Juan Cole reads dead Jews’ minds


Via @Noah Pollak and @MartinKramer on Twitter, I bumped into this extraordinary reply by Mideast scholar Juan Cole to a commenter on one of his blog posts.

The blog post, in and of itself, is extraordinary. It attempts to debunk coverage of last week’s Muslim Brotherhood rally in Cairo on Jerusalem.

Cole makes some salient points about how all sides use the city as a football, but then there’s this:

The crowd appears to have shouted that Muslims should raise their children to fight (muqatalah) the Israelis (in colloquial Arabic, Israelis are referred to as “al-Yahud,” “the Jews.”). The word to “kill” (qatala) is from the same root as the word for “fight” (muqatalah). So presumably [Ynet reporter Eldad] Beck heard the former and mistranslated it by the latter.

Really? Colloquially, Arabs tend to call "Israelis" "Jews," particularly in a call to "fight" them (taking Cole’s word for it), and he doesn’t see this as a problem? Were a Jew to happen into this rally, what would his treatment be, colloquially?

And Cole equates these folks with Eric Cantor (!) because, you know, if the Republican majority leader called on Jews to raise their children to "fight" Muslims, Cole would not consider this newsworthy.

The reply to the comment is even more amazing. The commenter I_LIke-Ike 52 asks Cole:


Are you stating that it is not an agreed historical fact that there was a Jewish Temple on the site that predated Al-Aqsa? Also, is it a myth that Jews have viewed Jerusalem as their holy city, again pre-dating the Muslim conquest? Since most Jews are not Jewish Fundamentalists, it seems you are saying that most Jews do NOT view the Temple Mount as historically important or holy, only this small group of Fundamentalists.

Cole replies:

If you are talking about a temple allegedly in the 1000s BC, I don’t know if it existed at all, much less where.

It is what the fundamentalists want to do about the Temple Mount that is distinctive to them.

As for Jewish attitudes to Jerusalem in the medieval period, most would have thought the contemporary Zionist project an insult to the Messiah. Their veneration was expressed in pilgrimage and prayer, not military conquest and state-building.

Cole then helpfully says he’ll have no more comments on this since it does not directly relate to the subject matter.

That’s convenient, because his reply is so obtuse. The commenter does not say which Temple he is referring to — but both precede Al-Aqsa.

Then why would Cole make a point of emphasizing the First Temple? I can’t presume to know, but the "nonexistence" of the Temple has, at least during the second Camp David talks in 2000, been a Palestinian propaganda talking point. It usually goes like this (I write from memory, because I’ve been through this nonsense so often):

Pro-Palestinian flack: Even Israeli archaeologists doubt the existence of a Jewish Temple.

Anyone with more than a smidgen of knowledge: No, they don’t know exactly where the First Temple was situated, although they are certain it was in Jerusalem, and they are not sure that the religious precepts ascribed to its rituals in later writings are accurate, or instead reflect the mores of the writers. No one not delusional, however, denies the Second Temple is exactly where anyone says it was, and moreover, because we have contemporary (Josephus) and near-contemporary (the Talmud) accounts of its rituals, no one doubts what its uses were.

Pro-Palestinian flack: Ummm, yes, that’s what I meant.

So, it’s extraordinary (at least to me) that a University of Michigan scholar would resort to flack tricks. More extraordinary is his presumption as to what Jews of the medieval period would have thought of Zionism — Juan Cole has medium-like skills, apparently.

More to the point, a historian is presuming that medieval Jews would have been "insulted" by Zionism, instead of utterly baffled by the post-Enlightenment phenomenon of nationalism, in any form. (This is like saying residents of Jamestown would have been "insulted" by the "Star Spangled Banner," presumably uttering pithy little sarcasms as they died of starvation.)

I can’t read dead minds, but let me posit another possibility: Medieval Jews, transported Bill-and-Ted-like to the 21st century, might — after undergoing a gentle instructional session on how the modern world operates, and how nations protect their own — have been grateful to pray at the Western Wall without fear of molestation.

They might understand Zionism as Jews coping with peril as the times and the world present it, as Jews  have done it since their first expulsion from what Cole apparently believes is a fiction.

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