Just as some of the best reporting on Israel/Palestine is in the Israeli press (Ha’aretz), some of the best reporting on the culture wars here comes out of the Jewish press.
Not long ago, Ben Harris at the JTA investigated the source of a quote, supposedly said by Archbishop Tutu, that had been used repeatedly to prove that Tutu was anti-Semitic. In fact, as Harris discovered, the source of the quote was actually Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America.
Now Larry Cohler-Esses at NY Jewish Week has gotten to the root of another series of smears, this time against Palestinian American Nadia Abu El-Haj who is in an intense tenure battle at Barnard. Cohler-Esses writes:
The key organizer of a campaign to deny tenure to a Barnard College professor seen by some as virulently anti-Israel acknowledged this week that her petition against the professor may not have quoted the book completely accurately.
Barnard alumna Paula Stern, who now lives in an Israeli settlement community on the West Bank, acknowledged Tuesday that her petition —signed now by more than 2,500 people — incorrectly quotes from Nadia Abu El-Haj’s book in charging she is grossly ignorant of Jerusalem geography.
How did he get such an admission. Cohler-Esses actually read the book!
In her petition, Stern says that Abu El-Haj “asserts that the ancient Israelite kingdoms are a ‘pure political fabrication.’”
After a close reading of the 319-page book, this reporter found that the only place in which that phrase appears is in a section devoted to comparing the understandings Israeli Jewish and Palestinian archaeologists have of their respective origins on the land. Abu El-Haj notes that some Palestinian archaeologists argue Palestinians are heirs to the Cannanites who preceded the Israelites on the land.
Israeli archaeologists, she notes, dismiss this as complete nonsense while for them the “modern Jewish/Israeli belief in ancient Israelite origins is not understood as pure political fabrication.”
Stern denied she had taken out of context Abu El-Haj’s quote about political fabrication.
“She denies the ancient history of the Jewish kingdoms in many ways,” Stern said in an email about Abu El-Haj, “as when she says that Jerusalem in the times of Herod was not Jewish.”
The statement in question, in Abu El-Haj’s own voice, reads, “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.”
On the other hand, contrary to many claims by both scholars and lay critics, Abu El-Haj elsewhere repeatedly writes about the First and Second Temple periods and Jewish presence during these periods as a matter of fact. Like many archaeologists, she raises many more questions about the historicity of Israelite presence during the late Bronze and early Iron ages, when biblical tradition holds that identifiably Israelite tribes came into the land.
“I’ve spoken to many newspapers, no one has done what you’ve done,” said Stern, presumably displeased with questions asking her to square her charges against the book with its text. She says the overall “trend” of the book is to deny a Jewish connection to the land and that “no matter whether it’s accurate or not, my petition is not on trial here. If you don’t like my petition, go to my Web site and read the experts’ opinions.”
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