While flying home from London I encountered a full-column editorial in the International New York Times (December 18) entitled “Oh! Jerusalem. . .” Predictably, for a newspaper long uncomfortable with the very idea – to say nothing of the seven-decade reality – of a Jewish state, it found fault with President Donald Trump’s proclaimed recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Not only was Trump, according to the editors, “tossing aside 70 years of careful American neutrality.” He was guilty of “infuriating Palestinians,” who want their own capital – should they ever have a state – to be located in the ancient Jewish holy city. It was, Times editors concluded, “a typically grandiose and poorly thought-through political gesture” by the President, “to domestic supporters . . . who stanchly back Israel’s hard-line Likud government.” Worse yet, according to the Times, White House officials even “made clear their expectation that Jerusalem’s Western Wall,” which “abuts some of Islam’s most sacred sites, will eventually be declared part of Israel.”
Surely with unintended irony (and not a small measure of historical ignorance), the editorial appeared in the midst of Hanukkah. Evidently the editors had not consulted The First Book of Maccabees, which vividly recounts the moment when Judah Maccabee and his followers “celebrated the dedication of the altar” in the desecrated Temple in Jerusalem in the first celebration of that joyous holiday.
Had they done so, they might have also realized that the first celebration of Hannukah occurred more than a millennium after King David, relocating his throne from Hebron to Jerusalem, made it the eternal capital of the Jewish people. As for “Islam’s most sacred sites,” first designated in the Land of Israel after the Muslim conquest in 1187, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, like the Machpelah shrine in Hebron, were clearly chosen to obliterate millennia-old Jewish history and claims to their most ancient holy sites in their two holiest cities.
The dismissive notion, embraced by the Times, that the Western Wall “abuts some of Islam’s most sacred sites” is a revealing inversion of history. Moslem conquerors chose the Temple Mount, where the First and Second Temples had been located before their destruction, to eradicate Jewish claims to their own holiest sites. The Western Wall is the surviving remnant. The Times editorial might more accurately have read: “The Temple Mount, which lags behind Mecca and Medina as Islam’s holiest sites, was chosen to obliterate Jewish claims.” Instead, the Times chose to blame President Trump for having the gall to recognize Jewish history, and the sanctity of its holiest sites, in the Land of Israel.
If readers find “Middle East politics a bit confusing,” as the Times suggests, it may just be because Times editorial judgment, when it comes to Israel, continues to mix inaccuracy and innuendo to protect the newspaper from insinuations of divided loyalty. “Oh! Jerusalem” is merely the latest, if among its more conspicuous, self-protective cautionary admonitions lest its evidently precarious patriotism be challenged.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, to be published by Academic Studies Press in 2018.