palestinian” or merely “Arab Jerusalem.” The point is, Israel’s enemies — both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders — have specifically opposed the effort to explore the rich history of the City of David area and they consider the creation of an archaeological park there to be just another “illegal” Jewish settlement. That is why the City of David is an important intellectual and political battleground. As has been the case on the Temple Mount, where the Muslim religious authority that runs the enclosure without Israeli interference has routinely trashed any evidence that contradicts their false claims that Jerusalem has no Jewish history prior to the 20th century, this is no mere academic argument but a rather concerted effort by anti-Zionists to falsify history. What Eilat Mazar has done with the help of her American donors is to establish even more firmly that those who trash biblical history and the ancient kingdom of Israel — and, by extension, the modern Jewish state — are ideologically motivated liars.

Does it matter whether Jerusalem was a major city 3,500 years ago? Surely, nothing that happened that long ago could mean much today, especially since the Israelite Kingdom of David and Solomon — from which Jewish claims date — did not come along until a few centuries later. But the recent find of a clay fragment at the site of the City of David from this long ago actually has a great deal of meaning for the debate over both the Davidic kingdom’s significance and the depth of Jewish ties to the holy city.

The fragment, found in the Ophel area, in a dig carried out by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology and funded by New York philanthropists Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, is a small piece of what appears to have been a larger tablet. What makes it important is that it contains writing in ancient cuneiform symbols. This makes it the oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem. That alone is fascinating but what makes it truly significant is the high quality of the writing that seems to be the work of a highly skilled scribe who was probably part of a royal household. Analysis of the writing by Hebrew University experts shows that it may well have been part of a message sent from a king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.

This matters because many influential archaeologists, as well as Palestinian propagandists, have dismissed Jewish ties to Jerusalem by claiming that the Kingdom of David mentioned in the Bible was an insignificant entity and that its capital in Jerusalem was nothing more than a village. These people scoff at the notion that the effort to restore Jewish sovereignty to the area is based on historical precedent rather than biblical romance.

The lesson of this most recent find is that if Jerusalem were already an important walled city in the centuries before David, it is very difficult to argue that it was a backwater only when the Jews took over, some 3,000 years ago. Since anti-Zionists wish to claim that King David and his kingdom never really existed and that the great city from which he ruled it is a myth, this evidence of the city’s significance even before his time is more proof of the falsity of anti-Israel historical polemics.

The stakes involved in these seemingly arcane archaeological disputes are quite high. That is why anti-Zionists have been at such pains to dismiss or minimize the importance of Mazar’s amazing finds in the course of her exploration of the City of David site. As COMMENTARY wrote back in February, when Mazar released findings that showed that she had found a portion of an ancient city wall as well as other possible royal structures dating to the 10th century B.C.E., the greatest threat to those who think that parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up but when Jews start digging into the ground.

The area in which in the City of David dig is located is often referred to in the press as “traditionally Palestinian” or merely “Arab Jerusalem.” The point is, Israel’s enemies — both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders — have specifically opposed the effort to explore the rich history of the City of David area and they consider the creation of an archaeological park there to be just another “illegal” Jewish settlement. That is why the City of David is an important intellectual and political battleground. As has been the case on the Temple Mount, where the Muslim religious authority that runs the enclosure without Israeli interference has routinely trashed any evidence that contradicts their false claims that Jerusalem has no Jewish history prior to the 20th century, this is no mere academic argument but a rather concerted effort by anti-Zionists to falsify history. What Eilat Mazar has done with the help of her American donors is to establish even more firmly that those who trash biblical history and the ancient kingdom of Israel — and, by extension, the modern Jewish state — are ideologically motivated liars.

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Another Hand-Wringing Jew

It’s getting to be a trend: Jews publicly expressing their antipathy or outright disdain for Israel. The latest comes from Emily Schaeffer, a 31-year-old lawyer who has come to despise the Jewish state. Perhaps it was her abominable Jewish education, a not uncommon malady:

Schaeffer attended public school, but always felt at home when she took part in activities of the Reform movement. “My parents sent me there when I was five. I went once a week after school, and later twice a week. In the movement we had lessons about Judaism and about Israel, in a very lighthearted way. Once we made a map of Israel out of ice cream and marked the cities with colorful M&M candies. It was Zionism-lite. At that time I also went to synagogue.”

Very lite, it seems. And one suspects she heard from the bima much more about minimum wage and global warming than about Zionism. From there it was on to Reform-movement activities, where she had a grand time and that “altered the course of her life.” She eventually went to live in Israel and, as the lefty Haaretz puts it, became “an Israeli devoid of nationalistic sentiment and full of human compassion.”

Thereafter she fled Israel with a bad case of cognitive dissonance during the second intifada:

“The intifada caused me a profound crisis. I was very disappointed with both sides. I lived on Mahaneh Yehuda street then. Within a day, all the Arab workers, Palestinians from the territories, some of whom I was really friendly with, disappeared. They just disappeared. It was the first time I experienced a war situation. I knew there had been terror attacks in the market and I was tense all the time. I was afraid to be outside too long, I wanted to listen to the news all the time. I was going crazy.”

This caused her not to rethink her chumminess with those killing Jews but rather to return to the U.S. (an option not available to most Israelis), where again she sought out the Israel-haters: “She joined the dialogue group and the Jews Against the Occupation organization in New York. And she once again immersed herself in the bloody conflict that she had abandoned.”

Of course, her “human compassion” does not extend to the Jews attempting to survive in a hostile neighborhood but rather to the killers of Jews:

In Jerusalem she discovered the hidden world, for her at least, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In those days, before the second intifada, she found a common language with Meretz activists on the Mount Scopus campus. “I met my first Palestinian friend then, Sari Abu-Ziad, the oldest son of Ziad Abu-Ziad, who was a minister in the Palestinian government then. He told me about his childhood, what a checkpoint was, what it meant to feel like you’re living in a prison, what it’s like to be an Arabic-speaker in Israel, how frightened he was. He studied at the Hebrew University. This was before the 1999 election. We gave out stickers that said ‘With Barak There’s Hope.’ We believed that things could change. That year I plunged deep into the conflict, and it broke my heart.”

She really wanted to love Israel, but it wasn’t easy for her. “I grew up with the belief that Jews are moral people, that our job is to help the weak. It might sound naive now, but the contradiction between the essence of the Jewish state and what I saw really upset me. It was hard for my mother to accept the questions and doubts I felt. She said: ‘We were refugees, we suffered, we finally got a state, and Israel has to be a good country.’ I told her it was hard for me to see that my people were capable of doing such terrible things, that the country I dreamed about was occupying another people. That’s still something that’s very hard for me to deal with.”

She now has a spiffy career suing Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, trying to halt construction and alter the course of the “wall,” which has saved countless lives from butchers and pizza bombers. And now she’s suing Canada because two Canadian construction companies operate in what she refers to as the “occupied territories.”

In her counter-reality, Israel was the aggressor and the war criminal in Gaza:

“People think of themselves as moral, and what happened there, the number of children that were killed, the strikes on population centers, raised tough questions. It was hard for Israelis to accept the unnecessary death there. On the other hand, most of the country shifted in the other direction and wholeheartedly supported violence against civilians, and even more have become convinced that there will never be peace, and that the Palestinians, even if they are children, are the enemy.”

Any mention of the Herculean efforts to avoid civilian casualties or of Hamas terrorists who hide behind old women and infants? Oh, no. She’s got “compassion,” you see. And then there was the thrill of meeting with the Elders group — a fine bunch of Israel-haters that includes Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Mary Robinson. Her great joy was receiving a picture of herself with Carter.

Other than signing her up for a lifetime membership in J Street, what is to be done? American Jewry might begin by providing an Israel-strong rather than an Israel-lite education. The Palestinians have done a fine job snaring ill-educated, largely secularized Jews who are steeped in leftism and predisposed to accept the Third World liberation claptrap of the Palestinians. Unless American Jewry does an equally good job restating the case for Israel, explaining Israel’s democratic system (which affords Emily a courtroom to vilify and hamstring the Jewish state), and publicizing the efforts of Israel to grant Palestinians their own state even as the Palestinians continue to reject it and return again and again to violence, there will be many more Emilys. And it wouldn’t hurt if the editors of Haaretz didn’t lionize a woman whose career is based on endangering their lives.

It’s getting to be a trend: Jews publicly expressing their antipathy or outright disdain for Israel. The latest comes from Emily Schaeffer, a 31-year-old lawyer who has come to despise the Jewish state. Perhaps it was her abominable Jewish education, a not uncommon malady:

Schaeffer attended public school, but always felt at home when she took part in activities of the Reform movement. “My parents sent me there when I was five. I went once a week after school, and later twice a week. In the movement we had lessons about Judaism and about Israel, in a very lighthearted way. Once we made a map of Israel out of ice cream and marked the cities with colorful M&M candies. It was Zionism-lite. At that time I also went to synagogue.”

Very lite, it seems. And one suspects she heard from the bima much more about minimum wage and global warming than about Zionism. From there it was on to Reform-movement activities, where she had a grand time and that “altered the course of her life.” She eventually went to live in Israel and, as the lefty Haaretz puts it, became “an Israeli devoid of nationalistic sentiment and full of human compassion.”

Thereafter she fled Israel with a bad case of cognitive dissonance during the second intifada:

“The intifada caused me a profound crisis. I was very disappointed with both sides. I lived on Mahaneh Yehuda street then. Within a day, all the Arab workers, Palestinians from the territories, some of whom I was really friendly with, disappeared. They just disappeared. It was the first time I experienced a war situation. I knew there had been terror attacks in the market and I was tense all the time. I was afraid to be outside too long, I wanted to listen to the news all the time. I was going crazy.”

This caused her not to rethink her chumminess with those killing Jews but rather to return to the U.S. (an option not available to most Israelis), where again she sought out the Israel-haters: “She joined the dialogue group and the Jews Against the Occupation organization in New York. And she once again immersed herself in the bloody conflict that she had abandoned.”

Of course, her “human compassion” does not extend to the Jews attempting to survive in a hostile neighborhood but rather to the killers of Jews:

In Jerusalem she discovered the hidden world, for her at least, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In those days, before the second intifada, she found a common language with Meretz activists on the Mount Scopus campus. “I met my first Palestinian friend then, Sari Abu-Ziad, the oldest son of Ziad Abu-Ziad, who was a minister in the Palestinian government then. He told me about his childhood, what a checkpoint was, what it meant to feel like you’re living in a prison, what it’s like to be an Arabic-speaker in Israel, how frightened he was. He studied at the Hebrew University. This was before the 1999 election. We gave out stickers that said ‘With Barak There’s Hope.’ We believed that things could change. That year I plunged deep into the conflict, and it broke my heart.”

She really wanted to love Israel, but it wasn’t easy for her. “I grew up with the belief that Jews are moral people, that our job is to help the weak. It might sound naive now, but the contradiction between the essence of the Jewish state and what I saw really upset me. It was hard for my mother to accept the questions and doubts I felt. She said: ‘We were refugees, we suffered, we finally got a state, and Israel has to be a good country.’ I told her it was hard for me to see that my people were capable of doing such terrible things, that the country I dreamed about was occupying another people. That’s still something that’s very hard for me to deal with.”

She now has a spiffy career suing Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, trying to halt construction and alter the course of the “wall,” which has saved countless lives from butchers and pizza bombers. And now she’s suing Canada because two Canadian construction companies operate in what she refers to as the “occupied territories.”

In her counter-reality, Israel was the aggressor and the war criminal in Gaza:

“People think of themselves as moral, and what happened there, the number of children that were killed, the strikes on population centers, raised tough questions. It was hard for Israelis to accept the unnecessary death there. On the other hand, most of the country shifted in the other direction and wholeheartedly supported violence against civilians, and even more have become convinced that there will never be peace, and that the Palestinians, even if they are children, are the enemy.”

Any mention of the Herculean efforts to avoid civilian casualties or of Hamas terrorists who hide behind old women and infants? Oh, no. She’s got “compassion,” you see. And then there was the thrill of meeting with the Elders group — a fine bunch of Israel-haters that includes Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Mary Robinson. Her great joy was receiving a picture of herself with Carter.

Other than signing her up for a lifetime membership in J Street, what is to be done? American Jewry might begin by providing an Israel-strong rather than an Israel-lite education. The Palestinians have done a fine job snaring ill-educated, largely secularized Jews who are steeped in leftism and predisposed to accept the Third World liberation claptrap of the Palestinians. Unless American Jewry does an equally good job restating the case for Israel, explaining Israel’s democratic system (which affords Emily a courtroom to vilify and hamstring the Jewish state), and publicizing the efforts of Israel to grant Palestinians their own state even as the Palestinians continue to reject it and return again and again to violence, there will be many more Emilys. And it wouldn’t hurt if the editors of Haaretz didn’t lionize a woman whose career is based on endangering their lives.

Read Less

Anthony Julius’s Trials of the Diaspora

In the New York Times Book Review, Harold Bloom reviews Anthony Julius’s monumental new book, Trials of the Diaspora. It is a cover review — an indication of the book’s importance — and a uniformly favorable one: a “strong, somber book” reflecting “extraordinary moral strength.” But even those complimentary terms, from one of America’s leading literary critics, do not begin to convey the scope and magnitude of Julius’s achievement.

The book’s subtitle is A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which itself understates the significance of the book, since the book covers aspects of the psychology and sociology of anti-Semitism that extend far beyond a single country’s experience. Julius has provided probably the most in-depth discussion of the “blood libel” in any volume meant for general readers; and without understanding the blood libel it is impossible to understand the literary power of Shakespeare’s Shylock or Dickens’s Fagin — and without understanding the power of those literary portrayals, one cannot understand modern English anti-Semitism. The literary analysis of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in this book is masterful, but even more significant is the connections Julius makes from literature to culture to politics.

Julius is one of England’s most prominent lawyers, best known in America for his representation of Deborah Lipstadt in the libel action that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against her. He also represented Ariel Sharon in connection with the Independent’s anti-Semitic cartoon of Sharon eating a Palestinian child (itself an allusion to the blood libel); he represented the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) against London’s then mayor, Ken Livingstone; both Haifa University and Hebrew University against the Association of University Teachers (AUT); and Israeli universities and Jewish academics against the National Association of Teachers, among other actions — all of which has given him a perhaps unique understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism in England. He is also a literary critic with a gift for a telling phrase, such as his description of certain Jewish ideologists as “proud to be ashamed they are Jews.”

Julius is particularly eloquent on two matters: first, the sheer surreality and incoherence of anti-Semitism:

The Holocaust should have altogether put paid to anti-Semitism. It should have rebutted once and for all the principal anti-Semitic fantasy of malign Jewish power; it should have satiated the appetite of the most murderous anti-Semites for Jewish death. And yet instead it precipitated new anti-Semitic versions or tropes: (a) Holocaust denial, (b) the characterizing of Zionism as an avatar of Nazism, and (c) the cluster of allegations that the Jews are exploiting the Holocaust in support of false compensation claims, the defense of Israeli policies, the defense of Zionism, etc. Many Arab and Muslim anti-Semites somewhat promiscuously embrace all three tropes – denying the Holocaust, praising Hitler, and representing Israel as the successor to the Nazi state.

And second: the enduring power throughout history and into the present of even a surreal and incoherent view of a small people.

Julius acknowledges the need for nuance and judgment in evaluating anti-Semitic sentiment at any particular historical point in time, and the unemotional discussion that characterizes his book makes his conclusion about the present particularly chilling:

Trials of the Diaspora has been written across a period of rising violence and abuse directed at English Jews. Of the present conjuncture, then, my provisional judgment is that it is quite bad, and might get worse. Certainly, it would seem that the closed season on Jews is over.

This is a very important book.

In the New York Times Book Review, Harold Bloom reviews Anthony Julius’s monumental new book, Trials of the Diaspora. It is a cover review — an indication of the book’s importance — and a uniformly favorable one: a “strong, somber book” reflecting “extraordinary moral strength.” But even those complimentary terms, from one of America’s leading literary critics, do not begin to convey the scope and magnitude of Julius’s achievement.

The book’s subtitle is A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which itself understates the significance of the book, since the book covers aspects of the psychology and sociology of anti-Semitism that extend far beyond a single country’s experience. Julius has provided probably the most in-depth discussion of the “blood libel” in any volume meant for general readers; and without understanding the blood libel it is impossible to understand the literary power of Shakespeare’s Shylock or Dickens’s Fagin — and without understanding the power of those literary portrayals, one cannot understand modern English anti-Semitism. The literary analysis of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in this book is masterful, but even more significant is the connections Julius makes from literature to culture to politics.

Julius is one of England’s most prominent lawyers, best known in America for his representation of Deborah Lipstadt in the libel action that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against her. He also represented Ariel Sharon in connection with the Independent’s anti-Semitic cartoon of Sharon eating a Palestinian child (itself an allusion to the blood libel); he represented the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) against London’s then mayor, Ken Livingstone; both Haifa University and Hebrew University against the Association of University Teachers (AUT); and Israeli universities and Jewish academics against the National Association of Teachers, among other actions — all of which has given him a perhaps unique understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism in England. He is also a literary critic with a gift for a telling phrase, such as his description of certain Jewish ideologists as “proud to be ashamed they are Jews.”

Julius is particularly eloquent on two matters: first, the sheer surreality and incoherence of anti-Semitism:

The Holocaust should have altogether put paid to anti-Semitism. It should have rebutted once and for all the principal anti-Semitic fantasy of malign Jewish power; it should have satiated the appetite of the most murderous anti-Semites for Jewish death. And yet instead it precipitated new anti-Semitic versions or tropes: (a) Holocaust denial, (b) the characterizing of Zionism as an avatar of Nazism, and (c) the cluster of allegations that the Jews are exploiting the Holocaust in support of false compensation claims, the defense of Israeli policies, the defense of Zionism, etc. Many Arab and Muslim anti-Semites somewhat promiscuously embrace all three tropes – denying the Holocaust, praising Hitler, and representing Israel as the successor to the Nazi state.

And second: the enduring power throughout history and into the present of even a surreal and incoherent view of a small people.

Julius acknowledges the need for nuance and judgment in evaluating anti-Semitic sentiment at any particular historical point in time, and the unemotional discussion that characterizes his book makes his conclusion about the present particularly chilling:

Trials of the Diaspora has been written across a period of rising violence and abuse directed at English Jews. Of the present conjuncture, then, my provisional judgment is that it is quite bad, and might get worse. Certainly, it would seem that the closed season on Jews is over.

This is a very important book.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A World-Historic Find in Jerusalem

The greatest threat to the hopes of those who think parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up in the city, but rather when Jews start digging into the ground of East Jerusalem. Because the more the history of the city is uncovered, the less credible becomes the charge that Jews are alien colonists in what the media sometimes wrongly refer to as “traditionally Palestinian” or “Arab” Jerusalem.

That’s the upshot from the release of an amazing archeological dig conducted just outside Jerusalem’s Old City. The excavations conducted by archeologist Eilat Mazar in the Ophel area, which were made public today, revealed a section of an ancient city wall of Jerusalem. According to the press release from the Hebrew University, under whose auspices the project was carried out, the dig uncovered the wall as well as an inner gatehouse for entry into the royal quarter of the ancient city and an additional royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse as well as a corner tower. While ancient buildings are not uncommon in the city, the significance of this discovery is the fact that these edifices can be dated to the 10th century before the Common Era — the time of King Solomon, credited by the Bible for the construction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Pottery found at the lowest levels of the dig is dated to this era.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

The greatest threat to the hopes of those who think parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up in the city, but rather when Jews start digging into the ground of East Jerusalem. Because the more the history of the city is uncovered, the less credible becomes the charge that Jews are alien colonists in what the media sometimes wrongly refer to as “traditionally Palestinian” or “Arab” Jerusalem.

That’s the upshot from the release of an amazing archeological dig conducted just outside Jerusalem’s Old City. The excavations conducted by archeologist Eilat Mazar in the Ophel area, which were made public today, revealed a section of an ancient city wall of Jerusalem. According to the press release from the Hebrew University, under whose auspices the project was carried out, the dig uncovered the wall as well as an inner gatehouse for entry into the royal quarter of the ancient city and an additional royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse as well as a corner tower. While ancient buildings are not uncommon in the city, the significance of this discovery is the fact that these edifices can be dated to the 10th century before the Common Era — the time of King Solomon, credited by the Bible for the construction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Pottery found at the lowest levels of the dig is dated to this era.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Breaking Israel’s Academic Stranglehold

This week’s recognition of Ariel College as a “university center” — a step toward full-fledged university status — outraged Israel’s academic establishment.

For some, the objection is political: the institution is located in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, so hard-core leftists want it dismantled, not upgraded — though all Israeli governments have sought to retain Ariel under any peace agreement.

But for most, the objection is ostensibly professional: academically, they claim, Ariel is no better than other colleges that haven’t been upgraded; the Council for Higher Education, an independent professional body that oversees Israeli academia, opposes the upgrade; and the final approval was ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, constituting blatant political interference in higher education.

The actual facts are these: because Israel never annexed the West Bank, formal legal authority there lies with the army — specifically, the GOC Central Command — rather than civilian bodies. Thus Ariel isn’t formally subject to the CHE. But since the army clearly can’t oversee universities, a CHE clone, the Council for Higher Education-Judea and Samaria, was created to do the job.

In 2006, a CHE-JS subcommittee recommended the upgrade, and in 2007 the full CHE-JS adopted this recommendation. All six subcommittee members admittedly lean politically right; most leftists wouldn’t serve on the CHE-JS. But as one member of the regular CHE acknowledged, all were also “people of the first rank in research” — including Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Israel Prize laureate Yuval Ne’eman (the father of Israel’s space program), and Israel Prize laureate Daniel Sperber.

Despite this, the GOC Central Command refused for three years to confirm the decision. Hence, when Barak finally ordered him to do so, he was not overruling the professionals’ decision but upholding it.

As for the CHE’s opposition, that had nothing to do with Ariel’s qualifications: it opposed the upgrade because it saw “no academic need for another university.”

In truth, as researcher Dan Ben-David has documented, Israel desperately needs another university. From 1973 to 2005, Israel’s population doubled, yet the number of senior faculty per capita plunged 50 percent. At its two flagship universities, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, the number of researchers fell 14 percent and 21 percent, respectively, while the Technion, Israel’s MIT, added exactly one position. The result is a huge brain drain: fully 25 percent of Israeli academics work overseas, compared to less than 4 percent of European academics.

So what’s the real objection? Money. Israel’s universities are almost wholly state-funded. And while many colleges also receive state funds, universities get much more. Hence a new university would mean a smaller share of the pie for existing ones. And since existing universities control the CHE, they are determined to block newcomers.

But for a country with no natural resources, dependent entirely on its brainpower, a system that prevents new institutions from flourishing is bad news. It is therefore vital to end the CHE’s stranglehold, and in parallel to encourage existing universities to develop nongovernmental funding sources. A school shouldn’t have to be located in the West Bank to obtain recognition as an Israeli university.

This week’s recognition of Ariel College as a “university center” — a step toward full-fledged university status — outraged Israel’s academic establishment.

For some, the objection is political: the institution is located in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, so hard-core leftists want it dismantled, not upgraded — though all Israeli governments have sought to retain Ariel under any peace agreement.

But for most, the objection is ostensibly professional: academically, they claim, Ariel is no better than other colleges that haven’t been upgraded; the Council for Higher Education, an independent professional body that oversees Israeli academia, opposes the upgrade; and the final approval was ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, constituting blatant political interference in higher education.

The actual facts are these: because Israel never annexed the West Bank, formal legal authority there lies with the army — specifically, the GOC Central Command — rather than civilian bodies. Thus Ariel isn’t formally subject to the CHE. But since the army clearly can’t oversee universities, a CHE clone, the Council for Higher Education-Judea and Samaria, was created to do the job.

In 2006, a CHE-JS subcommittee recommended the upgrade, and in 2007 the full CHE-JS adopted this recommendation. All six subcommittee members admittedly lean politically right; most leftists wouldn’t serve on the CHE-JS. But as one member of the regular CHE acknowledged, all were also “people of the first rank in research” — including Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Israel Prize laureate Yuval Ne’eman (the father of Israel’s space program), and Israel Prize laureate Daniel Sperber.

Despite this, the GOC Central Command refused for three years to confirm the decision. Hence, when Barak finally ordered him to do so, he was not overruling the professionals’ decision but upholding it.

As for the CHE’s opposition, that had nothing to do with Ariel’s qualifications: it opposed the upgrade because it saw “no academic need for another university.”

In truth, as researcher Dan Ben-David has documented, Israel desperately needs another university. From 1973 to 2005, Israel’s population doubled, yet the number of senior faculty per capita plunged 50 percent. At its two flagship universities, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, the number of researchers fell 14 percent and 21 percent, respectively, while the Technion, Israel’s MIT, added exactly one position. The result is a huge brain drain: fully 25 percent of Israeli academics work overseas, compared to less than 4 percent of European academics.

So what’s the real objection? Money. Israel’s universities are almost wholly state-funded. And while many colleges also receive state funds, universities get much more. Hence a new university would mean a smaller share of the pie for existing ones. And since existing universities control the CHE, they are determined to block newcomers.

But for a country with no natural resources, dependent entirely on its brainpower, a system that prevents new institutions from flourishing is bad news. It is therefore vital to end the CHE’s stranglehold, and in parallel to encourage existing universities to develop nongovernmental funding sources. A school shouldn’t have to be located in the West Bank to obtain recognition as an Israeli university.

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More Than a Rag on a Stick

What does a nation’s flag really stand for? That’s the question posed by researchers at Hebrew University, who studied the effect of flashing subliminal images of the Israeli flag at subjects of a study aimed at measuring the images’ effect on political behavior and beliefs among Israelis. The results are surprising: Rather than making Israelis more nationalistic (i.e., shifting them to the right), the effect of the images was to shift their opinions away from extremes and towards the political center. As the Jerusalem Post reports:

In the first experiment, the Israeli participants—divided into two groups chosen at random—were asked about their attitudes toward core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They were then asked again to share their opinions on the subject, but this time, prior to answering the researchers’ questions, half of the participants were exposed to subliminal images of the Israeli flag projected on a monitor and the rest were not. The results showed that the former group tended to shift to the political center.

Another experiment, which was conducted in the weeks leading up the the disengagement from Gaza, replicated these results whereby participants subliminally exposed to the Israeli flag expressed centrist views in relation to the withdrawal and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza.

The third experiment was held just prior to Israel’s last general election. Here too, the subliminal presentation of Israel’s flag drew right-wing, as well as left-wing, Israelis toward the political center.

Participants who were subliminally exposed to the flag said they intended to vote for more central parties than those who had not been exposed to the subliminal message. The researchers then called the participants after the elections and discovered that people who were exposed to the flag indeed voted for more moderate candidates.

Neither the report nor the article ventures a guess as to why Israelis moderate their views in light of their own flag. One answer might be that citizens are reminded of the high responsibility that a national conscience represents, and of the nuance of belief that such responsibility may sometimes entail.

Yet there is another possibility. As the Post reports, “The team did not study the effect of subliminal images of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas flag on Palestinian political leanings.” Perhaps Palestinians would moderate their views in light of their own flag, just as Israelis do—but perhaps not. One wonders whether some flags (such as those flown over free, democratic countries) trigger a different set of unconscious associations than do others. To find this out, we’ll have to wait for the comparative study.

What does a nation’s flag really stand for? That’s the question posed by researchers at Hebrew University, who studied the effect of flashing subliminal images of the Israeli flag at subjects of a study aimed at measuring the images’ effect on political behavior and beliefs among Israelis. The results are surprising: Rather than making Israelis more nationalistic (i.e., shifting them to the right), the effect of the images was to shift their opinions away from extremes and towards the political center. As the Jerusalem Post reports:

In the first experiment, the Israeli participants—divided into two groups chosen at random—were asked about their attitudes toward core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They were then asked again to share their opinions on the subject, but this time, prior to answering the researchers’ questions, half of the participants were exposed to subliminal images of the Israeli flag projected on a monitor and the rest were not. The results showed that the former group tended to shift to the political center.

Another experiment, which was conducted in the weeks leading up the the disengagement from Gaza, replicated these results whereby participants subliminally exposed to the Israeli flag expressed centrist views in relation to the withdrawal and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza.

The third experiment was held just prior to Israel’s last general election. Here too, the subliminal presentation of Israel’s flag drew right-wing, as well as left-wing, Israelis toward the political center.

Participants who were subliminally exposed to the flag said they intended to vote for more central parties than those who had not been exposed to the subliminal message. The researchers then called the participants after the elections and discovered that people who were exposed to the flag indeed voted for more moderate candidates.

Neither the report nor the article ventures a guess as to why Israelis moderate their views in light of their own flag. One answer might be that citizens are reminded of the high responsibility that a national conscience represents, and of the nuance of belief that such responsibility may sometimes entail.

Yet there is another possibility. As the Post reports, “The team did not study the effect of subliminal images of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas flag on Palestinian political leanings.” Perhaps Palestinians would moderate their views in light of their own flag, just as Israelis do—but perhaps not. One wonders whether some flags (such as those flown over free, democratic countries) trigger a different set of unconscious associations than do others. To find this out, we’ll have to wait for the comparative study.

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Against (Archaeological) Interpretation

This week, archaeologists in Jerusalem reported the discovery of a great wall dating to the sixth century B.C.E., likely to be part of the very city walls built by the Israelite leader Nehemia as described in the Bible. The archaeologist, Eilat Mazar, of Hebrew University and the Shalem Center, made major headlines two years ago with the discovery of what is likely the remains of King David’s palace. (I wrote an essay in Azure about this at the time.)

The debate over archaeological support for the Bible has, over the past years, gotten weirder and weirder. As more evidence like Mazar’s discovery emerges supporting the historical account of an Israelite people centered in Jerusalem, opponents are driven further into the arms of post-modernism: Not that the evidence doesn’t prove the hypothesis, but that all evidence and hypothesis are not real but political manipulation. I remember hearing a talk by Israel Finkelstein, head of Tel Aviv University’s archaeology department and the leading promoter of the theory that David and Solomon’s kingdom never really existed. When asked to provide proofs for his alternative theory of how to know the dates of archaeological finds (upon which he based his whole pitch), he began citing the 1960’s philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn—who famously argued that science is not about truth but about shifting “paradigms,” driven as much by politics as anything else—to justify why he didn’t need proofs at all.

Now comes Barnard anthropologist Nadia Abu El-Haj, who received tenure for a book she wrote claiming that the entire field of biblical archaeology is nothing but a political manipulation to justify the Jewish state and the oppression of Palestinians. But unlike Finkelstein, whose post-modern approach is often obscured by his archaeological knowledge, El-Haj is up-front about her intentions. As cited in Haaretz this week, she describes her research as building upon “post-structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism, and critical theory”—and therefore on “rejecting a positivist commitment to scientific method.” Ultimately, she is guided by a “commitment to understanding archaeology as necessarily political.”

This is a sign of desperation. As the evidence continues to mount, and the truthful nature of much of the biblical history becomes increasingly clear, these critics have little left to say but that evidence doesn’t matter. Students of Said, take note.

This week, archaeologists in Jerusalem reported the discovery of a great wall dating to the sixth century B.C.E., likely to be part of the very city walls built by the Israelite leader Nehemia as described in the Bible. The archaeologist, Eilat Mazar, of Hebrew University and the Shalem Center, made major headlines two years ago with the discovery of what is likely the remains of King David’s palace. (I wrote an essay in Azure about this at the time.)

The debate over archaeological support for the Bible has, over the past years, gotten weirder and weirder. As more evidence like Mazar’s discovery emerges supporting the historical account of an Israelite people centered in Jerusalem, opponents are driven further into the arms of post-modernism: Not that the evidence doesn’t prove the hypothesis, but that all evidence and hypothesis are not real but political manipulation. I remember hearing a talk by Israel Finkelstein, head of Tel Aviv University’s archaeology department and the leading promoter of the theory that David and Solomon’s kingdom never really existed. When asked to provide proofs for his alternative theory of how to know the dates of archaeological finds (upon which he based his whole pitch), he began citing the 1960’s philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn—who famously argued that science is not about truth but about shifting “paradigms,” driven as much by politics as anything else—to justify why he didn’t need proofs at all.

Now comes Barnard anthropologist Nadia Abu El-Haj, who received tenure for a book she wrote claiming that the entire field of biblical archaeology is nothing but a political manipulation to justify the Jewish state and the oppression of Palestinians. But unlike Finkelstein, whose post-modern approach is often obscured by his archaeological knowledge, El-Haj is up-front about her intentions. As cited in Haaretz this week, she describes her research as building upon “post-structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism, and critical theory”—and therefore on “rejecting a positivist commitment to scientific method.” Ultimately, she is guided by a “commitment to understanding archaeology as necessarily political.”

This is a sign of desperation. As the evidence continues to mount, and the truthful nature of much of the biblical history becomes increasingly clear, these critics have little left to say but that evidence doesn’t matter. Students of Said, take note.

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The Closing of the British Mind

Last week’s vote by the British Universities and Colleges Union admonishing its members to “consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions” marks a new stage in the concerted campaign to put Israel into a kind of cultural quarantine. This boycott and others like it are not merely aimed at forcing a change of that country’s policy towards the Palestinians—they are explicitly intended to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state. By branding Israel an apartheid state, these academics are denying its right to exist in anything like its present form.

But what are the “moral implications” of aligning the British academic community with those, such as the Palestinian government, who are dedicated to the destruction of Israel? Is it plausible that the universities now under censure would survive a Hamas-led regime? The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it is true, long preceded the founding of the state of Israel, but the survival of this and other academic institutions in Mandatory Palestine was only possible because they were protected by the British authorities and supported by academics around the world. Had the Hebrew University been left to the mercies of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, its faculty members would have suffered the same fate as the Jewish academics in Germany did at the hands of the Mufti’s ally, Adolf Hitler.

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Last week’s vote by the British Universities and Colleges Union admonishing its members to “consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions” marks a new stage in the concerted campaign to put Israel into a kind of cultural quarantine. This boycott and others like it are not merely aimed at forcing a change of that country’s policy towards the Palestinians—they are explicitly intended to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state. By branding Israel an apartheid state, these academics are denying its right to exist in anything like its present form.

But what are the “moral implications” of aligning the British academic community with those, such as the Palestinian government, who are dedicated to the destruction of Israel? Is it plausible that the universities now under censure would survive a Hamas-led regime? The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it is true, long preceded the founding of the state of Israel, but the survival of this and other academic institutions in Mandatory Palestine was only possible because they were protected by the British authorities and supported by academics around the world. Had the Hebrew University been left to the mercies of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, its faculty members would have suffered the same fate as the Jewish academics in Germany did at the hands of the Mufti’s ally, Adolf Hitler.

Academic boycotts were a favorite method of the Nazis in the early days of the Third Reich, before all Jews had been excluded from German universities. Viktor Klemperer was one of those Jewish professors who, as veterans of the First World War, were permitted to teach under the Nazi Civil Service code introduced shortly after Hitler seized power. In his diaries, Klemperer describes how his lectures were initially well attended. Clinging to the hope that the regime would not last, he noted with satisfaction, “My most eager student is the Nazi cell leader Eva Theissig.”

Two years later, however, Klemperer was down to one student for his lectures on French and two for those on Italian literature—and in May 1935 he was abruptly dismissed. Then he was banned from using the university library—“the absolute end.” For Klemperer, the academic boycott was an intellectual death sentence, foreshadowing the physical one.

We have seen what happened when the Israeli settlers were evicted from Gaza: the first thing the Palestinians did was to burn the homes and desecrate the synagogues the Jews left behind. The universities of Israel, among the best in the world, would be among the first priorities for destruction if Hamas and Hizbollah were ever to achieve their “right of return,” as the British academics advocate.

It is vital to grasp what is at stake here. Western civilization in general—and the idea of the university in particular—has always depended upon the love of knowledge and the cultivation of the intellect for their own sakes. When science and scholarship are subordinated to political ends, it is not only universities that suffer. The British academics who condemn their Israeli counterparts are in reality perpetrating an act of vandalism against their own institutions—and, indirectly, against the society that supports these institutions and is, in turn, shaped and supported by them.

It is Britain, not Israel, that is most harmed by this vandalism. These academics are cutting themselves off from the mainstream of Jewish intellectual life—from one of the sources of their own civilization. When Alan Bloom conjured the image of the closing of the American mind, he meant just such self-inflicted amnesia. Only this time, it is the British mind that is closing.

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The Closing of the European Mind

The Times of London reports today on yet another episode in the closing of the European mind—in this instance, a shocking case of academic censorship.

Matthias Küntzel, a German political scientist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was invited by the German department at Leeds University for three days of lectures and seminars this week. His lecture on “Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic Anti-Semitism in the Middle East” was expected to draw a large audience. Then the university’s student Islamic society complained about the lecture’s “provocative” title. Last Tuesday, at the behest of university authorities, the words “Hitler” and “Islamic” were excised and the title was amended to read: “The Nazi Legacy: The Export of Anti-Semitism to the Middle East.” But when Küntzel arrived at Leeds this Wednesday, he was informed that his lecture and the rest of his program had been cancelled “on security grounds.” Küntzel was understandably indignant: “I value the integrity of academic debate, and I feel that it really is in danger here.”

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The Times of London reports today on yet another episode in the closing of the European mind—in this instance, a shocking case of academic censorship.

Matthias Küntzel, a German political scientist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was invited by the German department at Leeds University for three days of lectures and seminars this week. His lecture on “Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic Anti-Semitism in the Middle East” was expected to draw a large audience. Then the university’s student Islamic society complained about the lecture’s “provocative” title. Last Tuesday, at the behest of university authorities, the words “Hitler” and “Islamic” were excised and the title was amended to read: “The Nazi Legacy: The Export of Anti-Semitism to the Middle East.” But when Küntzel arrived at Leeds this Wednesday, he was informed that his lecture and the rest of his program had been cancelled “on security grounds.” Küntzel was understandably indignant: “I value the integrity of academic debate, and I feel that it really is in danger here.”

What had happened? Stuart Taberner, the head of the German department, says he was summoned to a last-minute meeting with staff from the office of Michael Arthur, the university’s vice-chancellor, and the head of security, after which he was obliged to cancel Küntzel’s lectures and seminars. The university claimed that proper arrangements for stewarding the lecture on anti-Semitism had not been made, and that it had been cancelled for purely bureaucratic reasons. “The decision to cancel the meeting has nothing to do with academic freedom, freedom of speech, anti-Semitism, or Islamophobia,” a Leeds spokeswoman said. (She added insult to injury by accusing “those claiming that is the case”—including Küntzel—of “making mischief.”) The spokeswoman did not explain why the university had not offered to provide additional security during the visit, nor whether the police had been involved.

Was there a threat to security? The president of the Islamic society, Ahmed Sawalem, denied responsibility for the affair: “We just sent a complaint, we did not ask for the talk to be cancelled.” Küntzel was shown two e-mails, one of which—apparently written by an Arab Muslim student—is quoted in the Times. The writer claims that the lecture is an “open racist attack” but makes no explicit threats.

The Küntzel case shows that Muslims do not even need to resort to the threat of violence in order to close down academic debate on subjects they dislike. Anthony Glees of Brunel University has been warning for years of the danger posed by Islamists on campus—a danger to which university authorities are notoriously weak in responding. Before his death last year, I spoke to Zaki Badawi, the leading Muslim opponent of Islamism in Britain, about this problem, which he saw as one of appeasement. This case, however, goes beyond appeasement. Leeds has set a new precedent: the pre-emptive cringe. Islamists everywhere will take heart from the spectacle of a reputable university setting a lower value on academic freedom than on the possibility that Muslim students might take offense.

It will be fascinating to see whether any other British university tries to efface this shameful episode by inviting Küntzel to give the lecture cancelled by Leeds. Perhaps Oxford will follow the example of Yale and many others by offering Küntzel a platform to explain how the Nazis supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. After all, Oxford is proud to provide just such a platform for that scion of the Muslim Brotherhood, Tariq Ramadan.

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Hebrew University law professor Ruth Gavison, one of Israel’s most respected legal intellectuals, is said to owe her failure to be appointed to Israel’s supreme court to two main things: her opposition to the judicial activism of the 1995-2006 Barak court and her strong affirmation of Zionist values in an increasingly post-Zionist age.

And so when someone like Gavison, in a newly published position paper entitled “The Necessity of Strategic Thinking: A Constitutive Vision for Israel and Its Implications,” suggests fundamental changes in Israel’s Law of Return, which guarantees Israeli citizenship to any Jew wishing to live in the Jewish state, you have to sit up and take note.

Until now, amending this law has been the agenda of post- and anti-Zionists, who claim—quite correctly—that it discriminates in favor of Jews. Now along comes Gavison and says in effect that it doesn’t discriminate enough, because it has been taken advantage of by too many people who—although they are Jews according to Jewish religious or Israeli secular law, such as Russians with a single Jewish grandparent or Ethiopians whose ancestors converted to Christianity—have “no interest in Jewish life.” Such immigrants, says Gavison, have often ended up being a cultural and/or economic burden on Israel, which has had great difficulty integrating them successfully.

One can’t deny that this difficulty has been real. And yet Gavison’s proposal could only result in a legal, political, and bureaucratic nightmare. Who, exactly, would decide what an “interest in Jewish life” is? Who would decide who does or doesn’t have it? Would screening committees be set up for tens of thousands of potential immigrants with the power to decide in each case whether such an “interest” exists?

Although the Law of Return has indeed become more and more problematic with time, sweeping changes in it are only likely to cause greater problems. One would think that a conservative jurist like Ruth Gavison would be the first to understand this.

Hebrew University law professor Ruth Gavison, one of Israel’s most respected legal intellectuals, is said to owe her failure to be appointed to Israel’s supreme court to two main things: her opposition to the judicial activism of the 1995-2006 Barak court and her strong affirmation of Zionist values in an increasingly post-Zionist age.

And so when someone like Gavison, in a newly published position paper entitled “The Necessity of Strategic Thinking: A Constitutive Vision for Israel and Its Implications,” suggests fundamental changes in Israel’s Law of Return, which guarantees Israeli citizenship to any Jew wishing to live in the Jewish state, you have to sit up and take note.

Until now, amending this law has been the agenda of post- and anti-Zionists, who claim—quite correctly—that it discriminates in favor of Jews. Now along comes Gavison and says in effect that it doesn’t discriminate enough, because it has been taken advantage of by too many people who—although they are Jews according to Jewish religious or Israeli secular law, such as Russians with a single Jewish grandparent or Ethiopians whose ancestors converted to Christianity—have “no interest in Jewish life.” Such immigrants, says Gavison, have often ended up being a cultural and/or economic burden on Israel, which has had great difficulty integrating them successfully.

One can’t deny that this difficulty has been real. And yet Gavison’s proposal could only result in a legal, political, and bureaucratic nightmare. Who, exactly, would decide what an “interest in Jewish life” is? Who would decide who does or doesn’t have it? Would screening committees be set up for tens of thousands of potential immigrants with the power to decide in each case whether such an “interest” exists?

Although the Law of Return has indeed become more and more problematic with time, sweeping changes in it are only likely to cause greater problems. One would think that a conservative jurist like Ruth Gavison would be the first to understand this.

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