By Alex Kane
There was the tall tale told in front of the UN last month about how the last name Netanyahu is inscribed on a 2,700 year-old ring found next to the Western Wall in Jerusalem–despite the fact that the Israeli prime minister’s family immigrated to historic Palestine and changed their last name from the original Milikovsky. Netanyahu clearly needs a history tutor, and a revealing anecdote published over the weekend in the New York Times magazine shows that need more.
In a dispatch about the opening of a new Islamic art gallery at the Met, Robert Worth, a NY Times Mideast correspondent, reports:
Last month, [Navina] Haidar [the curator of the exhibit] got a taste of public reaction when dignitaries in town for the United Nations General Assembly asked to see the new galleries. One of them was Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who was a model guest, admiring the art and chuckling at a wooden panel from Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. But he stopped short when Haidar showed him a 10th-century Muslim prayer mat that was found on the shores of Lake Tiberias. The date suggested a very early Muslim presence in what is now Israel. Netanyahu asked if it was really that old, Haidar recalled, and she assured him that the carpet had been scientifically dated. But he kept staring at it quizzically. “ ‘I don’t know,’ he finally said, ‘it just doesn’t look that old to me.’ ”
Here we have Netanyahu refusing to acknowledge the well-established fact that there has been an Arab and Islamic presence in Palestine for thousands of years. This comes as no surprise–of course Netanyahu has no interest in acknowledging that fact. It doesn’t jive well with the Zionist narrative of “making the desert bloom” in Palestine– effectively erasing a Muslim and Arab presence there. It’s also an expected response from the leader of a country who is physically erasing historic Muslim sites. But these explanations don’t absolve Netanyahu of the need to get some history right.
So before Israel halts cooperation with UNESCO as a consequence of the cultural body recognizing Palestine, perhaps Netanyahu should sit down with a UNESCO expert to receive some Mideast history tutoring.