Settlement Reality Check


Israel’s construction in smaller settlements has steadily decreased; not so, Washington’s obsessive and misplaced demands for a total freeze. 

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Settlements, West Bank


Israel Needs Public Diplomacy

December 17

Regularly maligned in the press, condemned by European governments, and faced with the zealous propaganda efforts of its enemies, Israel in recent years has made renewed efforts at explaining its moral position to the world. Some have criticized this public diplomacy (known in Hebrew as hasbara) as self-defeating apologetics. Lynnette Nusbacher, however, argues that Israel has always engaged in bolstering its image abroad, and that such efforts are necessary and can be effective:

The narratives which underpinned Israel’s public diplomacy over its first 60 or so years were important: “Draining malarial swamps,” not “destroying wetland habitats for migratory birds.” . . . The evidence of successful public diplomacy was not only evident in the ability of Israeli government and quasi-governmental institutions to raise capital overseas. It was also evident in a widespread willingness, among decision-making elites in particular, to view Israel in terms of its own narratives, to a point.

Around the turn of the present century, structures which supported Israel’s ability to conduct its particular brand of public diplomacy were beginning to show their age. Support for Israel has become more distinctively elite, more distinctively establishment, and in the United States more distinctively Christian. Some of the old narratives were harder to support, to some extent because Israel’s economic, social, and military success made some of the old stories less resonant; but also because they were old.

Read more at Mida

More about: Anti-Zionism, Hasbara, Israel diplomacy

Mainline Protestantism, Anti-Semitism, and the "Christian Century"

December 17

For almost 100 years, the Christian Century has been a major publication of mainstream American Protestantism. During the 1930s and 40s, it distinguished itself by its conspicuous lack of sympathy for Jews in Hitler’s Europe and its hostility toward Zionism. When he took over the publication in the 1970s, James M. Wall tentatively apologized for its prior sins, but did not give up its anti-Zionism. Since his departure, the magazine has backed away from such positions, while Wall has become a regular contributor to the openly anti-Semitic Veterans’ News Network, a purveyor of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Dexter van Zile writes:

As Wall’s tenure proceeded, the Christian Century became fundamentally hostile toward the Jewish state, largely mirroring—and fueling—the cult of anti-Zionism that existed in mainline Protestant churches in the United States. Under Wall’s leadership, the magazine treated the Jewish state just as the magazine had treated Jews under [the previous editor’s] leadership.

When Wall retired from his post as editor of the Christian Century in 1999 and took on the title of senior contributing editor, . . . his anti-Israel bent became even more pronounced. In his regular columns, Wall’s obsession with Israel became full-blown, with his writings becoming increasingly unhinged from reality. In 2005, he wrote a piece that falsely asserted that Israel’s security barrier completely surrounded the city of Bethlehem. Also that year, he described Hizballah and Hamas—two terrorist organizations—as “Muslim non-governmental groups.”

Read more at Gatestone

More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Jewish-Christian relations, Protestantism

Now in New York: The Earliest Archaeological Evidence of King David

December 17

In a current exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a stone slab bears an inscription that mentions the “House of David” as the ruling dynasty of Israel, making it the earliest known non-biblical reference to the Davidic monarchy. Menachem Wecker writes:

“There is no doubt that the inscription is one of the most important artifacts ever found in relation to the Bible,” Eran Arie, curator of Israelite and Persian periods at the Israel Museum, wrote in the exhibit catalog. As is to be expected with a rock nearly three millennia old, the slab is missing considerable portions, and Arie’s translation of the remaining thirteen lines of text is full of ellipses and bracketed additions. What is clear is that the Aram-Damascene king Hazael brags of having killed 70 kings, including of Israel and of the “House of David” (The round number, scholars agree, is probably exaggerated, although Hazael did have a reputation for being ruthless and successful).

The breaks in the stone neither obstruct nor obscure the “bytdvd,” or House of David, inscription, which remains “absolutely intact and clear,” said Ira Spar, professor of history and ancient studies at Ramapo College in New Jersey and a research Assyriologist at the Metropolitan Museum. Epigraphers and biblical historians agree almost unanimously.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Bible, Davidic monarchy, King David


Leo Strauss: Warmonger, Pacifist, or Something Else?

December 17

Worshipped by his students and vilified by his enemies as the founder of a shadowy neoconservative conspiracy responsible for the 2003 Iraq war, Leo Strauss has generated attention highly unusual for a scholar of Xenophon, Plato, and Maimonides. A recent book, provocatively entitled Leo Strauss: Man of Peace, seeks to dispel the myths of both Strauss’s devotees and his denigrators. According to its author, Robert Howse, Strauss was committed to international law as a means of constraining the violence inherent in the relations between states, even if he was skeptical of utopian schemes promising perpetual peace. In his review, Gary Rosen evaluates Howse’s arguments and reflects on Strauss’s background and legacy:

Howse [reminds] us that Strauss was, in addition to everything else, a penetrating scholar of Jewish thought and a refugee from the world destroyed by the Nazi war against the Jews. As Howse sees it, the young Strauss shared to a degree the discontent with liberal principles among Weimar intellectuals on the right, many of whom belonged to what is known in Germany as the Konservative Revolution of the 1920s, a movement that prepared the way for a broader intellectual acceptance of Nazism. As Strauss wrote in an essay on the corrupting influence of [Friedrich] Nietzsche, [Carl] Schmitt, and [Martin] Heidegger, part of their appeal to high-minded young Germans (himself presumably included) lay in their “sense of responsibility for endangered morality”—morality robbed of its heroism and nobility by petty calculation and self-interest. . . .

Strauss himself traveled a considerable distance from his youthful infatuation with the most enticing and dangerously revolutionary streams of modern thought. A token of the hard-won insights of his “turning” can be found in the tribute that he paid to Winston Churchill, in front of his students, the day after the British statesman’s death in 1965. . . . Here is the Strauss whose work continues to attract those who see in politics an activity with its own dignity but also a horizon that points, potentially, beyond politics.

Read more at National Interest

More about: Carl Schmitt, Friedrich Nietzsche, International Law, Leo Strauss, Neoconservatism, Weimar Republic

Where Does Hanukkah Come from?

December 17

Hanukkah may be one of the best-known Jewish holidays, but its status is anomalous if not marginal. The two books of Maccabees were excluded from the Hebrew Bible, and the holiday appears in the Talmud almost as an afterthought. The 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus describes Hanukkah, but says he does not know why it is called the “festival of lights.” Medieval rabbis questioned the exact nature of the Hanukkah miracle. Rabbi Hayyim Angel sorts through these difficulties and concludes with a provocative thesis about the holiday’s origins. (Audio, about 1 hour; talk starts at 14:15).

Read more at YU Torah

More about: Hanukkah, Hellenism, Jewish holidays, Josephus, Maccabees, Talmud