By Barry Rubin

For several years I have watched the revival of anti-Semitism with growing dismay. Then along comes Steve Erlanger’s article in The New York Times, regarded by itself and many of its readers—especially Jewish ones—as the world’s greatest newspaper. He writes about an Israeli archaeologist who has uncovered the ruins of an important two-thousand-year-old building which, she asserts, was part of King David’s palace.

Maybe she is right; maybe not. Archaeologists are not certain; more evidence and study is no doubt necessary. That is how science works. We are then informed, accurately, that archaeologists are debating whether David’s kingdom was a great power or merely a tiny chiefdom. While not all her colleagues agree with her conclusion about the building, all those quoted respected the importance of the find.

But under the new post-rational ideology, the author tries at the very start to discredit the archaeologist in advance. Despite the fact that she is a respected scholar, the framework for the article is set by a claim that she is working for an institution partly funded by a “conservative” businessman who supposedly wants to prove a Jewish connection with Jerusalem for political purposes.

In other words, there is something supposedly shady about the whole enterprise, an assertion merely based on the fact that one of the donors also gives money to a conservative Israeli think tank. Thus, there is no such thing as professional ethics or a search for truth but merely hirelings for some cause making propaganda. Such things do happen but some real evidence is supposed to be required for such charges.

This kind of reasoning is often employed nowadays by people who should know better. The scientific method which puts the emphasis on examining evidence is thrown out the window in exchange for the crude radical concept of “who benefits.” This, incidentally, is the foundation of the conspiracy theories that bedevil the Arab and Muslim worlds.

It is also the crudest form of Marxism, arguing that consensual reality is only a construct created by ruling classes to remain in power, merely one narrative among many. Out of such thinking comes a paragraph in the article that should live in infamy as a prime exemplification of this kind of intellectual malpractice. Let me quote it in full:

“The [archaeological] find will also be used in the broad political battle over Jerusalem—whether the Jews have their origins here and thus have some special hold on the place, or whether, as many Palestinians have said, including the late Yasir Arafat, the idea of a Jewish origin in Jerusalem is a myth used to justify conquest and occupation.”

Do the Jews have any connection with Jerusalem and the land of Israel? Well, according to the Times, it is just a matter of political debate now, in which the views of Palestinian propagandists have equal weight. While the statements or findings of Western, democratic, or moderate sources are subjected to the highest degree of cynicism and challenge, those of radicals are treated with the utmost respect.

Let us ponder the awesome implications of this paragraph. Whether or not Jerusalem should be partitioned as part of a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is a valid subject for discussion. It should be noted that in 2000 Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered such a deal at Camp David and it was extended further in the Clinton plan. Nevertheless, the Jewish connection with Jerusalem cannot be in doubt, attested to not only in Jewish writings but also in Christian and Muslim writings.

Whether or not King David’s palace is found will have no effect on the contemporary political debate. We already know and take for granted this historical connection, which is accepted by every real archaeologist who has dealt with that subject. One might reject giving up (east) Jerusalem because of its overwhelmingly central historic and religious importance to the Jewish people for 3000 years—or favor it as a necessity based on what is needed to attain peace, international attitudes, and the large Palestinian population in the eastern part of the city.

Yet now Erlanger gives equal credence to the “expertise” of Arafat who, let’s face it was no archaeologist but the most important terrorist of modern times and a proven serial liar. {Having written a biography of Arafat I am well aware that even the statement that Arafat was a terrorist is highly controversial among the West’s cultural ruling class.} After all, Arafat also claimed that Israel carried out most of the terrorist attacks on itself, poisoned Palestinians with gas, water, and chewing gum, and aimed to rule the entire Middle East. Why should he only be given credence on the Jerusalem issue?

In contrast, when Arafat tried that nonsense about Jerusalem at the Camp David summit, President Bill Clinton rightly called him on it, saying, “I’m not a Jew, I’m a Christian. It’s well known this is where the Temple is.”

On the basis of this latest article, though, one can imagine a parallel Times article from an equivalent controversy of the previous century: “The claim by a Jewish writer, financed by those trying to prove this case, that his people have accurately recounted their history will become part of the debate over whether, as many Germans have said, including cabinet minister Joseph Goebbels, this story is a myth used to justify conquest and occupation.”

That example was not meant as a joke or exaggeration. Such things are the precise historical equivalent of the kind of ideology far too often prevalent nowadays. For the assumption behind the post-Marxist, pre-Enlightenment ideology is that truth is merely a question of (political) faith. Fascism, as the Soviet foreign minister said in 1939 is a matter of taste. Or as a British reporter sneered last month at his country’s ambassador who was demanding the UN act strongly against terrorism, but isn’t one man’s terrorist another man’s freedom fighter?

Don’t the purveyors of such ideas understand how this type of thinking has always been responsible for the worst type of prejudice, racism, and anti-rationalism throughout history? What we have here is the return of medievalism in its worst guise. One can almost hear in many reports today the equivalents for what the BBC would have sounded like in the eleventh century: “The body of a young boy has been discovered in Lincoln, England, apparently murdered by local Jews to make Passover matzo. Film at eleven.”

Even the true life story of Hugh of Lincoln—which led to massacres of Jews at the time—is not far-fetched when one recalls recent such lies that justified bloodshed of the same sort: a widely reported but non-existent massacre in Jenin; continuing claims of ritual murder to make matzo in the Saudi press; and the case of a young Palestinian turned into a global martyr after the world media falsely reported he was killed by Israeli bullets.

How then can one be surprised that many Europeans, much less Arabs and Muslims, believe the September 11, 2001 attacks were carried out by American or Israeli intelligence and similar nonsense? In the same vein, many British writers responded to the London terrorist attacks by attacking their own country. Suicide blamers act as apologists for suicide bombers.

Here, for example, are some of the things I learned about the Middle East in just 24 hours of listening to National Public Radio:

  • A discussion of terrorism: in 1972, “extremists” attacked the Israeli Olympic team in Munich according to an “expert” and the segment’s host, who took almost excruciating care to avoid mentioning that these were PLO terrorists in an operation directed by that organization’s top leadership.
  • Daniel Pipes and Bernard Lewis are “barbaric” people claiming all Muslims are terrorists, according to a Muslim-American “liberal reformer.” whose words were not challenged by the interviewer. This is despite the fact that both have repeatedly acclaimed moderate Islam and the latter is the main champion of the argument that Islam is in no way intrinsically anti-democratic.
  • Terrorism is only a typical tactic used by Europeans and Asians faced with occupation armies, according to an “expert” on comparative culture. I don’t seem to remember even the much-provoked French or Italian resistance deliberately murdering German children and exulting at their successes in doing so. As I recall, it was the Nazis who were the terrorists. That’s why they are so reviled, remember?

What we have here goes beyond merely passionate political debate or different points of view. It is a profoundly anti-intellectual, anti-rational, and anti-liberal mode of thought alongside an abandonment of professional standards. Every such instance should be challenged.