Saturday, October 10, 2015

The NYT's Worst Journalism Ever?

The New York Times recently published an article that was so appallingly flawed and dangerous that it simply beggars belief. Its subsequent "clarification" only serves to highlight how bad it was.

The article, Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place, was a masterpiece of obfuscation and falsehood. It took minor academic debate about the precise location of the Temple - was it a few hundred feet this way, or a few hundred feet that way - and presented that as lying at the heart of competing Israeli and Palestinian narratives about claims to the land, and even as raising questions about the very existence of the Temple.

The reality, however, is that the precise location of the Second Temple (and even the very existence of the First Temple) is entirely irrelevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All that is relevant is the existence of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. And all that should be reported, and hammered home, is that outside the Arab world it is recognized as absolute historical fact that there was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The Palestinians, on the other hand, deny this basic historical fact. And therein lies the reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be peacefully resolved. As long as Palestinians refuse to acknowledge the historical connection of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, and falsely portray us as nothing more than European colonialists, there is no hope of their accepting our living in Israel.

Subsequent to the NYT article, there was an uproar. The NYT was forced to add the following clarification:
Correction: October 9, 2015
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.
As the archive of the article shows, the crucial sentence had originally read as follows:
The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is whether 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. (emphasis added)
After the correction, it read instead like this:
The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is where on 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. (emphasis added)
A number of other modifications had to be made in order to make the article technically correct, though it was of course still entirely misleading.

Let's get things straight here. This is not a minor technical error, to be be clarified in a subsequent footnote. This is a fundamental perversion of the most prominent conflict in modern times. There are few things more central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than recognizing the historical connection of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, and recognizing the Palestinian's refusal to acknowledge this historical fact. The New York Times managed to completely distort this.

Historical certainty about Jerusalem's holiest place does not prove elusive in the least. Journalistic accuracy in the New York Times about the most fundamental aspect of the world's most prominent conflict, on the other hand, proves very elusive indeed.

48 comments:

  1. Denying the Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem is a useful ploy for the Arabs to draw sympathy for their cause, but it's really a sideshow in the grand scheme of things.

    The State of Israel was formed at a time when countries could still be carved out through conquest and through the will of the World Powers of the time. Various European countries carved out the modern borders for most countries in the ME at around the same time, and you hear nary a peep from the world. Why? Because the vast majority of those countries' inhabitants are Arab.

    Israel is vilified for 1 reasons, and 1 reason only: the Arabs cannot admit they lost to Jews.

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  2. That's not bad journalism. That's directed anti-semitism. It's attempting to de-legitimize Israel and the Jewish claims to the Land of Israel. Interesting it should come out on Parshat Berashis.

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  3. Here's an interesting article on why indigenous status matters - http://www.israellycool.com/2015/09/20/indigenous-status-matters-heres-why/ And that's what the NY Times is trying to deny the Jewish people.

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  4. As has been pointed out, with their "correction," the article loses its entire point. It's clear that their original intent was to question the very existence.

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  5. As you point out, Temple denial relates to the Palestinians' broader critique of the Law of Return, as they claim that we do not have a historical right to Israel ("we are nothing more than European colonialists"). That, of course, was the motivation behind Arthur Koesler's 1976 book, The Thirteenth Tribe, in which he claimed that the entirety of the Ashkenazi Jews actually descend from the Khazars. However, this myth was disproved long ago using genetic testing (see here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2013/05/16/israeli-researcher-challenges-jewish-dna-links-to-israel-calls-those-who-disagree-nazi-sympathizers/). The reality is that Jews do, in fact, have Semitic roots and therefore the Law of Return is justified.

    It's interesting that this entire discussion comes around the Shabbat of Parshat Bereishit, where Rashi famously opens up his commentary by saying that the Torah could have simply started with the first commandment given to Bnei Yisrael (Rosh Chodesh), but it chose to start with Creation to convey the message that God owns all of the Earth since He created it, and therefore He can rightfully give it to whoever He wants, despite the claim of the nations of the world.

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    1. Actually Arthur Koesler's motivation was the opposite. He (mistakenly) thought that racism was behind antisemitism. By pushing forth that most Jews are not genetically Jewish, the antisemites could no longer hat us, because we aren't the same Jews who they accuse of killing their god.

      A naive attempt, at best, and at worst, it has led to those antisemites claiming that they don't real Jews, they just hate these phoney interlopers. Lose-lose!

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    2. In fairness to Koestler, he didn't make the argument for that reason- he was, in fact, a Zionist. He had the very misguided hope that his (false, as we now know) argument would *lessen* anti-Semitism by nullifying the charge of deicide. (If the Jews were not Semites, they couldn't have killed Jesus.) He didn't realize, remarkably, that the world had moved on from that to other forms of anti-Semitism a long time before, and his argument played perfectly into the hands of anti-Semites and anti-Zionists, and still does today.

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  6. The Palestinians, on the other hand, deny this basic historical fact. And therein lies the reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be peacefully resolved. As long as Palestinians refuse to acknowledge the historical connection of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, and falsely portray us as nothing more than European colonialists, there is no hope of their accepting our living in Israel.

    The Times piece was absurd. But the conflicts between Christians and Jews as well as the conflicts between the Catholics and Protestants were not solved by having one side agree to the worldview of the other side. They were settled by the shared view that such conflicts are not good candidates for resolution by force.

    I'm not asserting that the conflict here is entirely ideological. But to the degree that it is, having one side convert to the viewpoint of the other side is an unlikely solution.

    Also, if there is a resolution, then the abandonment of conspiracy theories will likely be symptom rather than a cause.

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    1. Except the Islamic "belief" that there never was a Temple is very, very recent and artificially created. From the time of Mohammad until about 1967 (or even 2000), Islam and Arabs had no problem saying that both Solomon and Herod had built temples on the site of the Dome of the Rock. The Waqf itself proudly proclaimed this fact in the early part of the 20th Century. So you can understand why some people have hopes this madness could be reversed.

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    2. I agree. But that is a likely symptom rather than being a cause. Until 1967 the fight over land didn't include Jerusalem. Now that it does, the rhetoric moves there. If the conflict can be ended peacefully (and maybe it can't), then the conspiracy theories are likely to ebb.

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    3. "...the conflicts between Christians and Jews...were not solved by having one side agree to the worldview of the other side."

      I don't think that's entirely true. The major source of the conflict between Christians and Jews was removed at the Second Vatican Council when the Jews were officially absolved of responsibility for Jesus' death. That has evolved into many (most?) Evangelicals today believing that the Jews (alone) won't go to hell for not accepting J as their savior. If that isn't "coming around to our worldview..."

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    4. You are making a good point, but I think that my original point stands. The change in attitude here is reflective of an absorption of the general idea that we aren't going to solve religious conflict through force (perhaps as a result of embarrassment over the holocaust). I don't think that the starting point was a theological argument by Jews that "hey we aren't responsible" with their response being "yeah you are right". The fact that evangelicals agree is evidence of larger forces, since evangelicals and Catholics do not share an ideology and Catholic teaching are not accepted by them.

      This is all in addition to the the fact that they still believe that we are gravely wrong about their claim in the divinity of Jesus. The change is one of toleration of opposing beliefs rather than than agreement. Analogously, I think the Jews today can tolerate the mosque on the Temple Mount. It's not that we agree with their story about the religious significance of the location. It's that we can recognize that they do invest deep religious meaning in that location, and we can tolerate that until God sorts it out. (At least some can; others on this board take more extreme views).

      If there is a solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it will most likely involve mutual tolerance rather than agreement. No matter who hard we wish it, it is unlikely that those who (or those whose ancestors) used to live in what is now Israel is ever going to think that their inability to "return" is just. It is also unlikely that the majority ever views the Jewish presence as more than a result of colonialist incursion. The best we can hope for is that the "injustice" (from their PoV) be accepted.

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  7. This is your first post on this blog that I recall agreeing with.

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  8. See Avi Shafran's take over at cross-currents.

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  9. Clearly neither Rick Gladstone nor Jane Cahill knows the difference between a "resonable doubt" and an ureasonable one

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  10. What a coincidence that just a few days ago HaRav HaGaon Ratson Arusi, the Yemenite גדול הדור after his Rebbi Rav Kapach (just one example of his affinity to him can be read at http://www.net-sah.org/files/OHH_Tamuz_htshst.pdf), had a talk at length which, among other things, touched upon fundamental issues relating to Arab incitement including historical revisionism (most directly beginning from the 6 minute point). Not directly related to Temple Denial but well worth listening to in its entirety.

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  11. Why don't we play their game? That is, why don't we persistently and loudly question the Arab's right to the land and the site? Why don't we persistently and loudly question the very nationhood of those who call themselves "Palestinian"? We should be able to easily win that game.

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  12. It wasn't the worst ever. The worst ever was one day earlier, when it published an article expressing sympathy for Gaza's smugglers, not even mentioning that among the things they smuggle is munitions meant to kill Jews:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/08/world/middleeast/as-egypt-floods-gaza-tunnels-smugglers-fear-an-end-to-their-trade.html?_r=0

    One could also argue that the worst ever was their parroting of every Bush Administration lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq during the period leading up to the Iraq War, but at least published Joseph Wilson's article in which he pointed out that they were lies.

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    1. Well, one important difference between its parroting all of Bush's "lies" (which were the same as Clinton's) about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the Temple Mount issue is that the claims about WMD, while wrong, were made in good faith based on then-current intelligence. The original Temple Mount article was intentionally dishonest.

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    2. You can't help it, can you Charlie? Seriously, Bush Derangement Syndrome much? We're talking about Jews and you have to bring him up? We're talking about a reliably left-wing paper and you bring up the *one* thing you, as a good lefty, disagree with?

      In any event, the absolute worst thing the Times probably did was cover up the Ukrainian genocide. They still haven't repudiated the Pulitzer they won for that. (Of course, they didn't do such a good job during the Holocaust either.)

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    3. Apparently lies are excusable as long as they support your cause? Precisely the pro-Palestinian position.

      In the case of the Bush lies, the consequences have been catastrophic. Fortunately Israel will see to it that the current lies do not have such consequences.

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    4. Nachum wasn't saying that lies are excusable. His point was that Bush is entirely irrelevant to this discussion.

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    5. How about Walter Duranty's Pulitzer-winning cover-up of Stalin's atrocities?

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  13. The New York Times even contradicts itself. This is from an article published less than year ago, November 22nd 2014.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/23/world/middleeast/mistrust-threatens-delicate-balance-at-a-sacred-site-in-jerusalem-.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

    "Temple denial, increasingly common among Palestinian leaders, also has a long history: After Israel became a state in 1948, the Waqf removed from its guidebooks all references to King Solomon’s Temple, whose location at the site it had previously said was 'beyond dispute.'

    Jewish history at the site dates back further — the First Temple was built by King Solomon in 957 B.C."

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  14. Somewhat off-topic, but anyway: one of the Charedi free newspapers had an article by someone close to Rav Eliyashiv, zt"l. He wrote that, seven years ago, the then-President of Israel, Shimon Peres, wanted an audience with Rav Eliyashiv. Peres wanted the most authoritative posek to issue a declaration that it's forbidden for Jews to go onto the Temple Mount, not just because of the טומאת מת reason, but also because the Arabs wish to turn the site as a flashpoint to start a religious war, and that is the last thing Israel needs. It really borders on פיקוח נפש.

    I find that reasoning compelling, but at the same time I feel pained that issuing such a prohibition would essentially give the Arabs the message that terror pays.That is the opposite of the message that they should receive. And they go around with the feeling that the Temple Mount really isn't that important to the Jews after all.

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    1. Of course that is one of the main arguments the Satmars and other religious anti-Zionists use against the whole Zionist movement and the existence of the state of Israel....it supposedly antagonizes the Arabs and their friends so we are better off without it. Why it is legitimate to not antagonize the Arabs by wanting to live in Eretz Israel but it is not legitimate of the Poles not to want Jews in Poland is not clear to me.
      Many times I have seen anti-Zionist religious Jews say, and I quote::...."see how terrible it is to live in Israel, since 1948 more Jews have been killed there than any other place in the world". My question is why do they make the start date 1948 and not 1938 or 1918?

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    2. Interesting comment from Yehuda P. Peres tried to frame his request in halachic terms of "pikuach nefesh" (and Peres has good ties to the religious community), but, of course, his request really just reflects his own dovish political point of view. In other words, he tried to manipulate the use of Halacha, and its Rabbis, for political purposes. R. Elyashiv undoubtedly would have seen through this, and would, I imagine, have turned Peres down for precisely that reason, even if he held it was prohibited to ascend because of tummah. He would have reasoned that the Torah is not a game to be cynically exploited or selectively cited when it suits one purposes, but conveniently ignored when it doesn't.

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    3. Peres once praised another Rav publicly for his psak that it was forbidden to go on the Har HaBayit. I wonder what Peres thinks about that Rav's views regarding Shabbat, Kashrut, Taharat HaMishpacha, etc, etc, etc.

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    4. Actually, the article concludes that Rav Elyashiv did make the statement that Peres requested, on the grounds that the Muslims would turn the Temple Mount issue into a religious war.

      However, the author concluded the article by giving a spot-on analysis: Abbas has raised this blood libel about the Jews wanting to destroy Al Aqsa etc. etc. because he sees that the Palestinian statehood issue has become marginal (the Syrian refugees are everyone's concern now). So Abbas propagates these lies in order to rally all the Muslims against Israel, and the Palestinians again are in the spotlight. So it really doesn't matter if Jews go on the Temple Mount or not--the Arab media reports it as if Israel intends to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount,--and that incitement is the true root of the terror attacks at present.

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  15. Avi,

    Israel is vilified because it never actually says the land belongs to the Jews. You know the din: If person A claims a garment belongs completely to him and person B does *not* respond by saying it belongs completely to him, whose argument is the judge supposed to lean towards?

    Yes, there will always be people who hate Israel and Jews no matter what, but Israel makes matters worse for itself by making a big to-do about the tactics its enemy employs (terrorism) rather than the central issue itself: Whose land is it?

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    1. There is a line of thought that Israel gets beaten up because they don't stand up for themselves. I subscribe to this somewhat, but not entirely.

      Many non-Jews, and (Muslim) Arabs in particular, cannot handle Jews that are independent and self-sufficient. If we're second class citizens in a "foreign" country, we can be tolerated. If we have our own State, with a sustainable economy, we must be eradicated. It doesn't matter if the land we form a State on is "ours", either historically or otherwise -- the world simply cannot tolerate successful, independent Jews.

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    2. If you are right, how do you explain the fact that hatred of Israel around the world has increased dramatically in the last 20 years (in other words, ever since Israel essentially told the Arabs: You are right, some of the land really ought to go to you)?

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  16. It seems to me that the tone of this post represents an exaggerated response to some deficiencies in an article. The errors or misleading phrases that have been cited don't make it a cause celebre. The article does, in fact, assert elsewhere that the dominant opinion of archaeologists is that the Jewish temples were on the temple mount. It also attributed the paucity of archaeological evidence of an ancient Jewish presence on the temple mount to Arab intransigence on the question of archaeological excavations there. Nor did the version of the article that is linked to in this post make any statement about the legitimacy of Jewish control over the territory of Israel. It dealt only with the competing claims for (eastern Jerusalem). As corrected, the article is now fairly inoffensive, if not particularly illuminating.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. First of all, Rabbi Slifkin was primarily addressing the original version of the article (see his link).

      Second, after the corrections, the article is still misleading or just plain stupid.
      It begins by referring to "an explosive historical question that cuts to the essence of competing claims to what may be the world’s most contested piece of real estate." Wow! That sounds really dramatic. Which would have been justified had there been a possibility that the Temples were not located anywhere near the Dome of the Rock. But now that the question is only whether the Temples were located exactly under the Dome of the Rock or maybe a short distance away (a hundred feet?), it's hardly an "eplosive question that cuts to essence ... blah, blah"

      The NYT should have withdrawn the entire article or completely rewritten it. In its current form it is silly at best and misleading at worst.

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    2. That should have been "see his *second* link"

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    3. Tom, I have seen the archived original article and see no need to revise my opinion. That article is misleading and inaccurate, but does not justify the vehement denunciation or implication of newspaper bias. It's more likely a case of sloppy reporting, editing, or seeking to find a more neutral stance between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Given the current tensions and killings, it behooves us, it seems to me, to react more rationally to supposed affronts or other provocations.

      Y. Aharon

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    4. Y. Aharon-
      I beg to disagree with you. This is part of a wider process of "Post-Modernization" of the intellectual basis of society...."there is no truth, there are only narratives" and the idealization of cultures of barbarians and savages out of some sort of death-wish in Western Civilization. After all Andy Rosenthal told Oren to his face that he doesn't believe in "truth" and that letting Abbas' falsehoods through, or the falsehoods regarding the Har HaBayit are part of this war against civilization that "liberals/progressives" are carrying out.
      I am sure you have seen the recent headlines blaring out "Arab killed by Israelis" and then in small print below "after he stabbed a Jew". The propaganda message is clear. We Israelis/Jews are among the prime opponents of the self-destructive "progressive" death cult that is so powerful now in the West and even the US and so we are a prime target of their propaganda. We certainly must fight back and not attribute to "mistakes" or "sloppy editing". This is WAR!

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    5. The NYT, which is capable of very good reporting when it suits its purposes, paid a researcher as well as a reporter to work on this article and then published it as a background piece to support the Times' other reporting on the issue.

      The Temple was there. This isn't the Times "seeking to find a more neutral stance." This is the Times advancing the Big Lie that it wasn't. That isn't being neutral.

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  17. Regarding the credibility of the NYTIMES. Michael Oren in his book "Ally" about his time as Israeli ambassador to the US tells how the Times ran an opinion piece under Abbas' name strongly implying that the Arabs accepted the 1947 UN Partition plan but saying also that the Jews supposedly rejected it in order to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state, when in reality it was the Arabs, including the Palestinians who completely rejected it and attempted to destroy the Jewish yishuv in the War of Independence. Oren called Andy Rosenthal, editor at the Times and protested this historical falsehood. Rosenthal said something to the effect that "you say one thing, Abbas says another". Oren then asked Rosenthal if there is such a thing as historical truth and Rosenthal wouldn't admit that there was.
    Very Post-Modern. That is the philosophy Times and much of the Post-Modern intellectual Establishment. Recall that Ehud Barak was prepared to hand over control of the Har HaBayit to Arafat, only requesting the Arafat sign a paper saying that the the Jews also recognize it as a holy site. Arafat adamantly refused which enraged Clinton, but he wouldn't back down. Interesting how the Arabs and their friends are going to define for us what Judaism is.

    Regarding the very fair question as to why Israeli leaders don't emphasize Jewish historical claims to Eretz Israel, instead focusing on the line "we want peace"...it must be remembered that the founders of the modern Israeli political Establishment were mostly Eastern European Marxists (not Communists, but influenced by Marxist Socialist thought). Marxism is anti-nationalist and supposedly universalist. Thus the Labor Zionists of the past had to join up two inherently incompatable ideas together, Jewish nationalism and Socialism.. Such a combination couldn't last which is why Labor Zionism has ideologically collapsed and is now bankrupt. They tried to substitute the 'Peace process" in the 1990's but, as we all know, that failed. That explains why many of the children and grandchildren of prominent Labor Zionists of the past have become anarchists or radical anti-Zionists. The Foreign Ministry is still filled with people raised on this socialist ethos and it sticks in their throats to have to defend Israel using Jewish historical ties to the land.

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    1. When the Times posts an editorial by an Israeli or pro-Israel figure, do you want them to interfere editorially based on their version of the facts? Everyone understands that when they post an editorial under Abbas' name, then it is his opinion and not necessarily factual. Marketplace of ideas and all that...

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    2. Except that Oren states that the Times says they factcheck claims made in opinion pieces. If a world famous figure like Shimon Peres were to write a column for them and say the moon ia made of green cheese I don't think they would let that through. They supposedly have a reputation to maintain.

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    3. Leaving aside that Oren is writing a polemic, they would not let Abbas shred the moon for Pizza either.

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    4. Oren is a historian. I think he would resent your assertion that he wrote a "polemic".

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    5. The NY Times clearly hasn't done a very good job of fact-checking on this or other things.

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    6. Seems to me that the very fact that the Times does fact-checking at all belies their "you say one thing, Abbas says another" response. Or the other way round - their fact-checking efforts in general are not substantive but rather a fig leaf for their postmodernism.

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    7. Oren is a historian. I think he would resent your assertion that he wrote a "polemic".

      Oren's book is written from his PoV, and is not the work of a detached historian. The fact that you label someone historian doesn't mean that his writings about his own experiences and policy views are somehow "objective". He is subject to the same biases as everyone else.

      Seems to me that the very fact that the Times does fact-checking at all belies their "you say one thing, Abbas says another" response. Or the other way round - their fact-checking efforts in general are not substantive but rather a fig leaf for their postmodernism.

      The "fact checking" of an opinion piece clearly written from a single PoV is should be different from that of a news story.

      That said, they obviously failed horribly with this piece.

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  18. Notice the juxtaposition of these two paragraphs (from the revised version).

    "Many Palestinians, suspicious of Israel’s intentions for the site, have increasingly expressed doubt that the temples ever existed — at least in that location. Many Israelis regard such a challenge as false and inflammatory denialism.
    'This is a very politically loaded subject,' said Matthew J. Adams, Dorot director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. 'It’s also an academically complex question.' "

    So what is the the "complex" question? Whether the Palestinan claims (that the Temples never existed, or they existed but not at that location -- in Jericho maybe?) are valid or false.

    The article should be withdrawn entirely and the journalists reprimanded.

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  19. was josephus a temple denialist? and do you accept that the temple may not have been on temple mount

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