A New York Times article claiming that Yoshka “was most likely a Palestinian man with dark skin” is generating a fierce push-back from the Jewish community.
The executive director of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council, Jeremy Burton, tweeted, “Important to point out that no, Yoshka did not identify as Palestinian. He was a Judean Jew and for him, the term Palestine was that of the Roman occupier.”
A professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University, Steven Fine, responded on the Times comments page that “for sure” Yoshka “was a youngish Jewish man” who “looked like other Jews of his place and time.”
Another Jewish Times reader responded in the comments section, “I am amazed that the author of this article cannot simply state that Yoshka was a Jew. He uses the anachronistic term ‘Palestinian.’ During Yoshka’ lifetime the Romans called the province which they controlled ‘Judea.’ Later they renamed it ‘Syria Palestina.’ Referring to Yoshka as ‘Palestinian’ is simply misleading in the context of his era.”
The editorial director of the Times reader center, Hanna Ingber, responded to the complaint: “You are of course right that Yoshka was Jewish. We never intended to imply that he wasn’t, and we didn’t leave that detail out to make a point, as some readers wondered. The article was focused on what he physically looked like. But again, we do hear your concern.”
A journalist with the Jewish Chronicle in London, Daniel Sugarman, has described the “Yoshka was a Palestinian” claim as “idiocy” and “deliberate historical revisionism designed to deny the Jewish connection to the Holy Land.”
An official at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, told The Jewish Journal newspaper that the claim Jesus was a Palestinian is a “grotesque insult.” The Journal observed this claim is being made not only by the Times but by a Muslim-American Democratic congresswoman who supports the movement to boycott, divest from, and impose economic sanctions on Israel — Ilhan Omar.
Noah Pollak, in a tweet cited by The Daily Wire, called the New York Times article “crazy.” Pollak insisted, “Jesus was not an Arab.”
Personally, I’m tempted to quip that if the Palestinians want him, they can have him. It’s a little unseemly, or at least somewhat ironic, for Jews to be scrambling to claim credit for the founder of a non-Jewish religion. So far as the story can be discerned, though, he does appear to have started out as a Jew. As time went on, at least as told in the Christian Bible, though, he seems to have been doing more of his own thing. His followers turned it into something definitively different from Judaism.
Even so, using the term “Palestinian” to describe Jesus is indeed anachronistic, to the point of being misleading. The Times using its columns to push that false claim is enough to make readers wonder if the Times agenda here has less to do with the ancient history of early Christianity, and more to do with taking sides in the present-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian Arabs.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.