CNN Erases Jews from the Story of Jerusalem

[This article is the third in a series of critiques of CNN’s six-part series, “Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury.” The first critique can be found here, and the second here.]

CNN has a problem with Jerusalem’s history. The network apparently views the utter destruction of the city, including the Second Temple – a historic event of great significance to all three Abrahamic religions – as just not as important to the story of Jerusalem as…Cleopatra.

Part two of the network’s six-part series on Jerusalem – which claims to focus on “a half-dozen critical moments in the city’s evolution” – covers the era of Herod the Great. Approximately fifteen-and-a-half minutes of the episode is spent on Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The destruction of the Temple is given just over two-minutes. Put another way, CNN – in a series on Jerusalem – spent almost as much time (one-and-a-half minutes) on Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s respective suicides – which occurred in Egypt and had little if anything to do with Jerusalem – as it did on the destruction of the Second Temple and much of the city of Jerusalem itself.

To put into context just how little importance CNN attached to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, here is the entirety with which CNN discusses the events:

“(Simon Sebag Montefiore) And [the Romans] ruled it through brutal procurators who were extremely corrupt, and who gradually tormented the Jews into rebellion. And to punish the Jewish people, they destroyed Jerusalem entirely in 70 A.D. The Temple was destroyed. All that’s left of it are the stones of the southeastern and western walls that you can see today.

(Robert Cargill) So all that Herod had worked for – the things that he wanted most, this physical legacy – vanished. Any time Jerusalem has someone come along, who wants everything to himself, for some reason, Jerusalem says ‘that’s not the way the City of God is going to be.’ And that’s because, as history has shown us, the times when Jerusalem is at peace is when this city is shared by its people.

(Simon Sebag Montefiore) The Jews emerge differently from the destruction of the Temple in 70. Instead of praying at the Temple in Jerusalem, they became not linked to a Temple, but in fact linked to the Torah. The Christians, then a small Jewish sect, escaped from the siege, to become a separate religion, separating for the first time from the mother religion of Judaism. And six centuries later, Islam. Mohammed, when he preached his new last revelation of Islam, he argued that the destruction of the Temple marked the withdrawal by G-d of the special blessing bestowed on the Jewish people, giving room for Islam. So in many ways, out of Herod’s Temple and its destruction, came the world we know today.”

Even in the brief couple of minutes it devotes to the event, CNN manages to spend most of it with: (1) a bizarre lecture about “sharing” (without it being clear who Herod was not sharing the city with); (2) a false statement that tries to disconnect Jews from their holiest site in Jerusalem (see below); and (3) making the destruction of the Jewish Temple about Christians and Muslims.

Why would CNN create such a history which glosses over such a seminal event in the history of the very subject, Jerusalem?

An answer seems to emerge when viewed in the context of the pattern of omissions that characterize the series: CNN wants to downplay the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

Regardless of CNN’s revisionism, Jerusalem, and its Temple Mount, is of great significance to the Jewish people.

The Jewish Link to the Temple

A clear example of this is the erroneous claim made in the series by one commentator about the Jewish connection to the Temple:

The Jews emerge differently from the destruction of the Temple in 70. Instead of praying at the Temple in Jerusalem, they became not linked to a Temple, but in fact linked to the Torah.

CNN creates a false dichotomy in Judaism where there is none. Of course Jews were, and are, still linked to the Temple. Not only is the Temple Mount – where the First and Second Temples once stood – the holiest site in Judaism, but Jew’s have an entire day of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples. At Jewish weddings, the ceremony ends with the biblical phrase “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning,” while the breaking of a glass by the groom is done to commemorate the destruction of the Temples. On Yom Kippur and Passover – two of the holiest days in the Hebrew calendar – Jews conclude with the phrase “Next year in Jerusalem.” It is precisely because of their “link” to the Temple that Jews mourned and prayed at the Western Wall since antiquity.

Jewish Rebellions

Regardless, it’s beyond bizarre for CNN to have spent so much time on Cleopatra – whose plotting over Jerusalem never came to fruition anyway – while only mentioning in passing the Jewish rebellions. The first rebellion, beginning in 66 AD, not only saw the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, but much of the rest of Jerusalem. The second rebellion some 50 years later, commonly known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt, saw “awe-inspiring” Roman vengeance that literally changed the face of Jerusalem and the surrounding region. As the historian Paul Johnson writes in “A History of the Jews”:

“Fifty forts where the rebels had put up resistance were destroyed and 985 towns, villages and agricultural settlements. Dio says 580,000 Jews died in the fighting ‘and countless numbers of starvation, fire and the sword. Nearly the entire land of Judea was laid waste.’ In the late fourth century, St Jerome reported from Bethlehem a tradition that, after the defeat, there were so many Jewish slaves for sale that the price dropped to less than a horse. Hadrian relentlessly carried through to completion his plan to transform ruined Jerusalem into a Greek polis. He buried the hollows of the old city in rubble to level the site… These two catastrophes, of 70 and 135 AD, effectively ended Jewish state history in antiquity.”[1]

In other words, Jewish statehood – centered around Jerusalem for a thousand years – came to a cataclysmic end as Jerusalem itself was destroyed, yet CNN treats this fact as a minor footnote to the story of Cleopatra. In a series purportedly about Jerusalem.

The Invisible Jews of the Crusades

After largely passing over the Jewish rebellions, CNN skips over many centuries to arrive at the Crusader era. Part 3 of the series focuses on the period of Richard the Lionheart and his battles with Saladin. The only real mention of the Jewish people comes within the first minute, when the narrator claims:

“The Jewish people have been driven from Jerusalem, and now live in exile across Europe and Africa.”

Not only were Jews still living in the Middle East, but they were present in the Land of Israel. Once again, CNN seems to be trying to downplay the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and Israel by erasing their presence from the entire region of the Middle East.

History records that as the Muslim armies first advanced on the Land of Israel in the 7th century, they were aided by Jewish residents in capturing the nearby cities of Hebron and Caesarea, the latter of which had a population of some 40,000 Jews.[2] In 1099, as Christian armies first recaptured Jerusalem, the Jewish population of the city (having maintained an existence there despite the Roman expulsions a millennia earlier) was massacred alongside the Muslim residents.[3] Once Saladin again took Jerusalem from the Christians in 1187, he “encouraged the Jews to return to their former homes.”[4]

Beyond the land of Israel, Jews had maintained a presence in places like Arabia since the 1st century BC, including playing a role in the story of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.[5] In fact, the Jewish presence in Yemen only ended within the last few years as the last remaining Jews fled the civil war there. Babylon (in what is today Iraq) “became a great center of Jewish culture for 1,500 years” after the destruction of the Temple.[6] During the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries of Persian Empire rule, Jewish settlements could be found across the Persian Empire.[7]

One can only speculate why CNN would make such a false claim that erases the existence of Jews throughout the Middle East. However, CNN again ignores these Jewish communities later in the series, when discussing refugees from the 1947-49 War of Independence (see below), suggesting the writers found these Jews to be inconvenient to their narrative.

Jewish Return and Jewish Majorities

After downplaying the destruction of Jewish statehood in antiquity and the Temple in Part 2 and actively erasing the Jews of the Middle East in Part 3, CNN only begins to focus on the Jewish population again in Part 5, focused on the 1947-49 War of Independence. CNN casts the return and growth of the Jewish population as a result of Hitler coming to power, once again largely ignoring the existing presence of Jews in the land and the role of Jews from throughout the Middle East.

While Jews had long maintained their presence in the Land of Israel, Jews from other, faraway lands had been returning to the Land of Israel for centuries. Approximately 10,000 Jews lived in the Land of Israel by the mid-16th century under Ottoman rule, a period which saw significant growth in the Jewish population of Jerusalem.[8] The population continued to grow into the 18th and 19th centuries, as groups of Jews from places like Europe and Yemen made their journey back to their ancestral homeland in greater numbers.[9]

Tellingly, while CNN presents a number of lines about how Palestinian Arabs worried, in the early 20th century, that “they’ll become a minority in what is their own land,” the network makes a key omission. They already were a minority in Jerusalem – the very subject of the series. As the historian Martin Gilbert wrote, in the modern era “Jews had been a majority there [Jerusalem] since the 1850s.”[10] By 1889, there were 25,000 Jews in Jerusalem compared to 14,000 Arabs in the city.[11] This had, in part, been fueled by the arrival of Jews from Persia and Yemen – Jews which apparently don’t exist in CNN’s narrative – who had arrived and set up communities in Jerusalem during the 1870s and 1880s.[12] By World War I, half of the approximately 100,000 total Palestinian Jews lived in Jerusalem.

Missing Jewish Refugees; Unique Definitions for Arab “Refugees”

Considering the tone of the series, it isn’t very surprising that CNN devotes substantial attention to Palestinian Arab refugees from the 1947-49 war. Equally unsurprising, no mention is made of the Jewish refugees forced out of Arab countries in the wake of the Arab failure to destroy the Jewish State.

Jewish residents leaving the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, captured by Transjordan during the 1947-49 Israeli War of Independence.

For context, an equal or perhaps even greater number of Jews became refugees as a result of the 1947-49 war. Some, such as the approximately 1,300 Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem, were directly expelled from what land was conquered by the Arab armies in the war. The rest were forced out of their homes in Arab countries as a result of anti-Jewish violence and severe discrimination. In 1948, approximately 850,000 Jews lived throughout the Middle East and North Africa (excluding Israel). By 1968, that number would be cut down to under 70,000. Today, just a few thousand, mostly in Morocco and Tunisia. The vast majority ended up in Israel and were integrated into Israeli society.

On the other hand, Palestinian refugees were never resettled or integrated into the Arab countries that launched a war against Israel. Instead, Arab states perpetuated the refugee crisis. As one former UN official put it in 1958:

“The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.”[13]

The Palestinian Arab refugee problem became so central to the war against Israel, a unique definition of what constitutes a “refugee” was even created at the UN; a definition which applies to no other group.

And speaking of unique definitions, CNN manages to come up with its own. During Part 6, one commentator, Fadi Elsalameen, states:

“There were three kinds of Palestinian refugees at the time. West Bank. Gaza. And then there were the Palestinians who were living inside Israel who stayed there after the 1948 war.”

Yes, CNN shockingly manages to label Israeli Arabs who were never actually displaced, who are citizens of Israel, and whose descendants continue to live in the same land, as “refugees.”

Ignoring the existence of Jewish refugees, while including expansive definitions of refugees for Arabs who never left home, just further demonstrates CNN’s disturbing pattern of downplaying and outright erasing Jews from the story while inflating Arab victimhood.

 

Footnotes: 

[1] Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (Harper Perennial 1988), p.142-3.

[2] Norman A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (The Jewish Publication Society of America 1979), p.23.

[3] Martin Gilbert, In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands (Yale University Press 2010), p.54.

[4] Gilbert, In Ishmael’s House, p.60.

[5] Johnson, p.166.

[6] Johnson, p.84-85.

[7] Johnson, p.87.

[8] Stillman, p.89.

[9] Martin Gilbert, Israel: A History (Harper Perennial, 2008), p.3-15; Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (Yale University Press, 2008), p.2-4; Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed (Yale University Press, 2010), p.9.

[10] Gilbert, Israel: A History, p.9.

[11] Gilbert, Israel: A History, p.9.

[12] Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (Vintage Books 2012), p.451.

[13] Harris O. Schoenberg, A Mandate for Terror: The United Nations and the PLO (Shapolsky Publishers 1989), p.182.