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March 05, 2007

"Jesus Family Tomb" Aftermath

For those of you who did not catch the 1-hour roundtable discussion of the Jesus Family Tomb that immediately followed the documentary, you missed a bloodbath. The panel included Simcha Jacobovici, the producer/writer/director of the documentary, UNC-Charlotte Professor James Tabor, and five other scholars not involved with the documentary. All five scholars were not just critical of the program, but harshly critical. Professor Jonathan Reed went so far as to call it "archeo-porn." Ouch.

In the wake of what can only be called worldwide criticism, the documentarians are doing what most people in their situation do: shooting the messengers. The responses I have seen essentially boil down to: the world disagrees because the world cannot agree, because it is too invested in the truth of what we have the bravery to question. Jacobovici called it "the mobilization of bias." This has been the general thrust on James Tabor's blog for the whole week (Tabor was a close associate on the project, though it does not bear his name), and it hit its crescendo with an early AM post called, "Methinks Thou Protesteth Too Much."

This is the worst kind of elitist nonsense. There is indeed such a thing as "mobilization of bias." This is the type of power that is exercised when options are taken off the table before discussion has begun. Sociologists call it the "second face of power." However, that is not what is going on here. If you look around the web, you will clearly see critics offering evidence to support their critique. Thus, the arguments of critics assume that the claim might be valid. If their thesis is a priori wrong, there is no reason to offer evidence in the first place.

It is one thing to say "They say this, but here are two dozen reasons why they have no business saying this. Thus, I reject it." It is another to say, "They say this, but this simply cannot be true. Thus, I reject it." The latter is the mobilization of bias. The former is mobilization of evidence.

Their claim, then, is fatuous. It seems to me to be an attempt to win the debate by out-flanking the arguments for a last-ditch shot at the critics themselves. We can thus see the ever-widening circle of unfalsifiability that the documentarians seek to create. Not only is the evidence that contradicts their thesis a priori excluded. So also are those who critique the claim. The documentarians want to have a debate between (a) those who think that this tomb belonged to Jesus of Nazareth, and (b) those who are unsure. All and sundry who read the book, who watched the documentary, and who find their claims laughably underdetermined are "biased."

Once again: heads they win, tails you lose.

Final point. Keep an eye on their evolving response. The next step in the cycle will probably be: why can't you just admit that this is possible? There are flashes of this from both Tabor and Jacobovici already. This, too, is fatuous. Anything is possible. Probability distributions never actually touch the x-axis -- which means that all options, at least in theory, are on the table. But that is not the point. The point is that it is highly unlikely. The point is that, when one actually takes the time to assign a probability to this being Jesus of Nazareth's tomb -- one comes up with a ridiculously low number.

Science -- even a "soft" science like New Testament studies -- is not, should not be about delineating all of the things that are possible. It is about making arguments about what is likely, what is expected to happen or to have happened. Making a big fuss about a "sexy" unlikelihood is pseudo-science.

December 11, 2006

Protesting Jimmy

From the Arizona Republic:

Fallout from former President Carter's latest book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, will reach the Valley when Carter visits Tempe on a book-signing tour Tuesday.

The Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix will protest Carter's engagement at Changing Hands Bookstore, denouncing his recent book as irresponsible and insulting to Israelis.

August 29, 2006

The Anti-Semitism Lobby

As if anyone needed further proof of the outright anti-Semitism behind the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby paper, check out this dispatch from Dana Milbank in the Washington Post. In the words of Stephen Colbert, all you need to know: "At the invitation of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), they held a forum at the National Press Club to expand on their allegations about the Israel lobby."

It's really a tour de force of anti-Semitic tropes, from the dynamic duo's usual focus on Bush administration officials with Jewish last names to Walt telling a gaggle of Arab admirers that if one criticizes Israel in America, "it might have some economic consequences for your business."

And then there's this at the end:

Before leaving for an interview with al-Jazeera, Mearsheimer accepted a button proclaiming "Walt & Mearsheimer Rock. Fight the Israel Lobby."

"I like it," he said, beaming.

Beam away, Nazi.

August 28, 2006

The Forgotten War

Michael Totten reports on Israel's other rocket war - the one with Gaza. I thought this piece of dialogue between Totten and his guide was interesting:

"How many rockets are hitting the city right now?" I said.

"Not as many today," he said. "Because of the war in Lebanon."

"What does Lebanon have to do with it?" I said.

"All the journalists forgot about us during the Lebanon war. So the terrorists are waiting for the media to come back before firing rockets again. They don't want to waste those they have."

"That can't be the only reason," I said. "The IDF has been active in Gaza this entire time. Surely that has something to do with it."

"Yes," he said. "Also because of the IDF."

Later two more Israelis repeated what Shika said about Hamas and Islamic Jihad cooling their rocket launchers while the media's attention was elsewhere. I haven't heard any official confirmation from either side that it's true.

On one hand, this makes no sense. Why would Hamas and Islamic Jihad want the world media to focus on them launching rockets into Israel and killing innocent civilians? You'd think that would hurt their cause and that it would be more beneficial to them to be able to get away with attacking Israel without the media paying any attention.

But then it occurred to me why it might make sense after all: Hamas and Islamic Jihad may be waiting for the media, not to report on their attacks but to catalogue the inevitable carnage generated by Israel's response. They need the cameras to focus on the burned out car hit by an IDF missile strike, the chanting of the angry Palestinian mob, and the howls of grief of family members - images we've all grown so accustomed to now they're as predictable as clockwork. In other words, Hamas's missiles don't serve a military purpose so much as they serve as part of the public relations war against Israel.

August 23, 2006

Political Video of the Day

There's a reason people hate peace activists. And this is it:

It's better than some of the staged shots from Reuters in Lebanon, though!

(via Gawker)

As always, send in nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

August 15, 2006

How Bad is Jimmy Carter? Don't Answer That

Honestly, we've reached a point beyond parody when the far left wing German magazine Der Spiegel has to be the one injecting a sense of moral clarity into a discussion with Jimmy Carter:

Spiegel: You also mentioned the hatred for the United States throughout the Arab world which has ensued as a result of the invasion of Iraq. Given this circumstance, does it come as any surprise that Washington's call for democracy in the Middle East has been discredited?

Carter: No, as a matter of fact, the concerns I exposed have gotten even worse now with the United States supporting and encouraging Israel in its unjustified attack on Lebanon.

Spiegel: But wasn't Israel the first to get attacked?

Carter: I don't think that Israel has any legal or moral justification for their massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon. What happened is that Israel is holding almost 10,000 prisoners, so when the militants in Lebanon or in Gaza take one or two soldiers, Israel looks upon this as a justification for an attack on the civilian population of Lebanon and Gaza. I do not think that's justified, no.

And then there was this:

Spiegel: What makes you personally so optimistic about the effectiveness of diplomacy? You are, so to speak, the father of Camp David negotiations.

Carter: When I became president we had had four terrible wars between the Arabs and Israelis (behind us). And I under great difficulty, particularly because Menachim Begin was elected, decided to try negotiation and it worked and we have a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt for 27 years that has never been violated. You never can be certain in advance that negotiations on difficult circumstances will be successful, but you can be certain in advance if you don't negotiate that your problem is going to continue and maybe even get worse.

Spiegel: But negotiations failed to prevent the burning of Beirut and bombardment of Haifa.

By all means, read the rest of the interview. A bit later on, after suggesting Fidel Castro's return to health is "not beyond hope," Carter tells the magazine, "I think I represent the vast majority of Democrats in this country." Republicans will eagerly confirm that Carter has it exactly right.

Olmert Government Going Down

A devastating indictment of the Olmert government by the Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick.

Diplomatically, in the space of five weeks the government managed to undermine Israel's alliance with America; to hand Syria, Hizbullah and Iran the greatest diplomatic achievements they have ever experienced; and to flush down the toilet the unprecedented international support that US President Bush handed to Israel on a silver platter at the G-8 summit.

The UN cease-fire that Olmert, Livni and Peretz applaud undercuts Israel's sovereignty; protects Hizbullah; lets Iran and Syria off the hook; lends credibility to our enemies' belief that Israel can be destroyed; emboldens the Palestinians to launch their next round of war; and leaves IDF hostages Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in captivity.....

Yet the reason that this incompetent, embarrassment of a government must go is not simply because it has delivered Israel the worst defeat in its history. This government must go because every day it sits in power it exacerbates the damage it has already caused and increases the dangers to Israel.

Iran has been emboldened. Its success in the war is now being used by the ayatollahs to support their claim of leadership over the Arab world. In evidence of Iran's success, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met in Cairo with Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. So now, after 27 years of official estrangement, Egypt is moving towards establishing full diplomatic relations with Teheran.

The Palestinians have been emboldened. Hamas leaders and spokesmen are openly stating that just as Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 precipitated the Palestinian terror war in September 2000, so Israel's current defeat in Lebanon will spur the outbreak of a new Palestinian terror war against Israel today.

THE AMERICANS have lost faith in Israel as an ally. After he gave Israel every opportunity to win this war, even signaling clearly that Israel should feel free to go as far as Beirut if necessary, President Bush was convinced that Olmert simply didn't want to fight. The Americans were shocked by Israel's performance. They know that we can win when we set our mind to it and were flummoxed when presented with an Israeli leadership that refused to even try.

Like I said yesterday, I see little chance the Olmert government does not fall.

August 14, 2006

A Well of Good Will

Public Opinion Strategies finds a "well of good will" for Israel in the United States. Fifty-seven to 9 percent, Americans sympathize with Israel over the Arab nations.

Interestingly, though -- if not exactly surprisingly -- that support falls to 50-12 among independents and 43-12 among Democrats. (It's an astounding 83-1 among Republicans.)

The Democrats might not quite be there yet, but they're on their way toward being the anti-Israel party. They're already the weak-on-defense-and-Israel party, so it won't be a long fall.

August 03, 2006

Political Video of the Day

This clip of Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), where he says he is not against Hezbollah, is a bit misleading. It's edited so that Dingell says he's not against Hezbollah, but leaves out that he condemns Hezbollah for the current violence.

Nonetheless, the full clip doesn't particularly make Dingell look good, either. In fact, it's clear he considers Israel and Hezbollah morally equivalent.

The key quote: "I don't take sides for or against Hezbollah or for or against Israel."

July 26, 2006

Opinion on Israel

One more from Pew: Americans stand united behind Israel.

Ex-Con

The Gay Patriot declares Pat Buchanan an ex-conservative.

Sounds about right to me. Anti-Semitism has been on its way out of fashion in the GOP for some time.

(via Insta)

July 20, 2006

'The Israel Lobby'

It seems the Mearsheimer-Walt Israel Lobby paper has given the Left an easy-to-remember code word for "Zionist conspiracy."

Even worse, they think they have plausible deniability as well.

July 14, 2006

Political Video of the Day II

On a more serious note, here's John Bolton before an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council over the situation in the Middle East.

Quote: "No reckoning with Hizballah will be adequate without a reckoning with its principal state sponsors of terror."

(via Outside the Beltway)

July 13, 2006

An Act of War

There's a long, must-read editorial in the Jerusalem Post this morning, but here's the one sentence, Cliffs Notes version:

Hizbullah and Hamas must be dealt direct, heavy blows from which they will not quickly recover.

UPDATE: The New York Times offers limp support for Israel by acknowledging its right to respond, but the editorial contains also this knee-slapper: "calling the rockets an "act of war" by Lebanon's government was not a good idea."

Really? A terrorist group that is part of the ruling coalition of a sovereign government fires rockets into the terrority of another sovereign government killing soldiers and innocent civilians and it's a bad idea to call that an act of war? You've got to be kidding. The kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah was an act of war. Just how fundamentally unserious can the Times' editorial page be when it comes to the global war on terror and matters of national security? Dont' answer that.

By the way, here are two more editorials on Israel worth reading:

Chicago Sun-Times: "the world needs to support Israel in its fight against terrorism and must condemn most harshly this act of war by Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian masters. Their intention is to destabilize further a region that is crying out for pacification."

Chicago Tribune: "All those who hoped that Hamas or Hezbollah would abandon terror when they gained political power must confront the fact that power has only emboldened their impulse to terrorism. This is terror as statecraft, terror by a ruling political party in one instance, and by a leading political party in the other."

July 11, 2006

WaPo: Terrorist Propaganda Outlet

Here's a question: Would the Washington Post grant op-ed space to Hitler?

Well, they've come as close as they might today, printing a screed (linked from the main page) from Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader currently in charge of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas, of course, has as its primary goal the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

Here's a sample:

If Israel will not allow Palestinians to live in peace, dignity and national integrity, Israelis themselves will not be able to enjoy those same rights.

Charming. The Washington Post is paying for ink for Hamas to threaten Israeli civilians, including women and children.

How about this, then: If the Palestinian Arabs chose to elect a government committed to the destruction of Israel, Israelis will no longer pretend there is any such thing as "the peace process."

Meryl Yourish asks a good question: Who actually wrote this piece? Since public figures almost never write their own pieces, and this one is filled with Western buzzwords ("fair and free elections," "democratically elected government, "collective punishment," "resisting the illegal, ongoing occupation," "root causes," "fail to address the underlying conflict," etc. etc.), someone must have helped.

What's more, how much blatant anti-Semitism did the Post have to remove from the first draft?

Usually the Washington Post is a step above the New York Times on these issues. Today, it stained its reputation.

Truly disgusting.

July 05, 2006

Israeli Wife Swap

Is this really such a good idea: an Israeli version of "Wife Swap"?

Meanwhile, the JPost highlights the musings of a 26-year-old "average Palestinian girl" with a blog (Musings of a Palestinian Princess).

Such noble attempts at cross-cultural understanding ...

Regardless, the situation continues to escalate in Gaza.

Of course, the problem isn't those willing to engage in "dialogue." It's the Palestinian Arab terrorists that have no interest in the state they could have tomorrow if they'd stop slaughtering Israeli civilians.

July 04, 2006

No Release

The JPost has an analysis of why releasing Palestinian Arab prisoners to gain the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit would be a terrible idea.

Not only would it invite more terrorist kidnappings, it would be a major political victory for Hamas over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

While "moderates" like Abbas hardly deserve to be taken seriously right now, since they lack the support of their people, it's important that Palestinians come to understand that moderation is the way toward getting what they want -- not more terrorism.

June 29, 2006

Sharon's Way

The JPost has an interesting column on whether the current fighting in Gaza shows that Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan was wrong.

Columnist Larry Durfner says no, Sharon's way is still the right way:

The two IDF soldiers killed at Kerem Shalom this week were the first two fatalities caused by Gazan Palestinians during the 10 months since disengagement.

By comparison, Gazan Palestinians killed 148 Israelis and 11 foreigners in the five years between the September 2000 start of the intifada and last September's completion of the withdrawal, according to Foreign Ministry statistics.

Now, Durfner argues, what's needed is to secure the border with Gaza as Israel secured the border with Lebanon.

And, I might add, to continue treating the Palestinians as in an open state of war with Israel. There is not, and never has been, a peace process.

June 28, 2006

Read Hillel Halkin

Also on the Israeli situation, I would be remiss not to link the most recent column by Hillel Halkin, also written just before the current military operation.

Halkin, who writes a column for The New York Sun (from Israel), is perhaps the sharpest person writing on Israel today -- put down that Tom Friedman column (as if I needed to tell you). And despite his being perhaps one click too far to the Left, I can't recommend his pieces highly enough.

Anyway, with the praise out of the way, here's a bit of his column, titled "An End To Ambiguity":

Make it clear that, as far as the government of Israel is concerned, it and the Palestinian Authority are now in a state of war and that Israeli policies will be adjusted accordingly.

Until now, ever since the creation of the Palestinian Authority by the 1993 Oslo accord, Israel's relations with this Authority have been absurdly ambiguous. On the one hand, the PA has supported anti-Israel terror, both by funding it and its organizations, and by turning a blind eye to it when it has been committed and refusing to bring its perpetrators to justice. Yet on the other hand, because the Palestinian Authority has always publicly disclaimed responsibility for terroristic acts, and has mendaciously asserted that it is not to blame for them and has done all it could to prevent them, Israel has refrained from declaring it an enemy state.

Although this has been a gross charade all along, there have been perhaps justifiable political and diplomatic reasons, from an Israeli perspective, for allowing it to take place. But these reasons have now exhausted themselves. The Palestinian Authority now has a Hamas government - and however this government may twist or turn, and however it may have tried to disassociate itself from the hundreds of Kassam rockets shot from the Gaza Strip into Israel with its complicit knowledge in recent months, it can not disassociate itself from the Hamas soldiers who raided the Israeli outpost on Sunday.

Israel should therefore say to this government: "The charade is over. While we are willing to negotiate through neutral parties a prisoner exchange involving Gilad Shalit, we are also declaring war on you. From now on we will treat you as any country treats another country it is at war with. We will close all our borders with you, cease providing you with all services, and consider any branch of your government, any of its members, and anyone on your side contributing to your military effort, legitimate war targets. We will do our very best to avoid harming civilians, and we will expect you to do the same, but anyone else, from Prime Minister Ismail Heniya down, is from now until further notice a legitimate target. And when you're ready to sue for peace-and-quiet, let us know."

Rest assured that Hamas will sue fast. This time, though, Israel will have to insist that the quiet, if not the peace, be real and lasting.

Bold added. This is the only way for Israel to deal with the Palestinian Arabs.

The election of Hamas officially ended the peace-process charade.

June 27, 2006

Watching Gaza

As Israeli troops move into Gaza, one of the best places to stay tuned for news and commentary will be The Jerusalem Post.

News here.

Opinion here.

In this editorial, written before the move into Gaza, the JPost calls for holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for all acts of terrorism against Israel.

There is no peace process. Especially with Hamas in control. It's time for Israel to take off the gloves.

March 21, 2006

Hardline Hamas

This should be fun:

HAMAS, the militant Palestinian group, has named a government dominated by its own leadership, defying international pressure and confounding hopes that it would moderate its extremist stance. [snip]

President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to approve them but may try to delay the decision until after the Israeli general election on March 28. However, Shaul Mofaz, Israel's Defence Minister, said that if President Abbas accepted the line-up he would "officially turn the Palestinian Authority into a terror entity".

At least the Yale recruiting office knows where to look for future matriculants.

January 13, 2006

Sharon's Legacy

If you're tired of reading glowing eulogies about Ariel Sharon (or if you just plain hate Israel), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the answer in the form of this screed on its opinion page by a Palestinian "information consultant" based in Ramallah:

Anyone who visits the Palestinian territories today must be shocked by the hardship that Palestinians endure. The Israeli occupation, oppressive enough under Sharon's predecessors, is infinitely worse now. Illegal settlements and barriers surround every town, crippling the movement of people and goods. This ghettoization has now been set in stone, by the concrete barrier wall transecting the West Bank. A fearsome structure, allegedly to prevent terrorism, in fact it is gobbling up more Palestinian land, and is designed to end all hopes of Palestinian statehood. Who can make a state out of a collection of ghettoes?

Had he continued, Sharon planned to so demoralize Palestinians that they would accept whatever he offered them. [snip]

Israelis will miss Sharon because he entrenched them in the land of others. But if he earns his place in history, it will be for his sleight of hand in making the world believe that the butcher had become a statesman.

Of course, the author has it exactly wrong - and ironically so. Sharon's legacy as a warrior turned peacemaker is secure. The same cannot be said of Yasir Arafat, who fooled the world into believing he was a statesman but will remembered by history as nothing more than a thug, a terrorist and a cheat whose four-decade rule achieved little, if any, benefit for the lives of the Palestinian people.

January 04, 2006

Sharon's Stroke a Blow to Mideast Progress

The news tonight appears to be grim concerning the fate of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Reports indicate that the 77 year old leader suffered a "significant" cerebral hemorrhage and is undergoing surgery to stop internal bleeding in his brain. Analysis from the Jerusalem Post:

Until ten o'clock Wednesday night, the next Knesset elections seemed tied up in a bag. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had already weathered a minor stroke, his son's conviction of fraud, and what seemed at first like new allegations of bribery against himself. But he continued to roar ahead in the polls. Energetic new leaders in Labor and the Likud proved powerless to stop his new virtual party, Kadima, which only Wednesday gained its highest-yet result in the polls: 42 members in the next Knesset.

That's all over for now. Even if Sharon fully recovers from his major stroke, there is no way that he will be able to act as prime minister during the next couple of months, and full-time election campaigning is definitely out of the question. The question that remains is not what will happen with Sharon - we all wish him good health - but he is out of the picture at least for the coming elections that will have to be held on time.

The question is whether Kadima has a future without Sharon. A significant number of politicians and public figures have joined the party, following Sharon. With him gone, internecine squabbling over the leadership could well break out. The prime minister's responsibilities have been handed over to Finance Minister Ehud Olmert according to law, but few Kadima members will want one of the most unpopular politicians in the country to lead them into the elections.

Over a third of the electorate were willing to vote for Kadima for one reason only. They relied on Ariel Sharon as the country's leader. What is left for them now?

Sharon was the one leader who had the stature and credibility to pull off the unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the planned disengagement from parts of the West Bank. Ehud Olmert, the new Prime Minister, will undoubtedly get a huge boost of support in the short term, but I question his long-term ability to withstand the challenge that will come from Netanyahu on the right.

Charles Krauthammer called this one of "the greatest catastrophes in Israel's history" and unfortunately I fear that may not be an overstatement.