Several people have requested an article on Lesley Stahl’s 60 Minutes piece last night. The following is my response to the piece:
Lesley Stahl’s reporting on the City of David during last night’s 60 Minutes was an almost-flawless example of categorically irresponsible journalism. Her points were soft, her assertions were one-sided, and her facts were, quite frankly, missing.
No contention that Stahl put forward went unrebutted. In fact, even the fundamental premise of her argument — “No one has found any evidence that Abraham was ever here” –has some major holes. Let’s start with the basics.
Religion, as a basic idea, is based off of speculation and unsubstantiated “fact”. Religion–even if rooted in some sort of historical truth–is inherently ambiguous. While religion is a means of connection, community, and culture for billions of people worldwide, it is not wholly rational. This is true of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the Gospel, the Torah, and the Qur’an, Jesus, Muhammad, and, of course, Abraham. So, it is ill-advised to counter a theological argument with a rational one, based in concrete reality.
Stahl claims that organizations like Elad are using archaeology as a “political tool.” This may be true–and perhaps improper in the current Middle Eastern political climate. But she uses words like “indoctrination” to describe Israeli soldiers’ visits to historically relevant sites (like the City of David). Imagine someone claiming that the US Army was “indoctrinating” its soldiers by bringing them to the Alamo or, on a simpler level, Washington D.C. It’s simply hyperbolic and accusatory (to an unnecessary degree).
Stahl says, very matter-of-factly, about a man who opposes any settlements in East Jeruslem, “He’s angry that Elad bought his grandmother’s house and moved a number of Jewish families into it.” As stated in previous posts on this website, however, Israel is a free country, (the only one is the Middle East), and functions through several markets. One of those markets is the housing market and if a Palestinian family puts a house on that market, and someone expresses interest in buying that house (and offers an appropriate amount of money), then what is the point in being angry? His grandmother (or his family) sold the house to a Jewish organization. They could have sold it to an Arab organization or family if they’d wanted to. What’s that problem?
In another segment of the piece, Stahl herself says that “boys were throwing rocks at passing cars.” This is said in passing. She moves on to make a point about the leader of Elad, and his failure to stop after hitting a child who had just thrown a rock at his car. Obviously, it is not acceptable that the man hit the boy (accidentally or otherwise motivated–as the boy appeared to have run into/in front of the car), and he most likely should have stopped and gotten out of the car, but focus was shifted to the result of their rock-throwing, from their rock-throwing.
This of course brings us to the ultimate issue: even if all of this digging and building on controversial land is justified and legal, is this the right time for Israelis to be doing it? As Stahl asks, “Why not wait until the peace talks are settled?” Well, that’s the question.
Will the peace talks ever be settled? No one knows. And even if the talks, themselves, are settled, can Israelis and Palestinians practice what they preach? Can they turn theory into actuality? Probably not. Agitating Palestinians should not be the motive behind any of this–though it may be. The goal should not be to evict people from their homes or to turn public opinion against any particular group.
Tourism is a factor, religion is a factor, history is a factor, culture is a factor, safety is a factor, politics are a factor, settlements are a factor. Is this the right time to be expanding? That’s for you to decide.
What’s the ultimate lesson we should derive from this? Jerusalem’s Mayor, Nir Barkat, said it best: “Get your facts right before you bash Israel, before you bash Jerusalem.”