Book of Genesis

Has the United Nations become a tool for advancing Muslim nations' religious agenda?

Has the United Nations become a tool for advancing Muslim nations' religious agenda?

It's a journalistic truism that mixing biblical archeology and religious claims with contemporary Middle East politics generally condemns a story to a tar pit of irreconcilability. But of course it's done all the time by all involved parties, with deadly consequences. It's standard fare in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some Palestinians argue that they're indigenous -- and hence the rightful political heirs -- to what today is Israel/Palestine. Their claim -- dubious, I'dsay, given the scarcity of provable evidence -- is that they descend directly from the ancient Canaanite tribes that once roamed the area. That, despite the region's thousands of years of history involving marauding armies and cultural upheaval -- not the least of which was the 7th Century C.E. Arab Muslim conquest of the Levant.

Most traditional Jews (supported by some Christians but not by some anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects) point to the biblical Book of Genesis that says God promised Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) to the patriarch Abraham, making Israel the rightful political power.

This takes us into the realm of theology; either you believe it or or you don't.

Islam, of course, has its own narrative about the land -- and in particular Jerusalem -- further complicating the picture.

Get the United Nations involved and it becomes even more of a briar patch -- which is what's happened of late with the UN's chief cultural agency, the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organizational (UNESCO).

I'm referring to the recent series of votes by UNESCO and its World Heritage Committee that referred to what Jews -- and, hence, Israel -- call (in English) the Temple Mount, and what Muslims -- and, therefore, the Palestinians -- call the Noble Sanctuary. In addition to criticizing Israeli actions there, the resolutions referred to the sites using only their Muslim names.

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Sibling rivalries, religious conflict and another potential hotspot in need of media attention

Sibling rivalries, religious conflict and another potential hotspot in need of media attention

Afavorite journalistic perk of mine was getting on think-tank mailing lists for panel discussions and in-depth interviews involving leading thinkers on subjects in which I am interested.  

For an hour or more you get to hear acknowledged top experts who are tough, if not near impossible, to get to respond to your calls, emails, texts or whatever. And when they do, all you are likely to   get is a brief exchange -- unless you have a special relationship with them or you work for an elite news outlet.

The background information or on-the-record quotes gleaned from such encounters can be invaluable. Plus it often comes with a free sandwich and beverage, or a full meal if you score the right mailing lists.

Thanks to the Web, you no longer have to leave you office, or home, to partake of these events, which are now available to anyone with an Internet connection. That's another big plus, even if I now have to make my own sandwich.

One recent interview, followed by an audience Q&A, I watched online featured Rabbi (and British) Lord Jonathan Sacks, for 22 years the United Kingdom's chief Modern Orthodox rabbi. He left that position in 2013 and now teaches at universities in New York and the UK, when not traveling the world as an esteemed religious leader and philosopher.

The exchange took place before a Council on Foreign Relations audience in New York. Click here to watch the entire 72-minute event.

The subject was 21st Century religious violence -- to my mind the most consequential religion and international story of the moment.

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