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Nadia Abu El Haj, a Barnard professor recently granted tenure, is one of a number of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian academics engaged in what appears to be a systematic attempt to erase the history of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. As will be shown below, the intent and effect of her work is to further a claim similar to that of former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and former Mufti of Jerusalem Ikrema Sabri: the Jews did not have an ancient kingdom, and have no national rights in Jerusalem or the land of Israel.

Not surprisingly, El-Haj's work has been sharply criticized by scholars and Israel advocates. However, her presentation is sophisticated and couched in the intentionally convoluted prose of post-structural "discourse." Therefore it is sometimes difficult to pin down the errors and distortions in her work and that of others of the same school. The theme of her book, "Facts on the Ground," and of several similar articles, is that Israeli archaeology participated in falsifying the past record in order to establish a Jewish claim to the land of Israel and Jerusalem. In arguing about detailed points, many have lost sight of the main issue: Her claim Israeli archaeology sought to establish a "myth" or "narrative" of Jewish sovereignty cannot possibly be true.

For over 2,000 years, the fact of ancient Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel or "Palestine" has been accepted almost universally, based on independent corroboration from numerous sources. The facts of Jewish presence and sovereignty in Israel and Jerusalem were attested by monuments visible to all and by writings of Christians, Roman and Greek historians as well as in the New Testament and the Old Testament Bible. They were corroborated by additional archaeological finds by non-Jews that predate the establishment of the state of Israel by many years. They are not a "myth" invented by Zionism and they did not require verification by Israeli archaeology.

El-Haj is part of a larger movement to use post-structuralist "discourse" to rewrite the history of ancient Israel, writing the Jews out of it, and writing the "Palestinian Arabs" into it. El-Haj didn't get tenure despite her views, she got tenure because of her views, and because what outsiders consider to be bad science is considered by post-structuralists to be masterful "discourse." Post-structuralist rhetoric is well suited to such an enterprise, because it tries to discredit the concept that scientific knowledge depends on empirical fact, and substitutes a jargon of "narratives" and "discourse" for the rigor of verification and falsification by empirical research and explanation of known data.

Given the oblique and complex nature of El-Haj's insinuations and prose, it is not surprising that in his blast at the "New McCarthyism" (see Of McCarthyism and academic freedom) Larry Cohler-Esses was able to claim that none of the charges in a particular Israel advocacy petition concerning Nadia Abu El Haj were true and so to discredit the entire cause. The question Cohler-Esses did not answer is whether or not El-Haj's work, regardless of a particular petition, is sound science. From the point of view of post-structuralism, that question is irrelevant. All "narratives" are equal, and there is no way of establishing which ones are related to reality and which are not. "Sound science" is whatever the people like.

The falsifications are well constructed and difficult to refute. Often the falsehood is implied, rather than stated outright. In other cases, the text appears to be saying and implying one thing, but the literal meaning is different.

Campus Watch takes issue with the following quote from "Facts on the Ground,":

"...that is, that for for most of its history, including the Herodian period, Jerusalem was not a Jewish city, but rather one integrated into larger empires and inhabited, primarily, by ‘other' communities." (p 175-76)"

This passage is at the end of a discussion of museum exhibits. El-Haj is saying that if visitors had been shown an unbiased exhibit, they "might" have concluded what she suggest above, namely that Jerusalem was not inhabited mostly by Jews in the time of Herod, and that it was not ruled by Jews. No archaeology is need to show that Judea was a client state of the Romans in that period, everyone knows it is so. But Herod, like other Roman clients, had a considerable measure of leeway. It is unprovable whether or not Jerusalem was inhabited by a Jewish majority in the time of Herod, since there are no census data. Cohler-Esses could say that Campus Watch is wrong. But every indication we have from New Testament narratives and from those of Roman historians, is that Jerusalem was a Jewish city in that period and the center of Jewish worship. Even if one insists that the New Testament is a total fabrication, one would have to admit that the fabrication would have to be credible. The New Testament was credible because everyone knew that Jerusalem was a Jewish city in the time of Jesus, soon after the Herodian period.

Certainly, before 1000 BC and after 134 AD until the 19th century, Jerusalem was not a Jewish city. Again, no archaeological evidence is needed to prove that and nobody contests it. But the verifiable Zionist claims do not depend on these issues. The claim of the Zionists, accepted by almost everyone, is that other than the brief Crusader period, no other nation has ever been sovereign in the land of Israel and no other state ever had Jerusalem as its capital, certainly not since about 1000 BCE. Jerusalem was devoid of Jews for long periods precisely because foreign imperialist colonialists wanted to prevent the renewal of Jewish sovereignty and national life. That was the reason for the genocide perpetrated by Hadrian after the Jewish revolt along with ethnic cleansing of the Jews in Jerusalem. Ethnic cleansing was renewed by the Christian Crusaders for the same reason, and it was carried out once again in 1948 by the Transjordan legion under the aegis of British imperialism for precisely the same reason: to establish "facts on the ground" that would perpetuate the banishment of the Jews from their own land.

El Haj's thesis is summarized in a most favorable review of "Facts on the Ground," by Elia Zureik:

Abu El-Haj sets out to understand the role of archeology, Israel's "past time," "in the formation and enactment of its colonial-national historical imagination and in the substantiation of its historical claims" (p. 2).

In other words, the claim is implied that Jewish presence in the land of Israel was not a fact in evidence, but rather a myth of the "colonial-national imagination" that was "substantiated" by Israeli archaeology.

Archeaology of pre-literate societies or archeology that does not find written inscriptions cannot in fact generally provide conclusive evidence to support any national story. If we only find rocks and jewelry, we often can't attribute them to any nation or culture except based on style and ornamental symbols and the like, In places such as Britain, the Italian and Greek peninsulas, archeology can only validate what is known from written records. If pre-literate remains are found, they can often only be classified as belonging to different sorts of cultures according to the artifacts that they left, such as beaker folk or urn burying cultures or mound people. It would have been pointless for archaeologists to simply dig without a program, without trying to validate or falsify biblical and other historical accounts. All scientific work is based on some "theory" or suppositions and builds on previous knowledge. There is no way to do science without theory, just by accumulation of facts.

El Haj's thesis, as presented and approved by Zureik, and as understood by her Zionist critics, is that Israeli archeology is an attempt to create a "myth" of Jewish sovereignty is absurd. It is like saying that archaeological investigations in Italy are meant to "substantiate" the fact that there was a Roman empire, which would otherwise be in doubt. That is issue that Cohler-Esses and other defenders of El-Haj are trying to defend.

Let's review some of the evidence, in addition to the old testament Bible, and the new that supported the "belief" that the land of Zion is the rightful homeland of the Jewish people, before any Israeli or Zionist archeologist turned a spade in Palestine, Israel, or the various Kazas of the Ottoman Empire.

Coins found in the land over the years attest to the reality of the Maccabean kingdom and the revolt of Bar Kochba.

Maccabean coins.

Roman historians recorded the siege of Jerusalem by Pompei in 61 BC, and wondered that the Jewish inhabitants ceased their defense of the city on the Sabbath. If there were non-Jews in the city, why weren't they involved in its defense?

The triumphal arch of Titus has stood in the Roman Forum for nearly 2000 years, with its legend, "Judea Capta" and the portrayal of the menorah and other items looted from the temple clearly visible.


Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum

Drawing on much older sources, the Roman historian Tacitus repeated an Alexandrian anti-Semitic libel that the Jews had worshipped a golden ass in their temple. The use of "narrative" and archaeology to create national myths can be applicable to preliterate civilizations and those that left few records or monuments. It makes no sense with regard to ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt or Israel, because the basic stories are well known. Each separate datum can conceivably be explained by a different, alternative story. Taken together, it is virtually impossible that all of these findings and information, which all support each other, are completely wrong and that the ancient existence of the Jews must be proven again by Israeli archaeology. Of course, we can take a solipsistic stance that all of these different items were created yesterday by a malignant intelligence in order to deny the Arabs of Palestine their rights, but nobody can provide any evidence for that view. We would have to believe that the bible, the Roman historians, the Arch of Titus and numerous other bits of evidence were all invented in the last 50 or 100 years, and planted as bogus evidence like the Piltdown man hoax, in a nefarious Zionist settler-colonialist conspiracy to dispossess Palestinians.

What was known from ancient times was confirmed and reconfirmed by the beginning of the twentieth century. Archaeologists had rescued the Hebrew inscription in the tunnel of Hezekiah from an Arab looter. It verified passages in the book of 2 Kings and in Chronicles, and supported the "belief" (if you insist) in Jewish sovereignty in ancient Jerusalem (See Hezekiah's Tunnel).

The New York Times of July 10, 1910 noted the following finding:

LONDON, July 9. -- A fascinating archaeological discovery is reported from Upper Egypt. It is no less than a record of the siege of Jerusalem by Vespasian's army, under Titus, and is said to be, with the exception of the tablets found at Pompeii containing a banker's accounts, the most valuable specimen of Roman caligraphy ever brought to light.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, what had been believed by tradition had been amply validated by additional archaeological findings. Israeli archaeology did not need to substantiate any myth, but only to satisfy curiosity and provide details of Jewish national history.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2007. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000443.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 3 Comments

Dear Larry,
You have put in quotes things that I didn't write, as though they came from my articles.

I did note the errors in Paula's petition briefly.

Never mind what Paula or Campus Watch or Solomonia wrote. That is the same sort of distraction you used in your article. The question is what El Haj and others did write, and what Larry Cohler-Esses wrote - and also what Larry Cohler-Esses and the Nation would not write and would not protest.

There are several separate issues, some of which relate to your article and some relate to Nadia Abu El-Haj and others relate to the academic community that tolerates the invention of a new alternative "narrative" to discredit the Jewish claim to the land or insert a fictitious "Palestinian" claim pre-dated to ancient times. Because these could not all be handled in one blog, I have written (and will write) a series of articles. The first one is here, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000439.html and that relates specifically to your article and its thesis. All the articles I wrote about this should be taken as a unity more or less.

Your thesis is that people are not allowed in principle to criticize academics and that it is "McCarthyism." That is obvious from the title of your article as well as the text. It doesn't depend on the accuracy of Stern's petition as far as I can tell. Do I need to quote specifics? Stern's petition didn't mention Finkelstein or Al-Montaser. Your article did. Your article is an attempt to shut people up in the name of "academic freedom." That thesis is not tenable. El-Haj made herself into a public figure, and for better or worse exposed herself to just this sort of criticism when she wrote the book. It was understood by FAVORABLE critics like Zureik as a POLITICAL statement, not just an academic statement. Finkelstein likewise. Al-Montaser was an H.S. principal - a totally different issue. H.S. principals don't have academic freedom. No normal community in USA will keep an H.S. principal that justifies Infifada or Jihad or pedophilia, or says that Lesbians make better mothers, even if they "explain" their statements later. She can be an H.S. principal in Gaza City.

Finkelstein and his friends "did a job" on Alan Dershowitz. It was worse than any campaign mounted by Campus Watch and company. From reading reviews and comments on Dershowitz and his book, I was thoroughly convinced that Dershowitz is a fascist bastard settler-supporting fanatic neocon colonialist imperialist warmonger etc. I then read both The Case for Israel and The Case for Peace. I could not find even a hint of anything that these people alleged in both books, though Dershowitz, being a good lawyer, rounded off some corners. It is possible that the edition of "The Case for Israel" I read was revised to eliminate references to the problematic demographics of Joan Peters. Nonetheless, it seems that Finkelstein's case against Dershowitz was totally unfair. Dershowitz supports a two state solution, and did not make any really false statements in anything that I saw. I didn't see that you, or the Nation came out in defense of Dershowitz and against "McCarthyism" of the type practiced by Finkelstein and company. How can you explain that?

Jimmy Carter wrote a book that is full of absurd falsehoods and deliberate omissions on every other page. I can reel off dozens. He faked the map of Barak's concessions, but that was one of the less obvious errors. His timeline omitted the Zionist congress, because Zionism is invalid and irrelevant to him. He claimed that Lebanon is neutral between Syria and Israel (!!) He claimed that Transjordan was a remote desert part of Palestine. It was 78% of the land, and was not "remote" in any way. His book and the campaign that supports it, is also a McCarthyite accusation about the "Israel lobby." Larry Cohler-Esses and The Nation are silent on this McCarthyism.

In 2002, The Nation published an article by Jason Vest, and Brian Whitaker in the Guardian more or less copied Vest's thesis and expanded it. The proposition they advanced was that the "Zionists" or "Israel Lobby" was stirring up war in Iraq based on the neocon - Likudist think tank document, "A Clean Break" and airheaded comments from a member of the absurdly named "Jintsa." They left the impression that the government of Israel and/or some Jewish conspiracy was behind this. It was quite a bit worse than McCarthyism. It was mostly invention. The Israeli government was urging the Bush administration to stay out of Iraq as we now know. Anyone could read the Clean Break document and see that far from advocating US intervention in the Middle East, it was a program for cutting Israel loose from US apron strings and making a regional alliance that would act against Saddam. The articles about "Clean Break" could not have been due to an error in understanding complex formulations. They were deliberate and malicious falsehoods, used to allege a "Jewish conspiracy" and therefore a lot more dangerous than any campaign against an academic. They engendered the belief that "the Jews" were responsible for the Iraq war. A US representative alleged that war would not have taken place were it not for "the Jews." One MESA academic, Thomas Stauffer, even wrote an article that claimed that US officials were paid agents of the Mossad (Feith Wolfowitz etc). Its phrasing was alarmingly similar to the infamous McCarthy letter. Yet I did not see that you or the Nation protested against this vile campaign.

As for interpretations of El-Haj and company, as I noted post-structuralists often write in a convoluted way. If you set out to deconstruct meaning, that is the sort of thing that occurs. This sort of Delphic writing was perfected by Chomsky. Anything one writes about him, he can say "I never said that, show me where I said that."

I deliberately quoted Zureik because Zureik is favorable to El-Haj. Zureik is not Paul Stern or the Solomonia blog. If you search Amazon, you will find that the passages I quoted from the book ARE in the book. If you got to Zureik's article, you find that everything I quoted is there. However, I was not interested in El-Haj per se, but in the whole discipline of post-structuralist "Marxist" (IMO it is not possible to deny the validity of empricism and scientific method and at the same time to be a Marxist, since for better or worse, a "scientific" approach to history is central to Marxism) Israel-bashing that is represented by the department that gave her tenure, the prize she got, the people who wrote favorable reviews etc.

El-Haj says or implies many different things in different places, and read closely, Zureik's article does too. When El Haj says that had the museum exhibits included all the archeology findings, visitors might come to a different conclusion, she is uttering a truism. When she writes "that is, that Jerusalem..." (175-6) she is making her own assertion about the "correct" conclusion. Most of that assertion is literally true, but in the context, it is deliberatly misleading.

Zureik interprets El-Haj to mean, and the interpretation as a whole seems fair, that Israeli archaeology served the purpose of justifying Zionist claims to the land, and aided in the obliteration of the "Palestinian" people, which they take for granted was a purpose of the Zionists. Zureik is not trying to do a job on El Haj - Zureik is favorable to the thesis. Both allegations are false. There was no such Zionist plot, though some people like Raanan Weiss certainly had that in mind, the flight of the Arabs was not due to a policy and not part of Zionist ideology. Israeli archeology was not part of a plot to dispossess the Palestinians. The Arabs were enemy belligerents who lost a war. A lot of these villages were used as battle posts by the Arab irregulars, and they became mostly rock piles. It was necessary to remove the remains and rebuild, and it was legitimate to get opinions of archeologists concerning whether or not anything of value existed beneath the ruins. The same thing is done when preparing new ground for roads or construction anywhere in Israel and I think it is done in all countries that have an archeological past. Even in the US, you can get into trouble if you build over an Indian burial grounds. If US archeologists have to give an opinion about that, are they participating in obliterating the past of native Americans? Beneath Silwan there are certainly remains that attest to the Jewish and other past in Jerusalem, but there are people living there, so it is not possible to dig.

The deliberate confounding of scientific research and popular museum exhibits by El-Haj is absurd. I could say of Greece, as El Haj said of Jerusalem, that for most of its history it was under foreign rule. When I went to the Greek National Museum of Archeology, amazingly enough, I did not see any findings from the period of Ottoman conquest, though the Ottoman empire ruled Greece for longer than it ruled "Palestine" (not called that until 1917). I don't remember much of anything from the Roman and Byzantine periods either. Just a lot of amphoras and Dorian Greek materials. My wife said "If I see another amphora, I'll break it." Was this omission of the great Ottoman contribution to Greek civilization due to a plot by the Greek archeologists, and the colonialist imperialist settler project of the elders of Helas to obliterate the presence of the oppressed Ottomans? In Italian Museums you can find much more material from the ancient Roman and Etruscan periods than you can find from say, the wonderful period of the Gothic and Vandal conquests. Isn't this a plot to usurp the legitimate rights and just claims of the Gothic peoples? Egypt, are there big monuments related to the Muslim conquests or are most of the monuments related to the pharoahs? Did an Arab make the Sphinx or the pyramids or Abu Simbel?? Why are the evil Egyptian archeologists suppressing the glorious culture of the Egyptian Muslims? Would anyone take such an idea seriously? Or is it the case that archeology always concentrates on ancient times, and on cultures that produced elaborate artifacts and monuments, and that the same bias against cultures of later times, especially if they didn't produce monuments, exists in all archeology and for good reason? European museums don't have much material from the dark ages.

National Museum exhibits are always a bit of a show and nobody should expect anything else. Some of them are not intended to be anything more than an exhibit for tourists. Yet Israeli museums do show Arab materials as well as materials from pre-Israelite settlement, Byzantine era etc. Mosques are preserved in Ramla and elsewhere even if there are no mosque goers. Ramla is of course an Arab town and had nothing to do with ancient Israel, and nobody claims otherwise. There is a Museum of Islam in Jerusalem.If the bias that is claimed by El-Haj and Zureik and company existed, none of that would be possible.

There are many possible "narratives," especially once we are freed from the bounds of "positivist facticity" (Zureik's words). One such narrative, supported by facts and tenable in real science as well as post-structural phantasmal discourse, is that the Arabs of Israel had no national consciousness before the 19th century, and when they did develop one, it was as Arabs, not "Palestinians." The non-Jewish inhabitants of Israel consist of converted Jews (both from the original Roman conquest and conversos who settled here - the latter can be ascertained from talking to families in Hebron), of Roman soldiers and others who were given land here, especially after the great genocide that followed the Bar-Kochba War, and of their Arab conquerers. The Husseini family can be traced back to invading Mamelukes. The Nashashibis (it means "bowman") to Salahadin and the Nusseibehs to Umar. The invaders systematically obliterated the evidences of Jewish and Christian presence, just as Christians obliterated the presence of Jews. The Christians built a church on the temple mount. Umar tore down the church and built the dome of the rock. Towns were renamed. Whether by design or ignorance, artifacts of ancient times were looted and, as everyone else did, ancient building stones were used for new houses, destroying the old structures. El Haj says that the looting was justifiable as a nationalist attempt to fight back against the Jewish obliteration of the "Palestinians," but it went on all the time, over hundreds of years. In 1948, when the Jews of Jerusalem were ethnically cleansed, 58 of the 59 synagogues in the old city were destroyed, and the Mt Olives cemetery was vandalized. Every trace of Jewish presence except the Wailing Wall was obliterated. It was indeed, a settler colonialist project to usurp the rights of the legitimate owners. The charges about bulldozers are especially absurd, since it is the Muslim waqf that is using bulldozers to obliterate the Jewish past.

I did not relate the above to make some Zionist propaganda, but to illustrate a point. The above narrative is certainly as viable as fantasies about descent of "Palestinian people" from the Philistines or the Amorites or Muhamed tying up his flying horse at Al Buraq. But it would be impossible for anyone who believed the above narrative to get tenure in the Barnard department of anthropology and many other places. That is the real McCarthyism. And Larry Cohler-Esses and The Nation would never dare to defend people who advanced such theses, even though the facts are obviously true. Thomas Klocek was kicked out of DePaul. Not because he wrote a book or an article, but because he dared to say, at an activist display, that there was no Palestinian Arab people before 1948. That is his narrative. He was not denied tenure because his position was not tenure track. He was suspended and was supposed to make a humiliating apology that he refused to make. If you ask any Arab or any Jew whose family lived here you will know that it is true in fact, but that is "positivist facticity" isn't it?? We should not let positivist facticity interfere with the creation of the narrative, correct? It is not the right Marxist-Leninist discourse. Did Larry Cohler-Esses or The Nation come to the defense of Klocek? Would you or they ever come to the defense of anyone denied tenure for holding those views? It doesn't serve the purposes of the revolution. "The revolution does not need scientists. Off with his head."

Fix the McCarthyism in your own house. I remember something about motes and beams.


Ami Isseroff, Thursday, November 8th

Dear Ami---

As a longtime grateful recipient of MEW News, I count myself a big fan of your work. Please, therefore, take my response to your criticism of my articles dealing with Nadia Abu El-Haj of Columbia University, published in The Nation and The Jewish Week of New York, in the constructive spirit I offer it

It may surprise you to learn I found Abu El-Haj’s book, Facts on the Ground, hostile in fundamental ways to Israel. My article in The Jewish Week reflected this clearly in a passage of four paragraphs you chose not to cite, though they touch track in important ways your own comments regarding post-structuralism:

In her book, Abu El-Haj repeatedly uses terms such as “colonial nation-state,” “(colonial) national political project,” and “settler state,” when describing Israel.

The book implicitly rejects widespread Jewish self-perception of the Zionist enterprise as one in which Jews have returned to a land to which they have always been inherently connected.

That connection, Abu El-Haj argues, had to be created in multiple ways—from establishing settlements and making that the sine qua non of early Zionism, through renaming and Hebraizing thousands of Arab villages, towns and place names and—not least of all—through developing a national “myth” of indigenous origin—a narrative—in which the findings of archaeology, with its scientific authority to “fix facts,” played a key role.

The book discusses these issues using the loaded jargon of academic post-structuralism, referring frequently to “national origin myth,” “making place,” “self-fashioning” and “privileging” certain concepts, methodologies or paradigms. It strongly rejects a positivist world view in which knowledge is something objectively out there that is simply discovered, through empirical investigation, rather than interpreted.

It is nevertheless correct that my article led with scrutiny of the charges put forth by Barnard alum Paula Stern in a petition against granting tenure to Abu El-Haj. The petition was signed by more than 2,600 people, many of them Barnard and Columbia alumni,. I led with this because, as a matter of news judgment, this petition constituted the largest body of public pressure on the university’s tenure process. It was accompanied by explicit statements by its organizer and not a few of its signatories regarding their intent to withhold contributions to Barnard or Columbia if their demand was not met. Last but far from least, Paula Stern acknowledged to me in the article that some of the key arguments in the petition were not accurate---which was news.

At the same time, I tried to separate this out clearly from the debate by experts in the field. This latter debate is heated and deeply divided, but takes place on very different grounds:

Abu El-Haj, a Palestinian American, has been condemned by many supporters of Israel who say her controversial book, Facts On The Ground, reflects a deep-seated hostility to the very notion of a Jewish state. But her politics, whatever they may be, are — in principle at least — irrelevant to the tenure process. More relevant to that process, many of these critics also charge that the book is intellectually dishonest — a fraudulent attempt to throw into question some of the basic historical assumptions about Jewish presence in the land of Israel through the centuries.

Some scholars have argued that she uses evidence selectively, misunderstands key aspects of how archaeology works and/or misrepresents the conduct and motives of archeologists. Others, no less expert, have praised and defended Abu El-Haj’s book — based on her dissertation —which has won several prestigious awards.

At times it sounds like the experts have read entirely different books. William Dever, a well-known retired professor of Near East archaeology at the University of Arizona, dismissed it as “a piece of shoddy work as historical research. She doesn’t quote a single Israeli archaeologist. She doesn’t show she’s read their work.”

Eric Meyers, a biblical archaeology professor at Duke University and member of her dissertation committee, pointed out that, in fact, Abu El-Haj went deep into the archaeological archives to quote directly from dusty reports and field notes of Israeli archaeologists from the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Prof. Rafael Greenberg, senior lecturer in archaeology at Tel Aviv University, called the work an “eye-opener,” adding, “I recommend it.” His colleague, Aren Maeir, an archaeologist based at Bar Ilan, denounced it as “replete with inaccuracies [and] faulty research.”

But the scholars are, by and large, at least arguing over things that are actually in the book, presumably, in context.

Finding the book, as I do, hostile to Israel, I do not at all dismiss the suspicion of critics that Abu El-Haj is masking an anti-Israel agenda beneath an academic tract. But if so, she requires unmasking by individuals who argue accurately and fairly from what she actually writes---individuals who can further show that what she writes is intellectually dishonest or shoddy. By itself, a deplorable political perspective is not—or ought not to be—a criterion for denying tenure.

In your critique of my stories, I was disappointed to find that, like many other critics, you hit out at Abu El-Haj (and me as a purported accomplice) for things that are not in her book. Indeed, much of your energy is spent taking her to task for broadly denying the historical presence of Jews in the land of Israel and more particularly, for attempting to deny the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the historicity of Jewish sovereignty.

To take one long, representative passage from your critique:

Jewish presence in the Land of Israel is known not only from the old testament Bible and the new, but from independent writings of Roman and Greek historians as well as material monuments. Coins attest to the reality of the Maccabean kingdom and the revolt of Bar Kochba.

Roman historians recorded the siege of Jerusalem by Pompei in 61 BC, and wondered that the Jewish inhabitants ceased their defense of the city on the Sabbath. The triumphal arch of Titus has stood in the Roman Forum for nearly 2000 years, with its legend, "Judea Capta" and the portrayal of the menorah and other items looted from the temple clearly visible.

Taken together, it is virtually impossible that all of these findings and information, which all support each other, are completely wrong and that the ancient existence of the Jews must be proven again by Israeli archaeology. Of course, we can take a solipsistic stance that all of these different items were created yesterday by a malignant intelligence in order to deny the Arabs of Palestine their rights, but we cannot provide any evidence for that view. We would have to believe that the bible, the Roman historians, the Arch of Titus and numerous other bits of evidence are all part of a nefarious Zionist settler-colonialist conspiracy to dispossess Palestinians.
The New York Times of July 10, 1910 noted the following finding:
LONDON, July 9. -- A fascinating archaeological discovery is reported from Upper Egypt. It is no less than a record of the siege of Jerusalem by Vespasian's army, under Titus, and is said to be, with the exception of the tablets found at Pompeii containing a banker's accounts, the most valuable specimen of Roman caligraphy ever brought to light.
The whole world, including the Muslim world, accepted the fact of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. By the beginning of the twentieth century, what had been believed by tradition and recorded both in ancient documents and in visible monuments such as the West Wall of the Temple and the Arch of Titus, had been amply validated by additional archaeological findings. Israeli archaeology did not need to substantiate any myth, but only to satisfy curiosity and provide details of Jewish national history. 

How then, can we explain the following claim, except as a misguided and tendentious political statement?
Abu El-Haj questions the inference that the Roman Legion burnt the city in 70 C.E. "How does one determine that a specific historical event is causally linked to physical [italics in original] remnants of fire?" The story of the Roman destruction is "much more in keeping with nationalist historiography" (p. 145). Other "equally plausible accounts," for which there is ample evidence could be that the fire "was evidence of class or sectarian conflict within Jewish society" which erupted prior to the Roman entry.

This is a large amount of ink poured on top of a red herring. Abu El-Haj repeatedly writes about the First and Second Temple periods, the existence of Jews in the land during those periods, and the Jewish kingdoms of those periods as matters of fact. Please see, for example, pages 74, 81, 130, 132, 136, 140, 160 especially (where she describes these periods as “eras of Jewish national ascent or sovereignty”), 170, 188, etc. in her book.

Abu El-Haj also explicitly and unequivocally affirms that the Romans, and no one else, destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E.:

Clearly we know from historical accounts (from Josephus’s book the Jewish Wars, for one) that the Roman legion burned the city down, destroying the Upper City on the Eighth of Ellul, in the year 70 CE. [Page 145]

What Abu El-Haj does discuss, at some length, is how Israeli archaeological, preservation and tourist authorities have utilized two archaeological sites in Jerusalem’s Old City as examples of the Roman destruction in order to dramatize the event for tourists in concrete and graphic ways. She asserts they have done so despite the impossibility of archaeological confirmation that these sites were, in fact, part of that destruction. Abu El-Haj does not deny they might have been. But she argues that the archaeologists, curators and tour guides involved in these sites’ development ignored plausible alternative hypotheses due to an unexamined bias: a desire to concretize a particular narrative that affirmed their national story.

The examples you cite above from page 145 of her book refer to these sites and her arguments about them, not the issue of the city’s destruction by the Romans.

One of these sites, known as Burnt House, was documented to be the home of the Kathros family, a prominent priestly family mentioned in the Talmud. The site was found in the upper class section of the ancient city. Abu El-Haj notes that Josephus, besides recording the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem, records also that the Zealots burned down the homes of upper class Jerusalemites in the years preceding the Roman destruction. Yet, she observes, Israeli presenters cite the layer of ash found in the home from this general period as unequivocal evidence of the Roman destruction of the city on the Eighth of Ellul, 70 C.E. Abu El-Haj questions this epistemology: Ash, she says, citing dating experts, cannot date destruction with precision as to decade, much less to specific date.

Further, Abu El-Haj excavates from archeological archives a preliminary report on the site by Nahman Avigad, the archaeologist who conducted the relevant dig after 1967. In it, Avigad alludes to how the Kathros family was known to have “abused their status in granting their kind positions in the Temple expoting [sic, exploiting] the people.” [Brackets in the original.] In his notes on another nearby site, from the same period, known as Site E, Avigad specifically cites the possibility that the building was “destroyed by the Zealots, who are known to have caused severe damage to Jerusalem in the period prior to its destruction by the Romans.”

Yet, in developing and presenting these reconstructed sites, says Abu El Haj, this possibility, with its narrative of intra-communal strife simply drops away, as do other possibilities. Instead, a film at Burnt House for tourists lauds the home as “an example of the glory that was destroyed”---unequivocally by the Romans. Avigad’s intracommunal exploiters have become sources for national pride.

The on-site film also takes some questionable liberties to dramatize the favored narrative, she says. To dramatic background music, its narrator states: “Among the rooms of Burnt House, an even more amazing bit of archaeological evidence: the skeletal arm of a young woman, preserved exactly as it clutched the stairs of the burning house 2, 000 years ago. Just within reach of her arm, this spear was found.”

Citing Avigad’s excavation writings, Abu El-Haj notes, “The spear was actually found within the remains of a separate room.”

As a mere reporter, I lack the expertise to evaluate such arguments—though my story, as noted, does report the strongly conflicting evaluations of this book by individuals who are experts. What I can say is that it appears to be a great distortion to depict her book as denying the existence of the Herodian Kingdom or the destruction of Jerusalem.

Due to widespread charges elsewhere, I should also note that this book nowhere describes The Hasmonean and Davidic dynasties as, in the words of Paula Stern’s petition, “a mere ‘belief, an ideological assertion, a pure political fabrication.’” Nor does it deny the historicity of the Jewish kingdoms of the First Temple Period---Judea and Israel---as Stern wrote it did in the first sentence of the first paragraph of her first post on Abu El-Haj.

It nowhere states regarding those kingdoms: “What was considered to have been ancient Jewish national existence and sovereignty in their homeland" is "a tale best understood as the modern nation’s origin myth… transported into the realm of history."—again, as per Stern’s claim.

These assertions have gained widespread currency via the Internet, via Arutz Sheva and via innumerable bloggers, where they have been repeated without fact checking. They have done much to inflame the furor.

Amazon.com, as you may know, offers a service whereby one may search for words, phrases and quotes in the complete text of many of the books it offers for sale. "Facts on the Ground" is one of the books for which it offers this service. Using Amazon's service (aside from my own reading of the book), I find that nowhere in this book do the words “belief, an ideological assertion, a pure political fabrication” occur together.

Separately, the word “belief” appears numerous times. The terms “an ideological assertion” and “pure political fabrication” occur separated from each other by several words on page 250. This section has nothing to do with the Hasmonean or Davidic kingdoms, whose existence Abu El-Haj does not question. As I noted in my Jewish Week story, these are quote fragments taken from a discussion comparing the views of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian archaeologists regarding their respective relationships to their ethnic group’s “origin myths.” They involve—again respectively—the arrival of the (pre-kingdom) Israelite tribes and the Canaanite peoples that were there when these tribes arrived. For the Israeli archaeologists, notes Abu El-Haj, the “modern Jewish/Israeli belief in ancient Israelite origins is not understood as pure political fabrication.”

Stern once again joins together quote fragments—this time, from many pages apart—when she quotes the book saying: “What was considered to have been ancient Jewish national existence and sovereignty in their homeland" is "a tale best understood as the modern nation’s origin myth… transported into the realm of history."

The first fragment, is on page 74. It’s part of a sentence discussing findings in the 1930s by Jewish archaeologists of synagogues and tombs dating from Roman through Byzantine times in Palestine. The second fragment, from page 104, refers (once again) to the arrival of ancient Israelite tribes into the land.

This period long preceded the establishment of either the kingdom of Judea or Israel or, for that matter, the United Monarchy of Kings David and Solomon that the Bible reports on. Abu El-Haj does not question the historicity of these kingdoms. It is correct that this earlier biblical episode is one of the nation's (as in Jewish people's) origin myths. But Abu El-Haj is far from alone in raising skeptical questions about its historicity. And this is not, in any event, what Paula Stern, or the many other critics who cite Abu El-Haj’s supposed denial of the kingdoms, are even speaking about.

It is difficult to accept that such cutting-and-pasting is done in good faith. This brings me to my last point. It is not correct, as you state in one of your essays, that I imply or believe “it is not legitimate for anyone to question the views of academics, rightly or wrongly, and that such protests are ‘McCarthyism.’" If I believed this I would have to denounce myself as a McCarthyite. Please check out the links below for just a sampling of some of my stories that might interest your readers:

Sowing seeds of hatred
Islamic textbooks scapegoat Jews, Christians
New York Daily New---3/30/03

Mike Rips Biased Muslim Textbooks
New York Daily News---4/2/03

Israel Foes Give Hill 50G; Muslim group backs Palestinian use of force
New York Daily News---10/25/00

Hillary donor backed Hamas & Hezbollah—and worked for State Department
New York Daily News 10/26/00

Anti-Israel individuals may—often do--deserve vehement political criticism. They do not, perforce, deserve public campaigns to derail their academic careers. That should depend on the quality and honesty of their academic work. When that quality and honesty are challenged and the careers and professional reputations of individuals are at stake, respect for accuracy and facts are paramount.

As in the 1950's, the United States today faces a genuine, undeniable security threat. I have labeled some who demagogue this threat New McCarthyists. Their distinguishing feature is not their concern about this threat. It is their cynical indifference to the truthfulness or decency of their charges.

It is true, as you state in one of your pieces, that in the 1950’s, the McCarthyite threat came directly from the U.S. government. But as I noted in my Nation piece, what is new about the New McCarthyism is not just its targets. Today, private advocacy groups, not Congressional committees, are the primary means of pressuring schools on academic appointments—at least, so far. These groups often retain important ties to government figures. But they are most focused on organizing alumni and students, with an eye toward generating public outrage and eventually government and donor pressure. This demagogy undermines and dishonors valid efforts against today's threat just as the McCarthyism of the 1950’s overwhelmed and dishonored the principled anti-Communism of figures such as Arthur Schlesinger and Reinhold Niebuhr.

We can ill afford that now.

Larry Cohler-Esses

Larry Cohler-Esses, Thursday, November 8th

One can find it hard, if not impossible to find fault with Ann Coulter as has Ami in is previous article, when one encounters a not so thinly veiled hatred in the clever distortions of Nadia Abu El Haj. The truly hateful, as I said in a previous post, are those who are trying to kill you rather than those who try to convert you.

Howard Wolf, Wednesday, November 7th

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