Commentary Magazine


Topic: Shalem Center

Shalem Center Summer Internship Program

If you are an undergraduate and interested in spending the summer in Jerusalem at one of the leading think tanks in the world — and one that has punched far above its weight in Israeli and Western political life — the Shalem Center is taking applications for its internship program. Click here for details.

If you are an undergraduate and interested in spending the summer in Jerusalem at one of the leading think tanks in the world — and one that has punched far above its weight in Israeli and Western political life — the Shalem Center is taking applications for its internship program. Click here for details.

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More Evidence for the Biblical Kingdom of David

Every once in a while, archaeologists in Israel hit pay dirt, undoing years of speculative claims that the key stories in the Bible never happened. For decades, it was claimed that King David never existed — putting into question the pivotal stories of the books of Kings and Chronicles on which a great deal of the biblical narrative turns. But then, in 1992 at Tel Dan, archaeologists uncovered the first clear nonbiblical evidence of David’s reign, an explicit reference to the king himself.

Now it has happened again. For years, biblical “minimalists,” as they are called, have been telling us that most of the Bible had to have been written many centuries after its stories took place. Basing their view mostly on the lack of Hebrew texts being found that date back to the time of David and Solomon, scholars like Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University have insisted that the ancient Israelites back then didn’t have the textual skills needed to record the stories of the Bible and that, at best, the texts we now have were written in the 7th or 6th centuries B.C.E., three or four centuries later.

But last week, Prof. Gershon Galil of Haifa University revealed what may be the most important discovery in the last decade: he succeeded in deciphering a text dating to the 10th century B.C.E., written in an ancient proto-Canaanite script, discovered near the Elah Valley in Israel 18 months ago. (Click here for a reproduction of the text and analysis.) Employing verb roots that are uniquely Hebrew, the text tells readers to protect the widows and orphans and strangers in their midst — themes immediately familiar from the prophecies of Isaiah and other biblical texts, and mostly absent from any of the neighboring peoples’ texts. Judge for yourself:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

Sound familiar? As Galil puts it, the discovery “indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.”

Archaeology is not an exact science, and while books purporting to offer conclusive debunkings of the biblical accounts continue to sell well, they are usually grounded in the absence of evidence supporting the Bible, rather than in any hard evidence contradicting it. Yet as the renowned Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen once said, in archaeology “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” And the evidence that does exist overwhelmingly supports the reality of ancient Israel in the land of Israel very much as described in the biblical books beginning with Joshua. Maybe not everything in the Bible has been proved, but there’s more than enough to indicate that it’s far from a string of myths about a fanciful kingdom that never existed.

For more than a century and a half, new “scientific” proofs of the falsehood of the Bible have been the surest way to establish yourself in the inner circles of academic fashion. Yet in most cases, these proofs unravel with the continued work of archaeologists, whether at Tel Dan in 1992, or in the discovery of King David’s Palace in the City of David in the early 2000s (full disclosure: I was at the time the editor of a journal published by the Shalem Center, which also sponsored that dig), or in the Elah Valley this week.

None of this proves that one has to accept the Bible’s authority as a source of faith or morals. But it does suggest that efforts to use science as a bludgeon against religion are not really working.

Every once in a while, archaeologists in Israel hit pay dirt, undoing years of speculative claims that the key stories in the Bible never happened. For decades, it was claimed that King David never existed — putting into question the pivotal stories of the books of Kings and Chronicles on which a great deal of the biblical narrative turns. But then, in 1992 at Tel Dan, archaeologists uncovered the first clear nonbiblical evidence of David’s reign, an explicit reference to the king himself.

Now it has happened again. For years, biblical “minimalists,” as they are called, have been telling us that most of the Bible had to have been written many centuries after its stories took place. Basing their view mostly on the lack of Hebrew texts being found that date back to the time of David and Solomon, scholars like Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University have insisted that the ancient Israelites back then didn’t have the textual skills needed to record the stories of the Bible and that, at best, the texts we now have were written in the 7th or 6th centuries B.C.E., three or four centuries later.

But last week, Prof. Gershon Galil of Haifa University revealed what may be the most important discovery in the last decade: he succeeded in deciphering a text dating to the 10th century B.C.E., written in an ancient proto-Canaanite script, discovered near the Elah Valley in Israel 18 months ago. (Click here for a reproduction of the text and analysis.) Employing verb roots that are uniquely Hebrew, the text tells readers to protect the widows and orphans and strangers in their midst — themes immediately familiar from the prophecies of Isaiah and other biblical texts, and mostly absent from any of the neighboring peoples’ texts. Judge for yourself:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

Sound familiar? As Galil puts it, the discovery “indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.”

Archaeology is not an exact science, and while books purporting to offer conclusive debunkings of the biblical accounts continue to sell well, they are usually grounded in the absence of evidence supporting the Bible, rather than in any hard evidence contradicting it. Yet as the renowned Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen once said, in archaeology “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” And the evidence that does exist overwhelmingly supports the reality of ancient Israel in the land of Israel very much as described in the biblical books beginning with Joshua. Maybe not everything in the Bible has been proved, but there’s more than enough to indicate that it’s far from a string of myths about a fanciful kingdom that never existed.

For more than a century and a half, new “scientific” proofs of the falsehood of the Bible have been the surest way to establish yourself in the inner circles of academic fashion. Yet in most cases, these proofs unravel with the continued work of archaeologists, whether at Tel Dan in 1992, or in the discovery of King David’s Palace in the City of David in the early 2000s (full disclosure: I was at the time the editor of a journal published by the Shalem Center, which also sponsored that dig), or in the Elah Valley this week.

None of this proves that one has to accept the Bible’s authority as a source of faith or morals. But it does suggest that efforts to use science as a bludgeon against religion are not really working.

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More on Haaretz

David Hazony is actually too kind to “Israel’s paper of record,” Haaretz, when in an earlier post he says one of its editorials exposes the paper’s “severe disconnect with the Israeli public.” Haaretz is not disconnected; rather, it is connected—fiercely so—to its vision of what Israel should be.

Two recent stories serve as perfect examples. First, an op-ed column by Tom Segev on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations vote to partition Palestine into two states—one Jewish and one Arab. Segev is one of Israel’s preeminent historians and a regular Haaretz contributor. On this occasion, rather than express any sense of celebration, gratitude, or even mild happiness that the UN voted in favor of a Jewish State, Segev decides to question the legitimacy of his own country. “With every settler who moves to the territories and with every Palestinian child who is killed by Israel Defense Forces fire, Israel loses some of the moral justification that led to the decision on the 29th of November 60 years ago,” Segev explains. The editors of Haaretz publish such opinions—and worse—on a daily basis.

But Haaretz’s ideological crusade is not limited to the editorial or opinion pages. Its editors are only too happy to publish defamatory feature stories as well. On November 30, the weekend section of Haaretz (the equivalent of the New York Times’s Sunday Magazine) featured a cover story on the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think tank that, incidentally, used to employ Mr. Hazony. A shorter English version of the article is available here. So egregious were the mistakes and so blatant the inaccuracies that the Shalem Center posted the following response on its own Web site. Haaretz has thus far issued no correction nor has it provided space to rebut the claims made in its original article. And for good reason: The sole purpose of the story is to disparage a think-tank whose world-view the editors of Haaretz oppose. But instead of a feature analyzing the center’s stated beliefs versus its accomplishments, or even questioning the legitimacy of Shalem’s Zionist mission, the story deals in gossip, supposed improprieties, and the personal habits and salaries of Shalem’s founders. This is worth 4,500 words? It is when your goal is to defame an organization whose success you envy and whose vision you loathe.

Haaretz is often described as Israel’s New York Times, and when it comes to ideological crusading, the two papers do resemble one another. Except that the New York Times doesn’t stoop this low.

David Hazony is actually too kind to “Israel’s paper of record,” Haaretz, when in an earlier post he says one of its editorials exposes the paper’s “severe disconnect with the Israeli public.” Haaretz is not disconnected; rather, it is connected—fiercely so—to its vision of what Israel should be.

Two recent stories serve as perfect examples. First, an op-ed column by Tom Segev on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations vote to partition Palestine into two states—one Jewish and one Arab. Segev is one of Israel’s preeminent historians and a regular Haaretz contributor. On this occasion, rather than express any sense of celebration, gratitude, or even mild happiness that the UN voted in favor of a Jewish State, Segev decides to question the legitimacy of his own country. “With every settler who moves to the territories and with every Palestinian child who is killed by Israel Defense Forces fire, Israel loses some of the moral justification that led to the decision on the 29th of November 60 years ago,” Segev explains. The editors of Haaretz publish such opinions—and worse—on a daily basis.

But Haaretz’s ideological crusade is not limited to the editorial or opinion pages. Its editors are only too happy to publish defamatory feature stories as well. On November 30, the weekend section of Haaretz (the equivalent of the New York Times’s Sunday Magazine) featured a cover story on the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think tank that, incidentally, used to employ Mr. Hazony. A shorter English version of the article is available here. So egregious were the mistakes and so blatant the inaccuracies that the Shalem Center posted the following response on its own Web site. Haaretz has thus far issued no correction nor has it provided space to rebut the claims made in its original article. And for good reason: The sole purpose of the story is to disparage a think-tank whose world-view the editors of Haaretz oppose. But instead of a feature analyzing the center’s stated beliefs versus its accomplishments, or even questioning the legitimacy of Shalem’s Zionist mission, the story deals in gossip, supposed improprieties, and the personal habits and salaries of Shalem’s founders. This is worth 4,500 words? It is when your goal is to defame an organization whose success you envy and whose vision you loathe.

Haaretz is often described as Israel’s New York Times, and when it comes to ideological crusading, the two papers do resemble one another. Except that the New York Times doesn’t stoop this low.

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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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Ignatius in Israel

David Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist, is in Israel, and I think it’s fair to say that his time in the region is not doing a whole lot to imbue his opinions with much in the way of perspective or wisdom. His column on Sunday presented a fawning portrait of Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, who has of late been tarnishing his legacy by arguing to anyone who will listen that the real threat to Israel is not from the regimes who implacably seek the country’s destruction, but from Israeli leaders who do not sufficiently accommodate, rhetorically and strategically, the leaders of Hamas, Syria, and Iran. (A sample bit of his wisdom on Iran: “We have to find creative ways to help them escape from their rhetoric.”) The only place Halevy has been taken seriously in recent memory is in David Ignatius’s column—I wonder if Ignatius himself knows this?

Anyway, Ignatius has followed up Sunday’s column with a piece today that meditates on the need, in order to advance the peace process, for the development of Palestinian security forces capable of arresting terrorists and imposing law and order in the Palestinian territories—obviously, an altogether important matter. Ignatius writes that “The Palestinian Authority simply doesn’t have the people, the training, or the equipment to maintain order in the territories. Why is this so? The answer, in part, is that the Palestinians haven’t built up their security forces because the Israelis haven’t permitted them to do so.”

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David Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist, is in Israel, and I think it’s fair to say that his time in the region is not doing a whole lot to imbue his opinions with much in the way of perspective or wisdom. His column on Sunday presented a fawning portrait of Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, who has of late been tarnishing his legacy by arguing to anyone who will listen that the real threat to Israel is not from the regimes who implacably seek the country’s destruction, but from Israeli leaders who do not sufficiently accommodate, rhetorically and strategically, the leaders of Hamas, Syria, and Iran. (A sample bit of his wisdom on Iran: “We have to find creative ways to help them escape from their rhetoric.”) The only place Halevy has been taken seriously in recent memory is in David Ignatius’s column—I wonder if Ignatius himself knows this?

Anyway, Ignatius has followed up Sunday’s column with a piece today that meditates on the need, in order to advance the peace process, for the development of Palestinian security forces capable of arresting terrorists and imposing law and order in the Palestinian territories—obviously, an altogether important matter. Ignatius writes that “The Palestinian Authority simply doesn’t have the people, the training, or the equipment to maintain order in the territories. Why is this so? The answer, in part, is that the Palestinians haven’t built up their security forces because the Israelis haven’t permitted them to do so.”

This is absurd. For starters, the last time Israel gave the Palestinians a free hand in developing their security forces, Yasir Arafat flagrantly violated every restriction the Oslo rules had put on the Palestinian security services, and then used the services to launch a terror war against Israel. Even Ignatius must admit that the Israelis have a right to be a bit skeptical of going down that road again. Here is how my friend Daniel Polisar, president of the Shalem Center, described that state of affairs:

Arafat guaranteed the loyalty of his troops, and especially the highest-ranking officers, by establishing the kind of command and control structure that had characterized his previous 25 years of rule, and which for good reason is preferred by military dictators anxious to prevent the rise of competitors. Though the Gaza-Jericho agreement limited the Palestinian police to four branches, coordinated in each district by a single command, Arafat set up multiple forces that competed with one another: By the summer of 1995, there were nine intelligence services operating in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as additional units with various responsibilities. There was no authority coordinating these forces on a regional basis, nor was there a clear hierarchy within each branch: The only thing that was unambiguous was that all top officers reported directly to Arafat, who was commander in chief of the PA police—and who continued wearing his trademark uniform to symbolize his authority as a military ruler. The multiplicity of units created endless turf wars, leading the various organizations to keep tabs on one another and to pass this information on to Arafat. Moreover, this Byzantine system made it possible for Arafat to order attacks against political opponents while publicly denying any involvement.

Today, if there is one thing in which the PA is still awash, it is manpower (a massive percentage of Palestinian men are employed in various PA security sinecures), security expertise, and weaponry. Not to mention money, as more foreign aid is lavished per capita on the Palestinians than on any group of people anywhere in the world—and by a huge margin. But none of the problems that Ignatius cites have much relation to the real Palestinian internal security problem.

Arafat’s goons did not work toward establishing a Palestinian state. They didn’t serve the Palestinian people or attempt to impose law and order. These men worked for Yasir Arafat, and only for Arafat, in order that he could more thoroughly solidify his corrupt autocracy. The things Ignatius mentions—Israeli security concessions, or the latest package of aid money, or American support—have all been tweaked and modified and adjusted countless times. A competent security service, be it police or military, must be possessed of a unity of purpose and must show dedication to a mission. It is precisely these cultural components that have been so elusive when it has come to the role that Palestinian security services have played in the many abortive attempts at creating a Palestinian state. The only Arab security forces in recent history that have displayed any such qualities are those of Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah.

On this matter David Frum should have the last word:

Hey, here’s a wild suggestion: What if we tried the other way around? What if we said to the Palestinians—OK, you want the benefits of peace? A state, a well-paid civil service supported by lavish foreign aid, jobs at the United Nations for the nephews of your president for life? Great. Make peace. Your soldiers want to be trusted? Great. First let them show themselves trustworthy.

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No “Plan B”

In one of the more insightful assessments of the Jewish situation of late, Martin Kramer (of the Washington Institute, the Shalem Center, and Harvard University) stated:

[T]he geopolitical situation of the Jews hasn’t ever been stable. As a people, our geopolitics are one part our preferences, and two parts historical forces. These forces never rest. Seventy years ago, the Jewish world was centered in Europe. Now we mostly just fly over it.

The United States and Israel are today the poles of the Jewish world, because some Jews sensed tremors before the earthquake. When the earth opened up and Europe descended into the inferno, parts of the Jewish people already had a Plan B in place. We are living that Plan B.

Today the Jewish people is in an enviable geopolitical position. It has one foot planted in a Jewish sovereign state, and the other in the world’s most open and powerful society. One is tempted to say that never in their long history has the geopolitical situation of the Jews been better. Jews did have sovereignty before, in antiquity, but they did not have a strategic alliance with the greatest power on earth. And since it is difficult to imagine a better geopolitical position, the Jewish people has become a status-quo people.

Kramer then lays out five scenarios that would seriously undermine this desirable status quo: the waning of American influence; the “subtraction” of Europe from the power of the West; the emergence of Iran as a regional power on par with Israel; the disintegration of Arab states into Iraq-style internal conflict, producing multiple Hezbollah’s on Israel’s borders; and finally, the failure of the Palestinians as a nation, leading to the collapse of the two-state paradigm.

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In one of the more insightful assessments of the Jewish situation of late, Martin Kramer (of the Washington Institute, the Shalem Center, and Harvard University) stated:

[T]he geopolitical situation of the Jews hasn’t ever been stable. As a people, our geopolitics are one part our preferences, and two parts historical forces. These forces never rest. Seventy years ago, the Jewish world was centered in Europe. Now we mostly just fly over it.

The United States and Israel are today the poles of the Jewish world, because some Jews sensed tremors before the earthquake. When the earth opened up and Europe descended into the inferno, parts of the Jewish people already had a Plan B in place. We are living that Plan B.

Today the Jewish people is in an enviable geopolitical position. It has one foot planted in a Jewish sovereign state, and the other in the world’s most open and powerful society. One is tempted to say that never in their long history has the geopolitical situation of the Jews been better. Jews did have sovereignty before, in antiquity, but they did not have a strategic alliance with the greatest power on earth. And since it is difficult to imagine a better geopolitical position, the Jewish people has become a status-quo people.

Kramer then lays out five scenarios that would seriously undermine this desirable status quo: the waning of American influence; the “subtraction” of Europe from the power of the West; the emergence of Iran as a regional power on par with Israel; the disintegration of Arab states into Iraq-style internal conflict, producing multiple Hezbollah’s on Israel’s borders; and finally, the failure of the Palestinians as a nation, leading to the collapse of the two-state paradigm.

Each of these scenarios, Kramer suggests, requires a Jewish “Plan B.” He continues:

Now one would have to be a grim pessimist to believe that all five of these trends could merge into a perfect storm. But one would have to be an incurable optimist to believe that that we won’t be lashed by any of these storms. And what I am arguing is that we should anticipate conditions that will make storms more frequent than they have been in the last few decades.

Kramer does not suggest what our “Plan B” should be, except to say that “Israel will have to make alliances, strike targets, and redraw borders—and they won’t necessarily be the familiar ones.” What he does not offer is the scenario that has the only real chance of success, which is to stop “Plan A” from falling apart.

We are at war, a war between the liberal democracies and totalitarian Islamism. If we lose this war, many scenarios can be added to Kramer’s five, far worse than the ones he has devised. If we win, all of his bad scenarios can be prevented or accommodated.

We gain nothing by planning to lose. America, Israel, and Europe will not be safe in such a scenario; there is no “Plan B” that avoids catastrophe. Our only viable plan is to use all our resources to ensure the West’s victory. Those resources are substantial—and are nowhere near full mobilization.

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