As was reported here on October 11, the Rick Gladstone article, “Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place,” which appeared in the New York Times on October 8 engendered a firestorm of criticism from Jewish pro-Israel writers on Twitter and what can only be described as a hit piece by Tablet writer, Liel Leibovitz. The Times subsequently issued a correction and edited the piece, apparently to placate its Jewish critics.
In addition to the Leibovitz piece, four other vituperative and frantic responses have been published in the Jewish press, including a second piece in Tablet by Ari Lamm, which found an initial “correction” and editing of the Gladstone article insufficient. (Also see 1, 2, 3) These over-the-top reactions portrayed Gladstone as stupid, ignorant and antisemitic. The veracity of the author was compared to that of a Holocaust denier and a 911 truther. These gratuitous insults and hyperbole are reminiscent of the reaction to the publication of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which like the Times story, was perceived as threatening Israeli and Jewish justifications for the Zionist political agenda and occupation.
As we stated here:
… Why [would] the NYT raise a question, presumably based on reporting, and then withdraw it under pressure from Zionists who hector you as a “truther?” And if it was really wrong, why not take down the whole article?
A day after publication, the newspaper issued the following correction ludicrously claiming that Gladstone misstated what was the central point of the article:
An earlier version of this article misstated the question that many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered concerning the two ancient Jewish temples. The question is where precisely on the 37-acre Temple Mount site the temples had once stood, not whether the temples had ever existed there.
On October 13, the Times replaced the correction with the following lengthy editors’ note which now explicitly states that the paper never intended to challenge Israeli claims to sovereignty over Jerusalem or the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, despite what appeared in the article and what was implied by the title. Interestingly, the paper never chose to edit the title nor place a notice of either correction (subscribers only) in the print edition (at least as of this writing).
An article on Thursday, with the headline “Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place,” examined the scholarly debate about two ancient Jewish temples on the Temple Mount, a site sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians. While the article laid out the history of the Jewish temples and the archaeological and historical evidence about them, the headline and a passage in the initial version of the article implied incorrectly that questions among scholars about the location of the temples potentially affected Jewish claims to the site and Israel’s broader assertion of sovereignty over Jerusalem. In fact, as the article was later corrected to clarify, the scholarly debate is a narrower one, focused on the precise location on the Temple Mount where the long destroyed temples once stood. All versions of the article should have made clear that the archaeological and historical uncertainties about the site — unlike assertions by some Palestinians that the temples never existed — do not directly challenge Jewish claims to the Temple Mount.
The reason for the seemingly excessive Jewish criticism and the Times’ obsessive altering of the article is that the past existence of the Jewish temples on what Jews call the Temple Mount is claimed as justification for the right of Jews to access the site, to rule over the site, to rule over a Jewish united Jerusalem, rule over the occupied territories, and/or to acquire sovereignty over all of the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. The extent to which the temple justification applies is determined by one’s religious and political affiliation. The New York Times’ editors’ note indicates that the newspaper is, at the very least, committed to the validity of first three justifications.
The reasoning behind any of these claims, even based on the assumption that temples existed on the al Aqsa plaza, is highly questionable, an issue upon which I will briefly comment at the end of this post.
The lead paragraph in the original article clearly defines the question as: Were the Jewish temples located on the al Aqsa plaza?
The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is whether [emphases mine, IG] the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, was also the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples, one built on the remains of the other, and both long since gone.
The edited version of the same paragraph alters the question to, not whether the temples were there, but to where on the plaza the temples were located.
The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is where [emphasis mine, IG] on the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, was the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples, one built on the remains of the other, and both long since gone.
In other words, the new version affirmatively answers the main question posed in the original article, by its assumption that the temples existed on the al Aqsa plaza.
On October 12, the Times published a letter from Jodi Magness that reiterated the current view of the Times that the temples were located within the perimeter of the al Aqsa plaza, but in doing so she also contradicts the Times’ claim that the Gladstone piece only dealt with where on the al-Aqsa plaza the temples were located.
The question of the existence and location of two successive temples on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is not nearly as contested as the article suggests.
Magness is one of the experts quoted in the article. She had been in contact with Ari Lamm of Tablet, according to Lamm’s critical piece.
The original article clearly called into question the very existence of the temples, at least, on the plaza, stating such a claim was in need of proof.
Many archaeologists agree that the religious body of evidence, corroborated by other historical accounts and artifacts that have been recovered from the site or nearby, supports the narrative that the Dome of the Rock was built on or close to the place where the Jewish temples once stood.
Nonetheless, the Waqf has never permitted invasive archaeological work that could possibly yield proof of either temple. [Emphasis mine, IG]
But in the edited version, “of either temple” is deleted, thus making it appear that the second paragraph refers to the first, in other words, proof of the location of the temples that are assumed to be close to the Dome of the Rock (which is at the center of the al Aqsa plaza).
Surprisingly, the amended article and most pointedly the correction endorsed the dubious view that Solomon’s temple unquestionably existed on the site of the current al Aqsa plaza, although no historical or archaeological evidence backs this claim. Our only knowledge of Solomon’s temple is from biblical sources, a fact which was mentioned in the article itself, and remains in the edited version. This contradicts the intent of the “correction,” which states that the existence of both temples is beyond doubt. Admittedly, I am assuming that the bible does unquestionably describe reality.
‘The sources for the first temple are solely biblical, and no substantial archaeological remains have been verified,’ said Wendy Pullan, senior lecturer in the history and philosophy of architecture at the University of Cambridge, in the book ‘The Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places.’
The present unrest in Jerusalem and its deadly consequences are very much related to the recent assertions of Jewish prayer rights and claims to sovereignty over the al Aqsa plaza. Some Jews want to pray at what they consider the site of their ancient temples, although most will readily concede that their exact location on the plaza is unknown. Palestinians view the Jewish presence on the plaza as an unjustified violation of the agreed upon status quo.
If Gladstone proposed an article whose discussion was limited to the precise location of the temples on the plaza, it would have been rejected as irrelevant. But the question whether a Jewish temple existed within the perimeter of the al Aqsa plaza is at the center of the current debate.
It is unfortunate that when Gladstone discussed the views of experts, the quotes he uses do not clearly differentiate between the issues of existence and non-existence on the plaza, the first and second temple and location inside and outside the plaza. This made it convenient for the New York Times to make small edits, which threw its own editor/writer under the bus in order to appease its vocal Jewish critics.
Even if the temples existed on the al Aqsa plaza, this does not justify any Jewish claims to a site that has been in continuous Muslim use and under Muslim control for over 1300 years. Sadly, the previous sentence is fighting words for those who justify Israeli oppression of another people, based on a kingdom that last existed 2000 years ago.
I would say to my fellow Jews: The prayer about a return to a metaphorical Jerusalem and for spiritual redemption was cynically distorted by Zionists in order to advance their political goals. It was never meant or understood as a call to political action. Neither prayer nor propaganda nor the New York Times will ever convince the world of your right to control the al Aqsa plaza or to rule over the Palestinian people.
Finally, I would say to the editors of the New York Times: Stop re-editing and writing “corrections” and editors’ notes to the Gladstone article. They only call attention to your biased reporting of Israel/Palestine and your fear of Jewish complaints.