Thursday, August 24, 2023

An unprecedented look inside one of Jerusalem’s holiest—and most controversial—landmarks interchanges myths and facts

The following letter was sent to the Editor-in-Chief and Senior Features Editor of National Geographic after it published an article that presented known history as questionable and Palestinian Arab lies as truth.

This is not the first time National Geographic has dishonored its pages by publishing lies about Israel. Since National Geographic no longer publishes letters, it is being posted here and we encourage you to share it.

Dear Mr. Lump and Mr. Gwin:

Andrew Lawler's article "An unprecedented look inside one of Jerusalem’s holiest—and most controversial—landmarks" is far from unprecedented, especially in the way it treats Arab and Muslim myths as if they were truths and treats verified Jewish history as if they were myths

For example, there is no question that the two Jewish Temples were built on the Temple Mount, but there is no evidence that Muhammad ever visited Jerusalem; indeed, it is highly unlikely he ever came anywhere close to Jerusalem.

The Dome of the Rock is not "Islam's third most sacred site." It has importance to Sunni Muslims, but has no religious significance to Shiite Muslims. And even its importance to Sunni Muslims is built on the lie, created out of whole cloth when the Sunnis were not allowed in Mecca and Medina, that Muhammad made a night journey there on the back of Buraq.

Similar inversions of myths and facts, truths and lies, exist in almost every paragraph in the article, and every bit of Palestinian propaganda is treated as the gospel truth while the article questions documented truths coming from Israelis.

For example, Lawler writes police "stormed" the Al-Aqsa Mosque twice during Ramadan and then casts doubt on what he calls police claims rioters barricaded themselves in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and were armed with fireworks. Yet there is indisputable photographic and video evidence that the denigrated "claims" of the Israeli police were absolutely true.

Lawler wrote about seven gates providing access into the Temple Mount, which he incorrectly called the "Al Aqsa compound." Actually, there are ten gates. He incorrectly wrote "Israeli security tightly controls every entry point." I personally found that out in 1980 when I was wandering around the Old City and noticed an open gate to the Temple Mount and started walking through it. I was rudely stopped by a Jordanian guard - and note this was long before the peace treaty with Jordan - who told me the gate was closed and I couldn't enter. I quickly found out that was a lie, as several Arabs walked through the gate and weren't stopped.

Lawler fails to note that Arabs and Muslims have unfettered 24/7 access through all those gates, while Jews are only allowed to enter the Temple Mount through a single gate and only a few hours a day a few days a week. He also fails to mention this discrimination, along with the discrimination against Jewish prayer on their holiest site is a violation of the peace treaty with Jordan, which calls for free access for all to their religions sites.

It's not unusual these days to see articles about Israel or the Palestinian Arabs filled with errors and misrepresentations and this was far from the first time such an article appeared in National Geographic. So I can't say I was surprised by Lawler's article. But that doesn't make it any more acceptable.

National Geographic owes its readers a slew of corrections and a heartfelt apology.


Alan Stein

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Now that reasonableness has passed, let's get reasonable

I submitted this to the Jerusalem Post, but it hasn't been published, so I'm posting it in a few different places. I'm hoping to inject some sanity into the debate - I'm using that term loosely - over judicial reform in Israel. Please feel free to share it in whatever form you can.

Now that reasonableness has passed, let's get reasonable

Alan Stein

Spoiler alert: The implementation of the new Basic Law limiting the use of the reasonableness standard needs to be delayed to give the next government, chosen after the next election (hopefully, we'll just need one election next time), a chance to have its say.

As a dual citizen living in both Israel and the United States, while not being an attorney I believe I have an understanding about the judicial reform controversy that escapes most Israelis and most Americans, including American Jews.
Had the initial protests actually been purely about the initial judicial reform proposals, I might have joined them. Although judicial reform is clearly needed, as has been recognized in the past by most of those now leading the increasingly hysterical opposition to the current efforts, the original proposals contained some provisions I felt unwise. However, it was clear from the beginning that the protests had more to do with trying to undo the results of the election than the proposals. The protests were and remain, in effect, Israel's version of the massive anti-Trump demonstrations in the United States in 2016 and 2017 surrounding Donald Trump's election and inauguration and the pro-Trump rally in the Capitol on January 6, 2021 trying to overturn his loss in the 2020 election. Unfortunately, the Israeli protests have been far more sustained, far more disruptive, have already done tremendous damage and threaten to do far more. They have already done far more damage than any provisions of the original proposals could have done.
Many have said that Netanyahu and only Netanyahu could have ended the unrest. Others have said that about Lapid, Saar, Barak and Olmert. They're all both right and wrong.
Netanyahu might have been able prevent the disaster at the start, had he not been constrained by the attorney general from getting involved. (This, itself, provides a good case for the need for reform!) Or if he had shown more courage and ignored the attorney general before things got totally out of hand.
The opposition could also have prevented the disaster by addressing their followers and speaking honestly, putting the good of the country ahead of their hatred of Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for so long and has such a talent for alienating people, including close associates, and ahead of their goal of forcing the collapse of the coalition.
They could have. Netanyahu could have. The coalition members really pushing the judicial overhaul could have.
None of them did. They all acted irresponsibly. They all acted unreasonably. They all share responsible for the damage that has been done.
Now, we have one small portion of the package enacted into law. From the reports I've read, it's not much different from what was almost agreed upon in the negotiations under the auspices of the president.
The protests have gotten more disruptive and more damaging and coalition members are saying they will be pushing ahead with more of the changes.
If either side wins a complete victory, it will be a total disaster for Israel.
I have some recommendations.
First and most important, immediately pass a slight modification to the legislation just enacted, specifying that it will not go into effect until month (or some other "reasonable" period) after the next election is held and a new government is formed. A similar provision should be included with any additional modifications of Basic Laws.
No longer could any claim they were fighting the reforms to preserve democracy. They would not affect either the current coalition or Netanyahu's legal cases and whatever government is elected next time could quickly put an end to any changes it opposed on principle rather than as part of a strategy to bring down the coalition.
With the atmosphere, if not the summer heat, hopefully cooler, resume the talks hosted by President Herzog, but this time participate in good faith, honestly try to reach agreement so that we can move forward, concentrate on healing the schisms that have been exacerbated the last few months and deal with the basic problems we all share.
And then, we need to deal with one of the basic (pun intended) problems that has emerged in both Israel and the United States: governments implementing fundamental changes opposed by large portions or even majorities of the population.
For example:
In the United States, a fundamental change in the system of health care was legislated using parliamentary tricks despite being opposed by the majority of the voters. A treaty (the JCPOA or Iran "deal") was implemented, despite the opposition of most of the people and most of Congress, using the subterfuge of pretending it wasn't a treaty. (And now a new treaty has apparently been negotiated and it's planned to completely bypass Congress by pretending it's not even a deal.) Supreme Court justices used to require a 2/3 approval of the Senate and approval was rarely controversial; recently, appointments and approvals have become highly partisan, some appointments have been prevented by the expedient of refusing to vote and the so-called "nuclear option" was implemented and controversial appointments have been approved with a bare majority.
In Israel, the Oslo Accords were approved over the opposition of roughly half the country, as was the Gaza disengagement. Basic Laws have been swiftly amended for purely political convenience and now a Basic Law has been enacted not just without a consensus, but over bitter opposition.
Many have said the current events demonstrate our need for an Israeli Constitution. I agree, but I doubt we'd be able to get an agreement now without further tearing the country apart. However, we can work towards one by making Basic Laws really basic in the following way:
Start with something like the following Basic Law: A Basic Law shall be enacted upon the approval of a 2/3 vote of the entire Knesset.
Given that we have a unicameral legislature, perhaps it would be better to require the approval of two consecutive Knessets, or a second vote a reasonable period, perhaps a year, after the first vote. But a Basic Law should require overwhelming approval and should not be able to be enacted without giving people time to consider it.
As for existing Basic Laws, let them retain that status for a reasonable (there's that word again) period, say five years. If they are reapproved using the new conditions during that period, they would retain the status of Basic Laws; if they are not reapproved, they could still be laws but not Basic Laws.
After another five years or so, we could compile those now meaningful Basic Laws together and approve them as a Constitution.
In the meantime, let's have some courage and statesmanship from our political leaders rather than cowardice and partisanship.

Alan Stein is a dual citizen of Israel, living in Netanya, and the United States, living in Massachusetts. He is an active advocate for Israel, founder of PRIMER-Israel and PRIMER-Massachusetts and president emeritus of PRIMER-Connecticut and was CAMERA's Letter Writer of the Year in 2015. In 2009, his op-ed giving advice to Barack Obama was published on the day of Obama's inauguration. Upon making aliyah in 2014, his op-ed giving advice to Benjamin Netanyahu was published. Stein believes it is unfortunate that neither Obama nor Bibi was wise enough to take his advice. He hopes history does not repeat with the advice he's giving in this op-ed.