Last March, praising his own “clarity of thought” and “courage,” the chairman of the venerable Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) took to the pages of that organization’s journal, the Palestine Exploration Quarterly, to defend a decision to cancel a then-upcoming conference in Jerusalem. Citing international law and “the demands of neutrality,” Philip Davies explained that the conference could not accept papers based on the findings of “Jewish excavations” in east Jerusalem, lest the PEF “appear to condone illegal archaeology.” Rami Arav responds:
When I queried him [regarding] his use of the objectionable term “Jewish excavations” in his editorial, Davies stated in a written reply: “In my defense, I understand that the excavations in question are conducted by Jews and funded by Jews and have a Jewish purpose, so that you might perhaps be gracious enough to allow that I was factually correct.”
That one defensive statement not only defined “Jewish excavations” but seems to imply that the Jews have some sinister “purpose” behind their “Jewish excavations.” This is absurd. The PEF chairman willingly wished to collaborate with [his organization’s German counterpart, which] sponsored a dig in the Lutheran Church of Jerusalem [that employed] Lutheran archaeologists. [Should this] excavation be branded “a Lutheran excavation”? . . .
I have ascertained through correspondence that at least three Israeli scholars were initially rejected out of hand from the conference. . . . One presentation that fully complied with the [conference] guidelines and focused on the archives of PEF in London was at first rejected solely because the presenter was Israeli. If he had written under a name like “John Smith,” the conference would have accepted his paper. . . .
So a golden opportunity to illuminate important chapters in the history of Levantine archaeology was missed thanks to the strident anti-Israel bias of the PEF chairman. . . . The American Institute of Archaeology and the American Schools of Oriental Research do an excellent job [of fostering the study of the land of Israel in ancient times] without meddling in unnecessary political agendas. Why can’t the PEF continue to heed the warning of its founders to stick to inductive inquiry and steer well clear of religious and political controversy?