Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dumb and dumber

The Guardian's Comment is Free has long been a repository of poisonous bollocks. But something that links the carbon dating of ancient camel bones with their pet obsession of anti-Zionism is spectacular even by their standards.

Andrew Brown seized on some research by Israeli archaeologists that provided empirical proof of something that was long known, that camels were introduced into the Middle East after the events supposedly described in the Old Testament, where references to camels abound. They confirmed the scholarly consensus that the Bible consists of embellished transcriptions of an earlier oral tradition. Not much controversy there, just good, solid scholarship.

Aha! You may say that. But these were Israeli archaeologists. They have a stake in this and they are being a bit shifty - you know the sort of people they are. And Brown has spotted them.
But the peculiarly mealy-mouthed nature of the quotes they gave the New York Times ... shows where the real problem is.
The history recounted in the Bible is a huge part of the mythology of modern Zionism. The idea of a promised land is based on narratives that assert with complete confidence stories that never actually happened.
Let me now give him a history lesson. Zionism does not rest on biblical sources. It developed as a secular, nationalist doctrine in the late 19th Century in response to growing anti-Semitism in Europe. It took the ubiquitous demand for national self-determination and applied it to the Jews. Initially, it was unconcerned with the territory on which Jewish statehood could be built, but there were historical and cultural precedents that would lead it to the Middle East. Those precedents lay in the fact that Jewish religious and political self-rule existed there previously until destroyed by the Romans after two revolts in 66-70 AD and 132-135 AD. The documentary evidence for this is incontrovertible, as it is for a continuing Jewish presence. This memory was maintained in the diaspora forming a religious/cultural association with the area. The link between Zionism and the territory of the modern state of Israel is founded on real, verifiable history. And Zionism itself is simply the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, asserting their right to a nation state.

I presume that the "peculiarly mealy mouthed" quote is this one, though it was from someone who was not involved in the research.
“One should be careful not to rush to the conclusion that the new archaeological findings automatically deny any historical value from the biblical stories,” Dr. Mizrahi said in an email. “Rather, they established that these traditions were indeed reformulated in relatively late periods after camels had been integrated into the Near Eastern economic system. But this does not mean that these very traditions cannot capture other details that have an older historical background.”
This is exactly what you would expect any professional archaeologist or historian to say. That is how you should approach an ancient text; as unreliable, often mythological, evidence of beliefs that may provide clues about a distant past that are deserving of further investigation. Instead, Brown does rush to a conclusion. And that conclusion is yet another feeble attempt to delegitimise Israel.

Why does this matter? It matters because good history is being misused to further bad politics. Professional caution is being misinterpreted as bad faith. And it matters because this is endemic to the unthinking partisanship that stands in the way of peaceful coexistence.

A prerequisite for a settlement is mutual recognition, not just of the right of both peoples to national self-determination, but of the real, recent historical experience of both, understanding their legitimate demands and needs. Instead, protagonists of BOTH sides are waging a war of delegitimisation, pursuing conflict rather than resolution. This doesn't help anyone - at all.


Jim M. said...

Hi Peter,

I spotted this cartoon on Twitter yesterday. I was struck by what I took to be the obviously Jewish appearance of the figure representing Debt.

I have considerable sympathy for the woes of the Greek people, but any attempt to shift the blame to some Zionist financial conspiracy has to be regrettable, no?

Bob-B said...

CiF could be renamed RPB (repository of poisonous bollocks).

George S said...

Hurrah and well said, Peter.