NYT continues to minimize Jews' claim to Temple Mount - opinion

I would hope that if the Gray Lady alters its stylebook on the Temple Mount, we may yet merit seeing the change in other outlets.

 MEN PRAY at the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha Be’av, earlier this month. ‘The New York Times’ wrote last year that ‘The Western Wall is now used mostly by Jewish worshipers despite its also being important to Muslims.’  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
MEN PRAY at the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha Be’av, earlier this month. ‘The New York Times’ wrote last year that ‘The Western Wall is now used mostly by Jewish worshipers despite its also being important to Muslims.’
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Back on October 12, 2015, The New York Times published Jodi Magness’s letter responding to an article the newspaper printed on October 9 entitled “Historical certainty proves elusive at Jerusalem’s holiest place.” Magness is a classical and biblical archaeologist specializing in the territory of modern Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories from the time of Jesus up to the 10th century.

Magness was interviewed as a “specialist” for that piece that was penned by foreign editor Rick Gladstone. However, when reviewing the complete article she felt that it suggested the question of the existence and location of two successive Temples on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is not really “contested,” as suggested by the article.

She insisted that literary sources and archaeological remains indicate that both Temples stood somewhere on the Temple Mount. She added, “I know of no credible scholars who question the existence of the two temples or who deny that they stood somewhere on the Temple Mount.”

Other critics of The New York Times Temple Mount piece

She wasn’t the only one who found a problem with the piece. Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor-in-chief of The New York Jewish Week and a senior editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, described it as “bizarrely one-sided or mischievously inaccurate.” 

 Jews visit the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City as Israel marks Tisha Be'av, the ninth day in the Hebrew month of Av, the destruction of the First and Second Temples, August 7, 2022. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) Jews visit the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City as Israel marks Tisha Be'av, the ninth day in the Hebrew month of Av, the destruction of the First and Second Temples, August 7, 2022. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

The Temple Mount Sifting Project reacted that Gladstone “mixes between not having enough evidence about the exact location of the Temple within the Temple Mount with the question whether the Temple Mount itself was the location of the Temple.”

This past week, again, an article appeared in the paper that, again, intimated a minimization of the Jewish claim to the Temple Mount – Judaism’s most, and only, holy site.

Jerusalem bureau chief Patrick Kingsley reported on an Arab who committed a terror attack on Jewish worshipers leaving the Western Wall on Saturday night, after the Sabbath. Kingsley wrote, after providing his reader with a geographical orientation as to the proximity of the Temple Mount to King David’s Tomb: “Sacred to both Jews and Muslims, the nearby Temple Mount houses the third-holiest mosque in Islam and was the location in antiquity of two ancient Jewish temples that remain important to Jewish identity.”

New York Times misinformation, lacking facts on Temple Mount

His readers were not only misinformed but were not provided with the facts. The Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site. However, the suspicion exists, and not for the first time, that the newspaper and its employees and editors repeatedly provide almost unquestioning support for the denial of any Jewish historical connection to the Temple Mount, which is promoted by the Palestinian Authority.

Kingsley assists their campaign of denial; and to make a stark comparison, have we ever read a Times article doubting the Islamic holiness of al-Aqsa mosque or indeed its location, or any mention of the doubt that Muhammed ever visited Jerusalem? Or that he did so on a winged horse? Are those assertions, religious rather than historical, ever doubted?

Kingsley’s words also downplayed the centrality of the Temple Mount within Judaism today by highlighting terms such as “antiquity” and “ancient.” Has he ever attended a Jewish wedding, where a glass is broken to recall the destruction of those Temples? Or a Passover Seder when “Next Year in Rebuilt Jerusalem” is sung and the Paschal sacrifice is repeatedly referred to throughout the evening? I trust he has been at the Western Wall and I hope someone explained to him that we are not really praying to that wall, but to what is above and behind it.

COULD IT be that, as Ricky Hollander of CAMERA claims, we are witnesses to “a political advocacy campaign of journalists that diminish Judaism’s claim to its holiest site, while elevating the Muslim one?”

For example, the site was known for centuries as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). Now, though, it is almost exclusively referred to, aligned with Arab political propaganda, as “al-Aqsa Mosque.” And that name usually precedes the Jewish terminology, as in “al-Aqsa compound, which is known to Jews as Temple Mount” even though “the Temple Mount” can be found in the Bible and Talmud, predating Islam for a very long time.

The site is regularly observed on social media platforms as a gymnastics work-out area or where soccer is practiced, many times on the open-air prayer platforms with the mihrab structure indicating south, the direction of Mecca, as the goal. All that is ignored. 

Even a factual report such as “Jews now pray openly there, guarded by police – leading to fears of more confrontation,” fails to question whether that “confrontation” is justified. After all, Muslims demand equal prayer rights at the Cordoba cathedral in Spain (last a Muslim-occupied country in the 15th century) just as Jews do in Jerusalem (their historical and spiritual capital). In Istanbul, the Sofia Hagia has lost its status quo but that mostly passed under the radar. Even less will a reader find an explanation as to why a country created in the 20th century should possess custodianship over a seventh-century holy site.

And there was this eyebrow-raiser in The New York Times on August 24, 2021: “The Western Wall, which is now used mostly by Jewish worshipers despite its also being important to Muslims.” Up until the 20th century, the location of where al-Buraq, Muhammad’s mythical winged horse that transported him on his night journey, was tethered was acknowledged to be inside the Temple Mount. But as the Jewish presence at the Western Wall alleyway increased by the end of the 19th century, the location was moved to the Western Wall itself.

On April 23, 2022, Kingsley published “the al-Aqsa compound, which is known to Jews as Temple Mount.” Why did he ignore that many millions of Christians, as well as members of other religions and atheists, know that site as the Temple Mount? In fact, he “liked” a May 7, 2021 KAN News tweet that noted that “[Muslim] worshipers wave Hamas flags on the Temple Mount.”

Who is the guilty party?

PERHAPS THE guilty parties at The New York Times are the editors? The proofreaders? Fact-checkers? Is there, then, perhaps a more invidious systemic bias at work here? After all, this is how Isabel Kershner, who really does know better, awkwardly wrote on May 12 this year, in her “Coalition gets lift in Israel with return of Arab party”: “…the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site sacred in both Islam and Judaism, and known to Jews as the Temple Mount.” 

Whoever is the guilty party, we need be aware that there appears to be a determined textual manipulation to raise up and bring to prominence a Muslim claim that supersedes a Jewish one.  

There is an effort to frame the Temple Mount as foremost and very legitimately a Muslim site. For Jews it is passé. It is an area to which Jews have no contemporary history or connection. In doing so, they go along with the propaganda messaging emanating from the Palestinian Authority and Islamist inciters around the world. For sure, the New York Times is not alone in this go-along-with-Palestine effort. Reuters, CNN, NPR and others have been found to follow suit.

I would hope that if the Gray Lady alters its stylebook on the Temple Mount, we may yet merit seeing the change in other outlets.

The New York Times saw to it that Gladstone’s 2015 article was corrected. They clarified that the “article misstated the question concerning the two ancient Jewish Temples. The question is where precisely on the 37-acre Temple Mount site the Temples had once stood, not whether the Temples had ever existed there.” On May 12, Gladstone displayed improvement, writing “For Jews, the Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as Har Habayit, is the holiest place”.

We await how Kingsley will describe the Temple Mount in a future article of his.

The writer was the director of Israel’s Media Watch from 2000-2005.