An Exhibit on Medieval Jerusalem Puts Political Correctness over Accuracy

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibit, Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People under Heaven, is “studded with remarkable things,” according to Diana Muir Appelbaum; however, it presents the city’s history in “soft focus,” includes many objects only tangentially related to Jerusalem, and is at times downright deceptive. The reason, Appelbaum writes, is the curators’ desire to give entirely uniform treatment to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam:

[T]he curators have [presented] medieval Jerusalem as a city shared equally by Muslims, Christians, and Jews, with the differences among them no more significant than the choice of whether to make falafel with fava beans or chickpeas. Imposing such a narrative requires a major elision of reality. . . .

Much of the time . . . the exhibit is so detached from Jerusalem as to make me wonder whether the curators, experts in medieval art, had ever visited Jerusalem or studied these faith traditions. Without some explanation of the sort, it is hard to understand the statement . . . that the Dome [of the Rock] enshrines a natural stone outcropping “variously understood as the site of Abraham’s sacrifice, the location of the tabernacle in the Temple of Solomon, and the point of departure for the Prophet Muhammad’s Ascent to Paradise.” . . . .

[Among other problems with this phrasing], Muhammad’s ascension to heaven and Abraham’s near sacrifice of his beloved son are legendary accounts. The location of the ancient Temple, by contrast, is an archaeological and historical fact. The curator responsible for the text may have attempted to stay just inside the bounds of accuracy by referring to the “Temple of Solomon.” The construction of a temple on this spot by a king named Solomon—as opposed to the later Temple built on the site by exiles returning from Babylon—cannot be proven, which gives the text the uncomfortable appearance of what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness”—a very different thing from truth.

The great puzzle of this exhibition is why someone would assemble this grand procession of manuscripts, textiles, glass, pottery, carvings, metalwork, and drawings and make no effort at all to answer the question posed at the entrance: “Why did [Jerusalem] hold the world’s focus for the next four centuries?” Or even attempt to give viewers a sense of what Jerusalem was like in those centuries. . . .

As it stands, Jerusalem 1000-1400 is a procession of remarkable objects in search of a narrative. Given that even today Jerusalem continues to captivate much of the world’s attention, that is a pity.

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More about: History & Ideas, Jerusalem, Middle Ages, Museums, Political correctness

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy