Praying Jews flock to the Temple Mount; world notices

If there is a “Ground Zero” for the world’s three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — it would be the Temple Mount, or “Haram Al-Sharif” (“Noble Sanctuary”) in the center of Jerusalem.

Jews revere it as the site of the First and Second Temples, wherein the “Holy of Holies” was contained. Christians revere the Temple as the place where Jesus walked and reasoned with the rabbis — as well as chastised the Pharisees and money changers. Muslims view the site as the the third holiest location in Islam, the location of the Prophet Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven.

Within the space of two days, two prestigious newspapers have covered the relatively recent phenomenon of more and more Jews, mostly Israelis, visiting the Temple Mount and praying, usually surreptitiously. Though captured by the Israeli Defense Forces in the 1967 “Six-Day War,” the Temple Mount was almost immediately returned to Muslim control, and Jews were advised not to visit.

No longer, says The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor, both of whose Jerusalem correspondents have investigated. Both stories document the relatively quiet return of worshipping Jews to the site, the occasional protests of Muslims there, and the now-increasing warnings from local Islamic leaders that unless the Israeli government does something, matters could get out of hand.

From Jodi Rudoren at the Times:

For decades the Israelis drawn to the site were mainly a fringe of hard-core zealots, but now more mainstream Jews are lining up to enter, as a widening group of Israeli politicians and rabbis challenge the longstanding rules constraining Jewish access and conduct. Brides go on their wedding days, synagogue and religious-school groups make regular outings, and many surreptitiously skirt the ban on non-Muslim prayer, like a Russian immigrant who daily recites the morning liturgy in his mind, as he did decades ago in the Soviet Union.

Palestinian leaders say the new activity has created the worst tension in memory around the landmark Al Aksa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, and have called on Muslims to defend the site from “incursions.” A spate of stone-throwing clashes erupted this month: on Wednesday, three Muslims were arrested and an Israeli police officer wounded in the face. And on Friday thousands of Arab citizens of Israel rallied in the north, warning that Al Aksa is in danger.

“We reject these religious visits,” Sheik Ekrima Sa’eed Sabri, who oversees Muslim affairs in Jerusalem, said in an interview. “Our duty is to warn,” he added. “If they want to make peace in this region, they should stay away from Al Aksa.”

Writing for the Monitor, Crista Case Bryant reports:

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The controversial mind and Lebanese soul of Helen Thomas

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As I have mentioned before here at GetReligion, at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks I was a member of a largely Lebanese and Syrian Orthodox parish in West Palm Beach, Fla. Our priest, as an Arab Christian, volunteered to be a grief counselor at the still-smoking ruins of the World Trade Center. A few members of the parish had their grandchildren punched around on school playgrounds because they were Arabs, even with their gold baptism crosses hanging around their necks.

There was quite a bit of pain in that flock and much of it, to one degree or the other, was connected to the relatively recent history of the Middle East. The deacon’s family lost everything in Jerusalem after one round of fighting, including land that had been in the family for generations.

It’s hard for Americans to understand the geography of all of this. Christian Arabs didn’t start the fighting, yet with their neighborhoods so close to Christian holy sites, they were often among the first Arabs to suffer the consequences of war.

There was quite a bit of pain that South Florida flock and, over time, I learned to listen and — to be blunt — to learn some of the key differences between the anger of those who opposed Zionism and others who, in their pain, veered into beliefs that were clearly anti-Semitic. In both cases, the pain had content.

This brings me to the life and times of one of the most controversial members of the establishment press here inside the DC Beltway — Helen Thomas.

Were there any religious ghosts in her blunt opinions and her work? Was the pain and anger in that face linked, in any way, to her roots in the Middle East? I do not know. However, I think that was an angle worth explaining in the wave of coverage following her recent death at age 92.

Consider, for example, this language in The New York Times obituary, right after a reference to President Barack Obama giving her cupcakes on her 89th birthday:

At his first news conference in February 2009, Mr. Obama called on her, saying: “Helen, I’m excited. This is my inaugural moment.”

But 16 months later, Ms. Thomas abruptly announced her retirement from Hearst amid an uproar over her assertion that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back where they belonged, perhaps Germany or Poland. Her remarks, made almost offhandedly days earlier at a White House event, set off a storm when a videotape was posted.

In her retirement announcement, Ms. Thomas, whose parents immigrated to the United States from what is now Lebanon, said that she deeply regretted her remarks and that they did not reflect her “heartfelt belief” that peace would come to the Middle East only when all parties embraced “mutual respect and tolerance.”

“May that day come soon,” she said.

It was her reference to Poland and Germany that pushed this world-famous journalist — a trailblazer for women’s equality in the Washington news market — over the edge into career disaster. As former GetReligionista Brad Greenberg wrote at the time, in a post that sparked fierce arguments in the comments pages:

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A ghost in here? IRS targeting Jews too?

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Fear not religion news reporters, you too can jump into one of the hottest news stories on the wires. Buried deep within an article reporting on the Internal Revenue Services’ harassment of conservative advocacy groups lurks  a religious liberty news story. That may not sound too exciting but you could rephrase the story pitch this way for your editor: Has the IRS created a religious test in order to define what it means to be a loyal Jew?

On Friday a second-tier IRS official told a gathering of tax lawyers the IRS had engaged in discriminatory audits against conservative groups. The initial story from the AP wire reported that the IRS admitted its mistake, but the mistake was an innocent one:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added. Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice.

The story expanded exponentially over the weekend as further details emerged. By Sunday morning it had reached the level of Watergate allusions. The Daily Caller reported that on Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” commentator George Will raised the specter of impeachment.

Now the question is, how stupid do they think we are? Just imagine, Donna Brazile, if the George W. Bush administration had an IRS underling, he’s out in Cincinnati, of course, saying we’re going to target groups with the word ‘progressive’ in their title. We’d have all hell breaking loose.”

Will noted that one of the items in the 1973 impeachment articles of then-President Richard Nixon, which ultimately led to his resignation, described the Nixon administration’s use of the power of income tax audits in a “discriminatory matter.”

“This is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate summer here in Washington,” Will said. “’He has, through his subordinated and agents, endeavored…to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,’ — Section 1, Article 2, the impeachment articles of Richard Nixon.

Other outlets developed collateral stories on the IRS enemies list. The Jewish Press reported that along with the tea party pro-Israel lobbying groups had been subjected to enhanced IRS scrutiny.

… There is evidence the IRS also targeted pro-Israel groups whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the administration’s. For example, in 2010, the passionately pro-Israel organization Z STREET filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming it had been told by an IRS agent that because the organization was “connected to Israel,” its application for tax-exempt status would receive additional scrutiny.  …

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Is ‘Palestinian’ a sufficient descriptor for Hamas?

YouTube Preview ImageOn Friday, we looked at media coverage of a new translation of a video from 2010 that was released by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaking against Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs.” One of the outlets to cover the story, albeit a few weeks after the release of the video, was the BBC.

One section of the BBC report, which has since been corrected, read:

The controversy erupted after the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri) translated and released Arabic footage of interviews Mr Morsi gave in 2010, as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the clip from Palestinian broadcaster Al-Quds TV, Mr Morsi referred to Jewish settlers as “occupiers of Palestine” and “warmongers”.

He called for a “military resistance in Palestine against these Zionist criminals assaulting the land of Palestine and Palestinian”.

Of course, Morsi was not referring simply to settlers as occupiers. It has since been corrected to read:

In the clip from Palestinian broadcaster Al-Quds TV, Mr Morsi referred to Zionists, the term most commonly used by the Muslim Brotherhood to refer to Israelis or Jews, as “occupiers of Palestine” and “warmongers”.

It’s good to run this correction but it’s odd that the BBC changed what Morsi said to begin with. There is no need (nor any other journalistic reason) to downplay the comments to make them more palatable — or otherwise not be precise about the rhetoric Morsi used. It’s patronizing and bizarre. Far better, it seems, to follow the New York Times model of accurately quoting Morsi (although there’s no reason to wait a few weeks until public pressure to report the news grows so much) and explaining the context.

But I have another question.

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Got News? President of Egypt calls Jews apes and pigs

YouTube Preview ImageThe Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel reported on a video from 2010 that was released by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaking against Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs.” (Transcript here.) It took some time before the U.S. media developed interest. The comments were reported by the Jerusalem Post on January 4. By January 11, Forbes columnist Richard Behar wrote a piece headlined “News Flash: Jews Are ‘Apes And Pigs.’ So Why Is Egypt’s Morsi The Elephant In America’s Newsrooms?” He wrote:

Last Friday, the sitting president of Egypt – the world’s 15th most populous nation — was exposed for calling Jews “apes and pigs.” And he did it in a TV interview (in Arabic) in 2010, less than two years before he took office.

Needless to say, this was HUGE NEWS for American mass media! Only it wasn’t. (Knock, knock, New YorkTimes? Anybody home?) In fact, to be fair to the paper of record, not a single major outlet has covered it. Not AP or Reuters. Not CBS News or CNN. Not Time magazine or U.S. News & World Report. Not the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, or USA Today. Etcetera. And therein lies a story, which this column can only begin to skin open here.

Behar goes into quite a bit of detail about Morsi’s comments and how they weren’t covered by media outlets. For instance, after the news broke, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spent an hour with Morsi in Cairo in what the network billed as an exclusive interview. He never asked about it. And people without such access to Morsi didn’t even mention it.

Is my own Jewishness clouding my own news judgment here? For a reality check, I turned to Gene Foreman, one of the most respected editors in the newspaper business over the past half-century. (He also happens to be a Methodist, not that such things should matter in judging whether anything is newsworthy.) Foreman is the author of The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in the Pursuit of News – a 2009 book described as “a GPS for sound decision-making.” And his wisdom is invaluable for any fledgling reporters out there: Gene’s accomplishments include 25 years managing the newsroom of the Philadelphia Inquirer — during the time the paper won 18 Pulitzer Prizes.

“I think you are onto something here,” Foreman reassures me after reviewing the Jerusalem Post’s front-page story about the Morsi Tapes. “On the face of it, this is newsworthy. These were interviews that Morsi made a couple of years ago, but they reveal his thinking — the attitude of a key player in the Middle East. It’s legitimate to ask the reporters who are covering the Middle East beat whether they knew about this story in the Post — and if they did know about it, why have they not pursued it on their own?”

I’ve been trying. So far nobody wants to talk with me about it on the record. And the off-record things they tell me just don’t add up. At least not yet.

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Peter Beinart and the powerful, but voiceless, Jews of Atlanta

The New York Times published an interesting story about the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival (“Jewish Book Event in Atlanta Cancels Author’s Talk on Zionism, and Uproar Follows“). It’s a great piece with the weirdest missing element. Here’s the top:

ATLANTA — The Jewish community in the metropolitan Atlanta area, by most definitions, is small, vibrant and close-knit.

There are perhaps 120,000 people who identify themselves as Jewish. For as long as most people can remember, relations among the various subgroups have been sometimes cantankerous but largely cordial and supportive.

But an appearance by an author who argues for a more liberal look at Zionism has been causing waves of conflict. Peter Beinart, who edits the Daily Beast blog Open Zion and writes regularly on Jewish politics, was to be one of 52 authors at the popular book festival held by the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.

But after some members complained, the center canceled his event. Even though another Jewish group rescheduled his talk, the center’s decision prompted boycott threats, criticism from rabbis and charges of censorship.

We get a feel for the diversity of the two-week festival, which draws more than 10,000 folks: Tony Danza, Michael Feinstein, Deborah Feldman. Feldman is the author of “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.”

What I find fascinating about the piece is that it’s all about how some members of the community were able to get Beinart kicked out of the festival. But we never hear from them or are told what they found objectionable about his views. We’re told about his book “The Crisis of Zionism.” We’re told about a portion of his argument:

Mr. Beinart argues, in part, that younger, liberal American Jews are turning away from the established American Jewish community in part because it is not fostering open debate about Israel and does not defend democratic values in the Jewish state. His change to a more liberal interpretation of Zionism and his call for a boycott of products from Israeli settlements and Israeli-occupied territories have made him a controversial figure.

We’re told that the talk was sponsored by “the national political advocacy group J Street.” I imagine we could describe that group with a bit more attention to its particular political views, but whatever. J Street found a new location and sold 200 tickets.

The community center’s leaders say they thought they threaded the needle the best they could, balancing the concerns of the patrons. We’re told that there was brushback. But whereas the anti-Beinart folks are kept nameless and without a voice defending themselves, the other side is given the balance of the piece to explain its side:

Rabbis criticized the decision during services last weekend. Open letters to the Jewish community were published in The Jewish Times.

“Two cardinal principles of Judaism have been violated: a support of censorship and the public embarrassment of a fellow Jew,” wrote Rabbi Philip N. Kranz of the Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, Ga. He and others vowed to boycott the book festival because of what they perceive to be censorship.

I would have liked a bit more about this new-to-me cardinal principle about public embarrassment of a fellow Jew. Fascinating! Anyway, we here from some J Street partisans.

That’s great, but wouldn’t it have been nice to hear from the other major players in the story? The group who successfully persuaded the book festival to avoid hosting Beinart’s views?


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