By Oren Rawls

Published July 18, 2003, issue of July 18, 2003.
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Run of the Rumor Mill: Forget the so-called cabal of neoconservative “chicken hawks” whose oil interests supposedly drove the Iraq war redux. The real movers and shakers in occupied Baghdad, according to rumors spreading around the Saddam-less capital, are the Mossad and the Jewish Agency for Israel, under the overall leadership of former Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert.

“Since the fall of Baghdad, and the nonstop statements concerning a warm peace with the renewed Iraq, Jewish property that will be returned, and the flow of tourists and oil to Haifa,” Jack Hugi reports in the online English edition of the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, “Iraqis have begun expressing a concern that Israel will try to gain control over their economy and property.”

The rumors, disseminated in handbills and mosque sermons, allege that Jews have flooded into Iraq to buy up assets. Many Iraqis, Hugi reports, believe the American invasion force was composed primarily of Jewish soldiers whose true mission is to gain control of property. The rumor mill even succeeded in generating a fatwa, or religious decree, permitting the killing of Jews who attempt to acquire Iraqi houses or land.

Just your run-of-the-rumor-mill Arab hate-mongering against Jews? In this case, Hugi argues, Israel actually is to blame — for ignorance, if nothing else.

“In part this campaign is fueled by headlines that appeared in Israel about the possibility of normalizing relations between Baghdad and Jerusalem,” Hugi charges. “The excited Israeli, who was educated from the time he went to boot camp to storm a target without restraint, did not give Iraq even 100 days of grace before talking about peace and normalization. Jews from Iraq began speaking about the return of property; politicians in Israel began speaking about the smell of Iraqi oil. No one paid attention to the fact that, according to international treaty and law, the land of Iraq is under occupation, and that before cooking up plans like these it is best to ask the intended bride.”

* * *

Out of the Box: The discovery last fall of a 2,000-year-old ossuary purported to have contained the bones of Jesus’ brother caused an uproar in the normally grave archaeological world. The contested authenticity of the inscription on the bone box — “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” — had paleographers exchanging words over its age and excavators taking digs at the antiquities market, where the artifact surfaced.

The fortuitous breaking of the ossuary en route from Israel to an exhibit in Canada, though, offered Royal Ontario Museum senior curator Edward Keall a rare chance to put the pieces together.

“The accident provided our team at the [museum] with an opportunity to study the bone box and its inscription in ways that would have been impossible had the box not been broken,” Keall, who curated the Ontario exhibit of the ossuary, writes in the July/August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. “The studies we conducted have convinced us that the ossuary and its inscription are genuinely ancient and not a modern forgery.”

* * *

Both Sides: Which Roe, Rabbi Aaron Bergman asks in the July 12 issue of The Detroit News, was right? Is it the woman who brought the landmark case before the Supreme Court in 1973, or the same woman who, after years of introspection, now wants abortion banned?

A complex question, he answers, and one to which Judaism is unlikely to provide guidance.

“Invoking religion in general as guiding principle in solving this dilemma is not useful,” he writes of the abortion debate. “There is no one religious approach that is going to satisfy every person in America.”

With opinions split on “the single most decisive issue in America since slavery,” Bergman makes an appeal for reasoned discourse.

“I do hope everyone involved in the abortion debate recognizes that even his or her own opponents have a deep love of human life, and that no woman chooses abortion lightly or without examining her own conscience,” he urges. “Let people on every side of this complex and painful issue stop the rhetoric of hate and intolerance and find a way to at least understand the other point of view.”

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