Arguable: If Jerusalem weren’t Israeli, would Muslims want it?

A picture taken from the Mount of Olives shows the Old City of Jerusalem with Dome of the Rock (R) and the Aqsa mosque (L), on December 10, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLIAHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
The Old City of Jerusalem, seen from the Mount of Olives on December 10.

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O Jerusalem

Here are some of the weekend headlines on the reaction to President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

ABC News: “Angry worshippers lash out against Trump across Muslim world”

USA Today: “Thousands of Indonesians rally at US Embassy over Jerusalem”


The Jordan Times: “Jordan, Turkey to lead Arab-Islamic pro-Jerusalem action”

The Times of Israel: “Muslims pray outside White House to protest Trump Jerusalem move”

France 24: “From Cairo to Kuala Lumpur, Muslims vent fury at Trump’s Jerusalem stance”

NBC News: “Trump Jerusalem move sparks more protests across Muslim world”

Muslims, it would appear, can barely contain their outrage over Trump’s acknowledgement that the capital of the Jewish state is, as it always has been, Jerusalem. But why should locating an embassy in any country’s capital be controversial? There isn’t a member of the Arab League or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation whose right to designate its own capital city is challenged by anyone. In every nation governed by Arabs or Muslims — or, for that matter, by Scandinavians or Africans or Christians or Latin Americans — foreign embassies are located in the capital. Every one, without exception.


Only Israel has been treated differently.

What accounts for this insulting legal anomaly? Often a quasi-legal explanation is proffered. In 1948, a UN General Assembly resolution decreed that Jerusalem should be an international city, ruled neither by Jews nor by Arabs but “under effective United Nations control.” That resolution was a dead letter from the start: When the first Israel-Arab war ended in 1949, Jerusalem was divided. Jordan’s Arab Legion had seized the eastern part of the city; West Jerusalem was in Israeli hands. At no point was Jerusalem governed by the UN.

During the Six-Day War 19 years later, Israel — defending itself against land and air attack by its neighbors — conquered East Jerusalem, tore down the barbed wire and concrete wall dividing the city, and annexed the territory that Jordan surrendered. Since then, all of Jerusalem has been under Israeli rule. One of the few issues on which nearly all Israelis agree is that the city must never again be divided. Some Israeli leaders, bending over backward in the quest for peace with the Palestinian Authority, have suggested that parts of East Jerusalem could become the capital of a future Palestinian state. But that would require Palestinians to make peace with Israel, something they have never yet been willing to do.

By far the most common explanation for the Arab/Muslim hard line on Jerusalem is that the city is supremely sacred in Islam, and so it’s unthinkable to recognize it as the capital of a Jewish state. Journalists routinely describe Jerusalem as Islam’s “third-holiest city,” and identify the Temple Mount as “sacred to both Jews and Muslims.”

In reality, the Jewish and Muslim connections to Jerusalem are not remotely comparable.


The bonds of loyalty and love that bind Jews to Jerusalem are without historical parallel. For more than 3,000 years, Jerusalem has been central to Jewish self-awareness. Jews have been turning toward Jerusalem in prayer and petitioning for the city’s welfare since the reigns of David and Solomon, 16 centuries before the birth of Mohammed. In the Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem is mentioned more than 650 times; in the Koran it is not mentioned even once.

Jews have always lived in Jerusalem, except when they have been massacred or driven out. There has been a nearly unbroken Jewish presence in the city for the past 1,600 years. In modern times — meaning since at least the mid-19th century — the population of Jerusalem has been predominantly Jewish.

Jerusalem is much less important in Islam, and for a logical reason. Mohammed never saw the city or walked its streets; indeed, his Arab followers didn’t conquer Jerusalem until six years after his death. During the centuries when various Islamic dynasties controlled Jerusalem, none established Jerusalem as its capital, or treated it as a significant cultural or economic metropolis. Often they neglected it outright, allowing it to sink into squalor. (Mark Twain, on a tour of the Holy Land in 1867, described Jerusalem — then under Ottoman rule — in “The Innocents Abroad”: “Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village.”)

During the post-1948 years when East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were under Muslim rule, they were ignored by the Arab and Muslim powers. No foreign Arab leader ever paid a visit, not even to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque. Palestinians placed so low a priority on Jerusalem that the Palestinian National Covenant of 1964, the PLO’s founding charter, makes no reference to it. Only when the Jews returned after the Six Day War did the Arabs grow passionate about Jerusalem.

As the scholar Daniel Pipes has shown, this has been the pattern since medieval times. “Muslims take religious interest in Jerusalem when it serves practical interests,” Pipes wrote in 2000. “When those concerns lapse, so does the standing of Jerusalem.”

For instance, Jerusalem was regarded by Muslims as a near-obscure backwater when Crusaders conquered the city in 1099. But as a Muslim counter-crusade developed, Pipes explains, there sprang up “a whole literature extolling the virtues of Jerusalem.” It was only then that Jerusalem came to be described as Islam’s “third-holiest” city. But once Jerusalem was “safely back in Moslem hands in 1187, the city lapsed into its usual obscurity. The population declined. Even the defensive walls fell.”

For the next seven centuries, Jerusalem was largely ignored by the Islamic world. It stayed that way until the British conquest in World War I.

More Pipes:

Only when British troops reached Jerusalem in 1917 did Muslims reawaken to the city’s importance. Palestinian leaders made Jerusalem a centerpiece of their campaign against Zionism.

When the Jordanians won the old city in 1948, Moslems predictably lost interest again in Jerusalem. It reverted to a provincial backwater, deliberately degraded by the Jordanians in favor of Amman, their capital.

Taking out a bank loan, subscribing to telephone service, or registering a postal package required a trip to Amman. Jordanian radio transmitted the Friday sermon not from Al-Aqsa but from a minor mosque in Amman.

Once again, the Muslim passion for Jerusalem was all but nonexistent — until the Jews won the Six Day War.

When Israel captured the city in June 1967, Muslim interest in Jerusalem again surged. The [revised] 1968 PLO covenant mentioned Jerusalem by name. Revolutionary Iran created a Jerusalem Day and placed the city on bank notes. Money flooded into the city to build it up.

Thus have politics, more than religious sentiments, driven Moslem interest in Jerusalem through history.

In short, the Muslim world grows passionate about Jerusalem only when there is political value in doing so. Were there no passionate Israeli commitment to Jerusalem today, we would hear much less about how important the city is to Muslim believers.

For 70 years, Jerusalem has been the capital of the modern state of Israel. For 3,000 years, it has been the city of supreme religious importance. What Paris is to the French, what Mecca is to Muslims, so Jerusalem is to the Jews: their eternal and central city, venerated above all others. Of course Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. All that has changed is that the United States has stopped pretending otherwise. It’s about time.

06/22/2008 Boston, MA Boston Herald newspaper headquarters - Boston Herald publisher Patrick Purcell granted an interview with Boston Globe reporter Joseph Kahn on Tuesday afternoon, June 24, 2008. Story by Joseph Kahn/Globe Staff. Dina Rudick/Globe Staff. Library Tag 12032008
Dina Rudick/Globe Staff
Boston Herald publisher Patrick Purcell.

Heartbreak at the Boston Herald

“We pulled many tricks out of our hat, but the time has come when nothing is left in the hat.”

With those gloomy words, the publisher of Boston’s second-largest newspaper told his staff on Friday that the Boston Herald has filed for bankruptcy and will be sold for a pittance.

“All I ever wanted to do was keep the Boston Herald alive,” Pat Purcell wrote in a letter to the paper’s employees Friday morning. But this is a miserable time in the newspaper business, and the financial pressure is pitiless and relentless. The Herald froze wages, outsourced printing and delivery, and moved to less expensive facilities. It excruciatingly reduced its payroll, shrinking from 900 employees in 2000 to just 240 today. It launched an online radio station and raised its prices. It did all this while striving daily to break stories and give its declining readership a steady supply of news and photos, sports and opinion, all wrapped in the Herald’s trademark attitude: tabloid-feisty and irreverent, pulled together by a newsroom that wears its heart on its sleeve.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. “The terrible reality is that between 2000 and 2017, we reduced our overhead by about $69 million,” Purcell wrote, “but total revenue declined by $81 million.” With no other options remaining, the Herald is declaring bankruptcy and selling itself to GateHouse Media, a vast national newspaper empire known mostly for cutting newsrooms to the bone — and definitely not for wearing its heart on its sleeve. Among other signs of the pain yet to come, GateHouse has let it be known that the Herald’s staff will be cut by a further 30%, and that the company will not assume the pension commitments made to the paper’s unions.

On Friday afternoon, Purcell delivered the bad news in person, taking questions from the Herald’s staffers and sometimes choking up as he answered them. But you don’t have to be the Boston Herald’s publisher, or work in the Herald newsroom, to get a lump in your throat because of the paper’s collapse. Anyone who cares about newspapers, and about the fate of communities that lose them, should be wiping away a tear.

That goes double and triple for those of us who work at The Boston Globe, the Herald’s longtime competitor. The Globe has also gone through hard and painful dislocations, including drastic staff reductions, pay cuts, and threats of being shut down. We know what it’s like. So do newspaper people at just about every daily in America.

Making this all the more poignant for writers, editors, and photographers at the Globe, of course, is that many of us know people at the Herald. Many of us used to work there. I have been a Globe columnist for almost 24 years, but before that I spent 6½ years as an editorial writer at the Herald. I left the Herald newsroom in February 1994, happily moving to a better job, but leaving behind a workplace that I’ve always been grateful I was once a part of.

I had never expected to make a career in newspapers. I was interested mainly in the law, with a side of politics. I’d come to Boston for law school, intending to take the bar exam, join a law firm, and become a judge — a goal I had announced at the age of 6. (I got as far as the law firm.) Now and then, however, scratching a writer’s itch, I would draft an opinion piece, usually about something in the news, and mail it off to opinion editors in the hope of getting published. One of the papers that printed some of these sporadic masterpieces was the Boston Herald. It was nice to get published; getting a modest check for my efforts was even nicer. But that was the extent of my interest in the Herald — or in any other paper.

Then one day, out of the blue, I got a phone call from Shelly Cohen, the paper’s esteemed editorial-page editor. The Herald’s longtime chief editorial writer was retiring, she told me, and she and editor-in-chief Joe Robinowitz wondered if I’d be willing to meet them for lunch and talk about the vacancy. At that lunch, they offered me the job — which I declined, because I had just started a different job, and didn’t think it would be appropriate to leave so soon.

About a year later, I got another call from Cohen, inviting me to another lunch with her and the paper’s new editor-in-chief, Ken Chandler. By that point I was ready to leave the other job, and resolved to say yes if I was again offered the chance to work for the Herald. They offered, I accepted, and in the fall of 1987 I showed up for my first day of work at a newspaper.

I never regretted it. Then as now, the Herald was very much Boston’s No. 2 paper, known as much for its ubiquitous Wingo lottery promotions as for its scrappy style of news coverage. It didn’t matter. Cohen and Chandler were great editors to work for; colleagues in the newsroom were friendly and supportive; the whole atmosphere was encouraging and haimish. And because the editorial-page staff was so tiny, I had no choice but to learn quickly on the job, hastily boning up and editorializing on topics I’d never previously given a moment’s thought to. The Boston Harbor cleanup? Tension in Northern Ireland? The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority? The Bay State’s blue laws? Before I knew it, I was weighing in on all of them.

The Herald afforded me experiences I would never otherwise have had. I moderated debates between congressional candidates. I was in the room when Cardinal Bernard Law rebuked reporters for asking about sex abuse by a priest. I went to Hungary to write about the country’s first post-communist elections. I was on the White House lawn to witness the handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. And when, in 1994, I told Cohen I had accepted a position at the Globe, her response was perhaps the nicest thing any boss has ever said to me. Instead of regretfully telling me I would have to clear my desk out and turn in my key at the end of the day — S.O.P. for those leaving the Herald to go to the competition — she asked only: “How long can you stay?”

Ironically, my very first day at the Globe was the day that Pat Purcell called a press conference to announce that he was buying the Herald from its previous owner, Rupert Murdoch, thus returning the paper to local and independent control. Now, 24 years later, Purcell is giving it up. The Herald’s bankruptcy and sale may not mean the end of the paper, but they are a terrible blow — terrible above all to the paper’s anxious staff, but also to its readers, to its competitors, to the community it has served and covered for so long. It feels like a family member being given a grim medical prognosis. We hurt for the family member reeling from the bad news. And we feel more than a little anxious, knowing we could be next.

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The unsinkable Gloria Negri

Her byline appeared in the Boston Globe for 53 years, which might be a record. When Gloria Negri retired from the paper in 2012, then-columnist Brian McGrory (now the paper’s editor) wrote that she had compiled a record “unlike any journalism career this town has ever seen or will see again.”

Gloria Negri passed away on Sunday morning; she was 91. Her longtime friend, Globe writer Tom Farragher, broke the news in an email to his colleagues, and he took the opportunity to recall just how astonishing that 53-year run was. Here, reproduced with Tom’s permission, is some of what he wrote:

If you ever have the chance – like I have – to review [Gloria’s] career, be prepared to be flabbergasted at its length and breadth.

She once was assigned to a bench in the South End near where the suspect in a string of murders, committed by a man who would later become known as the Boston Strangler, was lurking. She was essentially bait. And up for the assignment.

When men went to the moon, Gloria went to Houston to cover the Apollo moon shots — where she wrote her stories on a typewriter perched in the ladies’ room.

She sipped whiskey at the LBJ ranch in Texas with Lady Bird Johnson, where her dress somehow got ripped and repair work was done with the help of LBJ’s daughters.

She spent a year in South Africa, once driving all night across bush country for an interview with Desmond Tutu.

She went on a morning run with Joe Frazier when he was training for his titanic fight with Muhammad Ali.

She rode an elephant in the circus, rang the Salvation Army bell over a red kettle at Christmastime, followed Margaret Heckler to Dublin, flew to Northern Italy when a major earthquake struck, and had to be told to leave Saigon during the height of the Vietnam War. . . .

She was feisty, stubborn, hysterical, loyal, deeply appreciative of any kindness to come her way, and wonderfully absent-minded. She also was a poet at her keyboard. The woman could flat-out write.

She was not just a colleague and a pathbreaking female journalist, said Tom. She was also “one of the reasons I have fallen in love with this crazy business: Where else would you run into the likes of Gloria Negri?”

Truly, she was one of a kind. May she rest in peace.


My Sunday column was about the Alabama Senate race, and the way in which it has been twisted by abortion politics. Republican Roy Moore is staunchly anti-abortion; Democrat Doug Jones is an equally staunch supporter of abortion rights, even late in pregnancy. Many Alabama pro-lifers are supporting Moore, despite the credible allegations about his behavior with teens, because they elevate the abortion issue above all others. But if they elect someone as tainted as Moore, will that advance the pro-life cause — or irreparably set it back?

My column last Wednesday pointed out that climate change comes with benefits no less than drawbacks. Among climate alarmists, of course, it is heresy to suggest that a warming planet will have its advantages. But the positive developments are not only real, but already underway. They include a greener planet, less famine, fewer deaths from cold weather, opening of ice-choked Arctic waterways to shipping, and more habitat for many species.

Wild Wild Web

The famous anus of Joseph Pujol.

Some birds chirp. This one tap-dances.

You know Robert Doisneau’s famous photograph of a Parisian couple kissing in front of the Hotel de Ville? Check out his other kissing pictures.

The breakfast pastry with the best Twitter feed? Pop-Tarts, no question.

Atheists Turn Out in Droves for Fedora Giveaway Night at Angel Stadium.

OK, you dutifully put all that trash in the recycle bin. Then what happens?

Prince Charles is No. 1 in the line of succession to the British throne. Alexander Windsor, the Earl of Ulster, is No. 25. Here’s everyone in between.

Christmas carols in a minor key.

The last line

“I never saw any of them again — except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.” — Raymond Chandler, “The Long Goodbye” (1953)

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.