In the Spotlight

A New Biography of Mahmoud Abbas

Read my review of a new profile by of Mahmoud Abbas by Grant Rumley and Amir Tibon in the Washington Independent Review of Books. Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat and since 2005 has been president of the Palestinian National Authority. This review of Abbas’ life succeeds at being brisk and objective, but steers clear of some of the complex dynamics between Israel and the Palestinians that a more comprehensive biography would have explored.      

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Jerusalem Day

A Tale of Two Jerusalem Days

Jerusalem Day
May 16, 2017
A couple of years ago I found myself changing my flight to Jerusalem to include a side-trip to Jordan, so that I could meet a friend-of-a-cousin-of-a-friend who had offered to help me with my research. It was difficult to find anything about the man I was to meet, but among the precious snippets I could glean was that he had founded an organization called the Jerusalem Day Society headquartered in Amman. And there was a review in Publishers Weekly indicating he was was a fabulist and an anti-Semite.  Who to trust?
Ground Zero Mosque supporters

Making Moderate Islam by Rosemary R. Corbett

Islam in America
January 9, 2017
Nobody seemed to care that an upscale Islamic community center was being proposed for lower Manhattan until 2010 when Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post christened it “The Ground Zero Mosque”. Sporting its new sobriquet, the proposed project made the familiar leap from scandal rag to cable news to becoming a fetish in America’s culture war.

Other Essays and Reviews

20th Century Palestine

A New Biography of Mahmoud Abbas

July 30, 2017

Read my review of a new profile by of Mahmoud Abbas by Grant Rumley and Amir Tibon in the Washington Independent Review of Books. Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat and since 2005 has been president of the Palestinian National Authority. This review of Abbas' life succeeds at being brisk and objective, but steers clear of some…

Charlie Hebdo Fields of Blood
Politics & Religion

Reading Fields of Blood while watching Charlie Hebdo

January 8, 2015

I know the sorrow I feel for those murdered in Paris - the creative artists, their colleagues and those killed trying to protect them - is shared by a massive international host who revere the norms of civil society and are shocked by the barbarity of the assailants. The attacks were nothing if not an…

Fred Donner and Book
History of Islam

Fred Donner and the Early Days of Islam

January 14, 2015

One of the pleasures I've discovered in the six months I've spent so far on my current project is meeting interesting people, and also discovering how generous some people can be with their time and expertise. This was brought home to me most recently when I met Fred Donner, a distinguished scholar of Islam and…

Trump Theologian The Humanist Noah Kennedy
Politics & Religion

Donald Trump, Theologian

February 24, 2016

Last week James Carroll wrote a sensitive piece in the New Yorker (“The Radical Meaning of Pope Francis’s Visit to Juarez”) about the testy exchange between Pope Francis and Donald Trump regarding immigration. Midway through the brief article and on his way to making the point that the pope held the ethical high ground in the…

Herodium Wikipedia
Archaeology

Ze’ev Herzog and the historicity of the Bible

May 29, 2015

To what extent can we reasonably treat the stories of the Bible as actual historical events? On a recent visit to Tel Aviv, I had a fascinating interview with Dr. Ze'ev Herzog, a distinguished Israeli archaeologist and a leading figure in the debate regarding the "historicity" of the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians call the Old Testament.…

picture of old Qurans being treated
al Haram al-Sharif

Inside an Islamic document restoration facility on al Haram al-Sharif

February 26, 2015

On a recent trip to Jerusalem, I got an unexpected and fascinating tour of a facility just steps away from the Dome of the Rock that is dedicated to restoring old Islamic documents. My host was my new friend Mouhannad, whose family was graciously assisting me with my research and who works as a document restorer in…

recounting battle of little big horn
Christian Zionism

The Persistence of Myth

August 9, 2015

While working on a chapter on Jerusalem during the British Mandate (1917-1948) I ran into one of the private micro-dramas I assume most writers run into and that I learned long ago nobody else is really interested in. But as I thought about it more, there seemed to be a lesson for me that I…

Palestinian Opinion Survey Flag
Opinion Poll

Infographic: New Survey of Palestinian opinion

February 13, 2016

It can be a startling for Westerners to see a scientific poll of Palestinian residents asking, among other things, if they are in favor of a third intifada, but it is an improvement over the not-too-distant past when far too few people cared what Palestinians thought. When the first intifada erupted in December of 1987 it…

Jerusalem Day
Jerusalem Day

A Tale of Two Jerusalem Days

May 16, 2017

A couple of years ago I found myself changing my flight to Jerusalem to include a side-trip to Jordan, so that I could meet a friend-of-a-cousin-of-a-friend who had offered to help me with my research. It was difficult to find anything about the man I was to meet, but among the precious snippets I could…

Barbara Tuchman 1971
20th Century Palestine

Encountering Bible and Sword by Barbara Tuchman

January 28, 2015

Last weekend I faced a solitary thousand-mile roundtrip drive from the Bay Area to San Diego down the largely featureless California Central Valley, a chore that became a delight as I spent the time listening to a book I’d never read, Bible and Sword, by a writer I’ve long admired, Barbara Tuchman. (more…)

Ground Zero Mosque supporters
Islam in America

Making Moderate Islam by Rosemary R. Corbett

January 9, 2017

Nobody seemed to care that an upscale Islamic community center was being proposed for lower Manhattan until 2010 when Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post christened it “The Ground Zero Mosque”. Sporting its new sobriquet, the proposed project made the familiar leap from scandal rag to cable news to becoming a fetish in America’s culture war.…

Mandelbaum Gate Jerusalem
20th Century Palestine

Kai Bird’s Crossing Mandelbaum Gate

February 5, 2016

While doing background reading on the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, I came across Kai Bird's poignant and insightful account of his childhood as the son of American consular officials who served in Israel and Palestine, and who later moved their family to a new assignment in Saudi Arabia in the mid-60's and early…

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Herodium Wikipedia

Ze’ev Herzog and the historicity of the Bible

Archaeology
May 29, 2015
To what extent can we reasonably treat the stories of the Bible as actual historical events? On a recent visit to Tel Aviv, I had a fascinating interview with Dr. Ze’ev Herzog, a distinguished Israeli [...]

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