Shlomo Sand's "The Invention of the Jewish People"

Shlomo Sand, Professor Emeritus, History, Tel Aviv University

If anything bedevils our world today, preventing great masses of humankind from living in peace, it's the Israel/Palestine conflict. It is a very, very strong belief of the vast majority of Israeli Jews, many other Jews, and sympathetic pro-Zionists of other religions that Jews everywhere have a right to return to their "homeland" of some 2,000 years ago, from which their ancestors were cast out. There, they will create a Jewish state for all the Jews of the world. Only then will Jews be "safe," at least in Israel.

That this "right" interferes with the rights of the "Holy Land"'s indigenous population, both Muslims and Christians, well, that's just the way the ball bounces. Shit happens, eh?

But what if today's Israelis and Jews living elsewhere are not the descendents of the Judeans of so long ago? What if they are not the "seed of Abraham"? What if the whole "right of return" (denied of course, to real Palestinians) is fraudulent? Wouldn't that put a bit of a crimp in that particular rationale?

Now I'll have to disclose that I myself think that even if they all were the "seed of Abraham" it wouldn't give them the "right" to take over Palestine. A source of some pride to me is that part of me that is of Irish heritage, scion of the O'Briens (mum's side), the descendants of Brian Boru, the first king of Celtic Ireland (or so they say). But even that stellar lineage doesn't give me the right to move to Cork, take over some Protestants' home, and kick them out. Or a group of people like me rounding up every Protestant we could find; moving them into a concentration camp; denying them water, electricity, medicine, building supplies, employment, etc.; and making their lives sooooo miserable that even Liverpool would look good. But that's just me. I prefer to live in peace with people.

But what about the Jews returning from exile?

Shlomo Sand's 2008 book, The Invention of the Jewish People, addresses itself to just that question. And, I must say, it's quite a page-turner. (It was published in English in 2009.)

Born in a displaced persons camp in Austria to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Poland, he's a professor emeritus of history at Tel Aviv University, and also teaches at the University of California at Berkeley. As he himself might stress, he's a professor of history, not "Jewish history," or the "history of the Jewish people," usually separate departments in Israeli universities. He's definitely not judeophobic (or, if you prefer, anti-semitic), though I'm guessing many Israelis (and other Zionists) would disagree. Though one of his books is titled, How I Stopped Being a Jew, it's about ceasing to be a certain type of Jew, one that adheres to a "tribal Judeocentrism" subject to the "caprices of the sleepwalking sorcerers of the tribe" (Sand's description), [while at the same time] expressing a deep attachment to the Hebrew language and to a secular ideal of Israel (Wikipedia).

I was so impressed by it that I think everyone else should read it, especially Zionists and anti-Zionists. It really puts the boots to the idea that Jews are a "people," or a "race," or an "ethnicity," and especially not the "seed of Abraham." They are adherents of a religion. Any Chinese of the Han people resident in Beijing could, if s/he wanted to, convert to Judaism, and that wouldn't make them anything other than Han Chinese. Their "Jewishness" would extend to their religion, and nothing else.

What follows is not a book review. I'm not a historian, and Jewish history is certainly not my forté. What I have done is to set out what I've concluded are Sand's major theses, and have given interesting quotes from the book that bear on them.

This post is not a substitute for reading the book. I strongly encourage you to drop this weblog post, right now, and read the book instead. But I know a lot of people won't have the time, and I'm hoping this will be an adequate substitute. It's shorter than the book, I promise.

So here we go. Here's what Sand has to say:


  1. There was no exile.
    The story that the Romans expelled the Jews from Judea/Israel in 70CE, or at any other time, is a myth.

    There is no record of the Romans deporting entire populations from the areas they conquered, and they kept voluminous records. Those conquered were heavily persecuted, of course, and some may have fled, but the population appears to have recovered by the beginning of the 2nd century CE.

    In fact, as Sand points out, the "expulsion" is strangely missing from a lot of history works written by Zionists. "The action of expulsion, such a central and fundamental event in the history of the Jewish people, should have been studied in scores of investigations, yet, amazingly, it has not resulted in a single such work." (p.143)

    "[A] close examination of the historical event that apparently engendered the 'second exile' in the year 70 CE, and an analysis of the Hebrew term 'golah' (exile) and its connotation in late Hebrew, indicate that the national historical consciousness was a patchwork of disparate events and traditional elements. Only in this way could it function as an effective myth that provided modern Jews with a pathway to ethnic identity. The ultra-paradigm of deportation was essential for the construction of a longterm memory wherein an imaginary, exiled people-race could be described as the direct descendants of the former 'people of the Bible.'" (p.130)



  2. The "expulsion" originated as a Christian myth.

    The story that the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem and scattered was originally told by Christians, as Jews' punishment for having crucified Jesus Christ. Jewish rabbinical leaders appear to have appropriated it for their own purposes.


    "Although most of the professional historians knew there had never been a forcible uprooting of the Jewish people, they permitted the Christian myth that had been taken up by Jewish tradition to be paraded freely in the public and educational venues of the national memory, making no attempt to rebut it. They even encouraged it indirectly, knowing that only this myth would provide moral legitimacy to the settlement of the 'exiled nation' in a country inhabited by others." (p.188)


    "In their urgent need to establish a common origin for the 'people' the national historians embraced uncritically the old Christian idea of the Jew as the eternal exile. In the process, they erased and forgot the mass proselytization carried out by early Judaism, thanks to which the religion of Moses grew enormously, both demographically and intellectually. (Ed. note: See next point.) For the Jewish nationalists, Judaism ceased to be a rich and varied religious culture, and turned into something hermetic, like the German Volk or the Polish and Russian Narod, though with the unique characteristic that it comprised an alien, wandering people, unrelated to the territories it inhabited." (p.255-6)


  3. The number of Jews in the world is largely the result of early proselytization.

    There are, however, records that Judaism was at one point a proselytizing religion, spreading far from the area of its original Judean adherents, at a time when monotheism was overcoming polytheism, and Judaism was the only game in town. It spread to Egypt (to the point in the 1st century CE there were as many Jews in Egypt as in Judea), Rome (to the point that Cicero complained about their numbers), Spain, and Eastern Europe (e.g. the Khazars).

    It first, not surprisingly, spread through the Arabian peninsula; later, those Jews were conquered during the spread of Islam. In the southern part of the peninsula, the Himyar Kingdom converted from paganism to Judaism, and lasted some 400 years. Always at war with the Christians of the area, including the Ethiopians across the Red Sea, at least until Islam took over, a small Jewish community survived in the area till the 20th century. (Sand, p.197)

    "North Africa was one of the outstanding successes in the history of proselytization in the Mediterranean region. Although in the third and fourth centuries CE ... the rate of conversion to Judaism slowed down in Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy—the heart of the ancient Western civilization—along the coast of the Maghreb the communities of believers in Yahweh did quite well." (p.200)

    Large communities sprang up also in Antioch and Damascus, and later in Ephesus, Salamis, Athens, Thessaloniki and Corinth in Europe. There was a sect of Berbers, and in sub-saharan Africa the Jews of Ethiopia.

    "There is a good deal of irony in the fact that people who adopted the religion of Moses had been living between the Volga and the Don rivers before the arrival there of Russians and Ukrainians, just as Judaizers had been living in Gaul before it was invaded by Frankish tribes. So, too, in North Africa, where Punics converted to Judaism before the arrival of the Arabs, and in the Iberian Peninsula, where a Judaic culture flourished and struck root before the Christian Reconquista. In contrast to the image of the past that Christian Judeophobes began to promote, and that modern anti-Semites echoed, there had never been in all history a cursed nation-race that was driven out of the Holy Land for killing the divine Messiah, and that settled uninvited among other 'nations.'" (p.248)

    "Inscriptions found in the Roman catacombs testify to the rich religious life of these Jews and to their economic prosperity. The community in Rome was large, and there were also communities in other Italian cities. In short, just before the fall of the Second Temple, there were Jewish believers all over the Roman Empire, as well as in the Parthian territory in the east, in numbers vastly exceeding those of the inhabitants of Judea. From North Africa to Armenia, from Persia to Rome, there were thriving Jewish communities, primarily in large cities but also in towns and even villages." (p.145-6)

    "Given its great scale, the expansion of Judaism in the ancient world cannot be accounted for by natural increase, by migration from the homeland, or any other explanation that does not include outsiders joining it." (Uriel Rapaport, Jewish Religious Propaganda and Prosclytism in the Period of the Second Commonwealth, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, 1965 (in Hebrew)) (p.154 in Sand)

    The conquests of Alexander, the spread of Hellenic culture, and the translation of the Septuagint (First seven chapters of the Old Testament) into Koine Greek contributed to the conversion of many Gentiles to Judaism, to the extent that in the 1st century BCE, there were "hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Jews around the southeastern Mediterranean." (p.165)

    At the height of the Roman Empire, around seven or eight per cent of the Empire's inhabitants professed Judaism. "The word 'Jew' ceased to denote the people of Judea, and now included the masses of proselytes and their descendants." (p.167) Not all Roman leaders were happy about it, and there were mass expulsions from Rome, and sometimes from Italy. But by 64 CE, they had again grown to such numbers that "Cassius Dio wrote that Claudius did not expel the Jews, 'who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the City, he did not drive them out, but ordered them to follow that mode of life prescribed by their [Roman] ancestral customs and not to assemble in numbers.'" (p.168)

    These numbers were not due to any expulsion from Judea, but from conversion amongst citizens of Rome.

    "From Rome, Judaism spilled over to parts of Europe annexed by the Roman Empire, such as the Slavic and Germanic lands, southern Gaul and Spain." (p.171)

    Prior to the triumph of Christianity in the 4th century CE, many, though not all, rabbinical scholars not only accepted proselytes, but recommended they be accepted into Jewish culture with equanimity. "[M]ost scholars maintain that the positive attitude toward, and the acceptance of, converts was always significantly more widespread than its opposite, and possibly the more open approach was stronger outside Judea." (p.175) Later, as Christians discriminated viciously against Jews, "the rabbinical elite of the Jewish minority regarded proselytization as a dark cloud that menaced the community's very existence." (p.178)

    "[Arab historian] Ibn Khaldun apparently assumed that at least some of the Berbers, North Africa's longtime inhabitants, were descendants of the ancient Phoenicians or some other Canaanite population that originated in the vicinity of Syria and converted to Judaism (elsewhere he even speaks of the Himyarite origin of some of the Berbers). The Judaized tribes he lists were large and powerful, and spread across North Africa. Other than the Djeraoua (Jerawa), who inhabited the highlands of Aurès, the Nefouça lived near today's Tripoli, the Mediouna tribes lived in today's western Algeria, and the Fendelaoua, Behloula and Fazaz lived in the territory of Fès, in today's Morocco. Despite the mass conversion to Islam that followed the Arab conquest, these tribal areas roughly correspond to the sites where Jewish communities persisted until modern times." (p.202)

    The Khazar Kingdom in eastern Europe existed from the fourth century CE until the beginning of the eleventh, when Khazaria was conquered by a joint Russian/Byzantine (Christian) invasion. The Mongol invasions of the twelfth century likely spread Khazarian Jews far and wide. There's been a lot of speculation that the Khazars were the source of all the European Jews, but suffice it to say it was likely the source of quite a few.

    "The Khazars were a coalition of strong Turkic or Hunnic-Bulgar clans who, as they began to settle down, mingled with the Scythians who had inhabited these mountains and steppes between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, which was known for a long time as the Khazar Sea.50 At its peak, the kingdom encompassed an assortment of tribes and linguistic groups, Alans and Bulgars, Magyars and Slavs. Over many years, the elites and many others, in a move to monotheism, converted to Judaism, possibly to distinguish themselves from the Byzantines to the west and Muslims to the south.

    "From the sixth century on, Persian testimonies followed by Muslim ones shed light on the early stages of the Khazar saga. They invaded the Sassanid kingdom and harassed its border inhabitants. They got as far as the area around Mosul in today's Iraq. (p.214)

    "There is no doubt, however, that the Khazars' sacred tongue and written communication was Hebrew. The few extant Khazar documents indicate as much, and the Arab writer al-Nadim, who lived in Baghdad in the tenth century, confirms it: 'As for the Turks and the Khazars ... they have no script of their own, and the Khazars write in Hebrew.' (p.218)

    "The Cambridge Document supports the statement ... that the Kagans [Khazar leaders] bore Hebrew names. King Joseph's letter mentions Hezekiah, Manasseh, Yitzhak, Zebulun, Menahem, Binyamin and Aharon. The manuscript mentions kings named Binyamin and Aharon ... " (p.223)

    "Proselytes have always striven to find some direct genealogical link to the patriarchs of biblical mythology, and this tendency affected many of the Khazars, who wanted to believe that they were descended from the Israelite tribes." (p.224)

    "The desire for a sacred genealogy also gave rise to novel cultural markers. The list of kings in King Joseph's letter includes one named Hanukkah, and the Cambridge Document mentions an army commander named Pessah. This original practice of naming people after religious festivals was unknown in biblical times or in the Hasmonean kingdom, nor has it been found in the kingdom of Himyar and its descendants, or among the Jews of distant North Africa. In later times, these names migrated westward to Russia, Poland and even Germany." (p.224)



  4. That period of proselytization has been largely falsified.

    There has been a distinct effort by Zionist historiographers to erase the non-Judean nature of many of the proselyte communities.

    "But this stream of information and insights has not reached the plateau on which resides a certain discipline, called 'The History of the Israelite People' in Hebrew academies. These institutions have no departments of history as such, but rather departments of general history—such as the one I belong to—and separate departments of Jewish (Israelite) history. It goes without saying that my harshest critics come from the latter. Aside from rioting minor errors, they chiefly complained that I had no business discussing Jewish historiography because my area of expertise is Western Europe. Such criticism was not leveled against other general historians who tackled Jewish history, provided they did not deviate from the dominant thinking. 'The Jewish people,' 'the ancestral land,' 'exile,' 'diaspora,' 'aliyah,' 'Eretz Israel,' 'land of redemption' and so forth are key terms in all reconstructions within Israel of the national past, and the refusal to employ them is seen as heretical." (p.x)

    "I should emphasize that I encountered scarcely any new findings—almost all such material had previously been uncovered by Zionist and Israeli historiographers. The difference is that some elements had not been given sufficient attention, others were immediately swept under the historiographers' rug, and still others were "forgotten" because they did not fit the ideological needs of the evolving national identity. What is so amazing is that much of the information cited in this book has always been known inside the limited circles of professional research, but invariably got lost en route to the arena of public and educational memory." (p.xi)

    "From time to time the question "Who is a Jew?" has stirred up the public in Israel, chiefly because of the legal issues it entails. But it has not perturbed the Israeli historians. They have always known the answer: a Jew is a descendant of the nation that was exiled two thousand years ago." (p.18)

    "Whereas the histories of the Judaized Himyarites and Berbers were all but erased from the general consciousness, it was more difficult to leave blank pages in the case of the Khazars. (p.213)

    "From 1951 to the present moment, not a single historical work about the Khazars has appeared in Hebrew. Nor was Polak's Khazaria ever reissued. It served till the end of the 1950s as a legitimate point of departure for Israeli researchers, but it lost this status over the years. Except for one modest MA thesis on this subject, and one (published) routine seminar paper, there has been nothing. The Israeli academic world has been mute on this topic, and no significant research has taken place. Slowly and consistently, any mention of the Khazars in the public: arena in Israel came to be tagged as eccentric, freakish and even menacing." (p.235-6)

    "Although the medieval kingdom of the Khazars existed in distant obscurity, and no gifted theologians had praised and immortalized it as the biblical authors had done in their time and place, it is, however, attested by external sources far more varied and abundant than exist about the kingdom of David and Solomon. Jewish Khazaria was, of course, immeasurably bigger than any historical kingdom in the land of Judah. It was also more powerful than Himyar or the desert realm of Dihya al-Kahina." (p.214)

    "Nevertheless, the fact is that until the 1960s the assumption that the majority of the Yiddish people did not originate in Germany but in the Caucasus, the Volga steppes, the Black Sea and the Slav countries was an acceptable assumption, caused no shock, and was not considered anti-Semitic, as it was after the early 1970s." (p.243)

    "...[A]ny mention of these features and others—from food to humor, from clothing to chants, all connected to the specific cultural morphology of their daily life and their history—scarcely interested the scholars who were occupied in inventing the eternal history of the 'people of Israel.' They could not come to terms with the troublesome fact that there had never been a Jewish people's culture, but only a popular Yiddish culture that resembled the cultures of their neighbors much more than it did those of the Jewish communities of Western Europe or North Africa." (p.247)

    "The writing of national history is not seriously meant to uncover past civilizations; its principal aim thus far has been the construction of a meta-identity and the political consolidation of the present." (p.247-8)

    'A deeper exploration of the ways of life and communication in past Jewish communities might further expose a wicked little fact: that the further we move from religious norms and the more we focus our research on diverse daily practices, the more we discover that there never was a secular ethnographic common denominator between the Jewish believers in Asia, Africa and Europe. World Jewry had always been a major religious culture. Though consisting of various elements, it was not a strange, wandering nation." (p.248)

    "[Maurice Fishberg's] comprehensive work ended with the conclusion that there was no basis for assuming an ethnic unity among modern Jews, nor a Jewish race, any more than one could speak of the ethnic unity of Christians or Muslims, or of a Unitarian, Presbyterian or Methodist race. Fishberg's book was never translated into Hebrew, nor did three other books that continued his scientific legacy attract any attention in Israel: Harry L. Shapiro's antiracist The Jewish People: A Biological History, published in 1960; The Myth of the Jewish Race, a massive tome by Raphael Patai and his daughter Jennifer Patai; and The Myth of the Jewish Race: A Biologist's Point of View, by Alain Corcos. None of them was translated into Hebrew, and their theses were never discussed in Israeli arenas of culture and research." (p. 271-272)



  5. So where did the Judeans go after the Romans conquered them?

    What happened to the original inhabitants of Judea, if they were NOT exiled?

    By the Muslim conquests of the 6th-7th century BCE, there were many Christians and Jews in Judea/Jerusalem. Since they had suffered so under the Byzantine Empire, many Jews welcomed the invading Arabs. Indeed, some who'd escaped their Byzantine oppressors returned with the Arabs as soldiers.

    As Christians and Jews were monotheists, they were treated well under Islamic law. However, non-believers were taxed, while Muslims were not. So many Judeans, naturally, converted to Islam. "In fact, the caliphs' taxation policy had to be modified later, as the mass conversion to Islam by the conquered populations threatened to drain their treasury." (p.181)

    "Belkind argued that the subsequent uprisings, from the Bar Kokhba revolt to the insurgence in Galilee in the early seventh century, indicated that most of the Judeans continued to live in the country for a long time. 'The land was abandoned by the upper strata, the scholars, the Torah men, to whom the religion came before the country,' he wrote. 'Perhaps, too, so did many of the mobile urban people. But the tillers of the soil remained attached to their land.' (Israel Belkind, The Arabs in Eretz Israel Tel Aviv: Hameir, 1928) Many findings reinforce this historical conclusion." (p.183-4)

    "Many Hebrew place names have been preserved, unlike the Greek and Roman names that were meant to replace them. A good number of burial places, sacred to the local inhabitants, are joint Muslim and Jewish cemeteries. The local Arabic dialect is strewn with Hebrew and Aramaic words, distinguishing it from literary Arabic and other Arabic vernaculars. The local populace does not define itself as Arab—they see themselves as Muslims or fellahin (farmers), while they refer to the Bedouin as Arabs. The particular mentality of certain local communities recalls that of their Hebrew ancestors." (p.184)

    "In 1918, future Prime Minister David ben-Gurion and future President Itzhak ben-Zvi wrote of the fellahin indigenous population: 'The fellahin are not descendants of the Arab conquerors, who Eretz Israel and Syria in the seventh century CE. The Arab victors did not destroy the agricultural population they found in the country. They expelled only the alien Byzantine rulers, and did not touch the local population. Nor did the Arabs go in for settlement. Even in their former habitations, the Arabians did not engage in farming ... They did not seek new lands on which to settle their peasantry, which hardly existed. Their whole interest in the new countries was political, religious and material: to rule, to propagate Islam and to collect taxes.' (David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Eretz Israel in the Past and in the Present, Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi, 1979, in Hebrew, 196) (p.185 in Sand)

    "The Arab uprising and the massacre in Hebron, which happened the year Ben-Zvi published his booklet, and subsequently the widespread Palestinian revolt of 1936-39, took the remaining wind out of the sails of the integrationist Zionist thinkers. The rise of a local nationalism made it very clear to the educated settlers that their ethnocentric bear-hug had no future. The inclusive concept briefly adopted by Zionists was based on the assumption that it would be easy to assimilate a "low and primitive" Oriental culture, and so the first violent resistance from the objects of this Orientalist fantasy shook them awake. From that moment on, the descendants of the Judean peasantry vanished from the Jewish national consciousness and were cast into oblivion. Very soon the modern Palestinian fellahin became, in the eyes of the authorized agents of memory, Arabian immigrants who came in the nineteenth century to an almost empty country and continued to arrive in the twentieth century as the developing Zionist economy, according to the new myth, attracted many thousands of non-Jewish laborers." (p.187-8)



  6. In fact, the return, and the creation of Israel, violates rabbinical law.

    Even for believers in the "exile," returning en masse to Judea/Jerusalem is forbidden. The "return from exile" is only to take place when the Messiah appears.

    "A number of rabbinical prohibitions forbade hastening the salvation, and therefore migrating to the source from which it would arise. The most prominent prohibitions were the famous three vows in the Babylonian Talmud: 'That Israel must not [seek to] rise up over the wall; that the Holy One Blessed Be He adjured Israel not to rise up against the nations of the world; that Holy One Blessed Be He adjured the idolaters not to enslave Israel overmuch' (Tractate Ketubot no: 72). 'Rise up over the wall' meant mass migration to the Holy Land, and this clear-cut prohibition affected Jews throughout the ages, instilling an acceptance of exile as a divine ordinance not to be broken. It was forbidden to hasten the end and rebel against God's spirit. To the believers, the exile was not a temporary concrete condition that could be altered by migration across the world, but a situation that defined the entire existing physical world. Therefore, when the Jewish cultural centers in Babylonia declined, the Jews migrated to Baghdad, not to Jerusalem ... " (Heinrich Graetz, History of the Jews, vol. 2, 309-10). (Sand, p.136)



  7. The search for a "Jewish gene" has, perhaps not surprisingly, produced little.

    The rise of nationalism in the 19th century, and the desire of Zionists to fashion an ethnic identity, or for some a "race," for the adherents of their religion, prompted some forays into what's now called genetics, an effort that continues.

    "The concept of the nation as an ethnic entity was upheld, with varying intensity, by all the different Zionist camps, which was why the new biological science captivated so many. The idea of heredity helped justify the claim to Palestine—that ancient Judea that the Zionists ceased to view as a sacred center from which deliverance would come, and by a bold paradigmatic shift revamped as the destined national homeland of all the Jews in the world." (p.257)

    "Nevertheless, the two Zionist leaders [Buber and Jabotinsky], so unalike in their political perceptions, shared a basic ideological hypothesis: Jews have a distinctive blood that sets them apart from other people. The intellectual father of the Zionist right from the 1930s to the present had no doubt about it.

    "'It is quite clear that the source of the national sentiment cannot be found in education, but in something that precedes it. In what?—I thought about this question and answered myself: in the blood. And I persist in this view. The sense of national identity is inherent in man's "blood," in his physical-racial type, and only in that... The people's mental structure reflects their physical form even more perfectly and completely than does that of the individual ... That is why we do not believe in mental assimilation. It is physically impossible for a Jew descended from several generations of pure, unmixed Jewish blood to adopt the mental state of a German or a Frenchman, just as it is impossible for a Negro to cease to be a Negro.'" (Martin Buber, "Judaism and the Jews," in On Judaism, New York: Schocken Books, 1972, 15-16) (p.260-1 in Sand)

    "Borochov regarded the Palestinian fellahin as an integral part of the Jewish race, a population that could easily be welded into the steel structure of socialist Zionism. So did his disciples and the future founders of the State of Israel, Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi—until the Arab uprising of 1929. Initially Borochov contended that, since the locals were as much descendants of the ancient people of Judea as were all the world's Jews, they should be taken back into the body of the nation, while becoming acculturated in a secular manner. The Zionist left would never have considered admitting into the warm bosom of the Jewish people Muslim peasants of a different biological origin. But after the 1929 "pogroms" Borochov reversed this opinion with astonishing speed." (p.262)

    "It should be noted, however, that the Jewish blood theory was not held exclusively by the handful of leading thinkers quoted above. It was popular in all currents of the Zionist movement, and its imprint can be found in almost all its publications, congresses and conferences. Young intellectuals of the movement's second rank copied and distributed it among the activists and supporters, and it became a kind of axiom that inspired dreams and imaginings of the ancient Jewish people." (p. 266)

    "After the Second World War, of course, the use of the terms 'race' and 'blood' became awkward. In 1950, a much-publicized declaration by a number of senior scientists, under the aegis of UNESCO, completely rejected any connection between biology and national cultures, stating that the concept of race was a social myth rather than a scientific fact, after which serious researchers avoided the term. But this general acceptance did not deter the workers in the life sciences in Israel, nor did it undermine the profound Zionist belief in the common origin of the wandering people. 'The Jewish race' disappeared from the vocabulary of conventional research, but it was replaced by a scientific field with a respectable title: 'the study of the origin of the Jewish communities.' Popular journalism dubbed it simply 'the search for the Jewish gene.'" (p. 272)

    In the 1970s-80s, the search for a "Jewish gene," with the hoped-for result being to distinguish Jews from indigenous Palestinians, attracted a lot of enthusiasm, and government funding. "The gates of Western canonical science—mainly in the United States—opened to the industrious Israeli researchers, who regularly blended historical mythologies and sociological assumptions with dubious and scanty genetic findings." (p.275) At first, attention centred on the Y-chromosome, certain mutations of which appeared to be shared by Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, and Israeli Arabs, with others not so much. But:

    "[i]n actual fact, the expanded scientific paper showed a somewhat more complex, and much more confusing, picture: those mutations in the Y-chromosome also indicated that the 'Jews' resembled the 'Lebanese Arabs' more than the Czechs, but the 'Ashkenazis,' as opposed to the 'Sephardics,' were relatively closer to the 'Welsh' than to the 'Arabs.'" (p.276) Later, that study was supplanted by one showing the Ashkenazis and Sfaridim related more closely to the Kurds than to the Palestinians. Unfortunately, research into the origins of Jewish women encountered an "awkward difficulty." A new study showed that Jewish women were not related to any ethnicity of the Near East at all, and also not to each other! A famous study into the genetic make-up of the cohanim (loosely, the Cohens, the priestly clan) produced significant results, while later researchers found nothing distinctive. (p.276)



  8. Israeli Jewish culture is not the culture of world Jewry.

    And then there's Israeli culture itself. Since the "state" of Israel came into being, Israelis have developed a distinctive culture, especially its secular components, which are "hard to define as entirely Jewish, for three main reasons:

    • the discrepancy between it and all the Jewish religious cultures, past and present, is too conspicuous;

    • the Jews of the world are not familiar with it and have no share in its rich variety and evolution;

    • non-Jews in the State of Israel, whether Palestino-Israelis, Russian immigrants, or even foreign workers residing in it, know its nuances far better than Jews elsewhere in the world, and increasingly experience it, even while preserving their own distinctions." (p. 285)


But the main unifying basis for international Jewry, apart from the painful memory of the Holocaust—which unfortunately grants anti-Semitism a permanent, if indirect, say in defining the Jew—remains the old, depleted religious culture (with the genetic demon slithering quietly behind). There has never been a secular Jewish culture common to all the Jews in the world, and the well-known argument of Rabbi Yeshaiahu Karelitz—that "the [secular-Jewish] cart is empty"—was and remains correct.

* * * * *

It is hard to know what to do with this knowledge, how to apply it to our world going forward. It would take way too much, I'd imagine, for committed Zionists (Jewish and non-Jewish) to come to acknowledge that the centuries-old justification for the "return" is entirely fraudulent. Indeed, the most shocking allegation Sand makes, in my opinion the most demonstrative of hideous immorality, is that many practitioners of Jewish history know the "exile" didn't happen, and yet they ignore it and go on mythologizing.

The "exile" is so central to so many Zionists (providing I understand adequately what they constantly say), how are they going to give it up? It's a lot bigger than finding out your parents lied about Santa Claus. It was pretty harmless, until Zionists decided it justified many, many crimes, up to and including genocide, currently ongoing. Now, as a "justification" for a state, it's simply inexcusable.

You can understand Jews have an affinity for Jerusalem, and the land of Judea, even if they don't actually "come from" there. Those places are very important in their religion. But then, Christians and Muslims share that affinity. If hundreds of thousands of Jews had exercised that affinity and moved there, taking care to be respectful of the culture that was already there, to add to it rather than attempt to replace it, I'm quite sure it wouldn't have become the flashpoint for world destruction that it currently is. (But it also wouldn't fit into US geo-political interests, another consideration entirely.)

According to Wikipedia:

[The Invention of the Jewish People] was in the best-seller list in Israel for nineteen weeks. It was reprinted three times when published in French (Comment le peuple juif fut inventé, Fayard, Paris, 2008). In France, it received the "Prix Aujourd'hui", a journalists' award given to a non-fiction political or historical work. An English translation of the book was published by Verso Books in October 2009. The book has also been translated into German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, and Slovene and as of late 2009 further translations were underway. The Invention of the Jewish People has now been translated into more languages than any other Israeli history book.

And yet, and yet ... unless I've missed something, it doesn't seem to have made a big difference in how the genocide (oops, I mean "conflict") is addressed. There must be smarter people than I who can figure out what these revelations mean, and how they should be leveraged, in the fight for the rights of Palestinians. I hope they're working on it.

One thing I'm determined to do, however, is to purge the word "anti-semitism" from my vocabulary, except, of course, when actually talking about Semites, like, for example, the Palestinians, Christian and Muslim alike (and likely some Jews, too), who may actually be the seed of Abraham.

We have a perfectly good word in English which is quite up to the task of describing hatred against people who adhere to Judaism—Judeophobia. European Jews have absolutely no right to claim "anti-semitism" for themselves. The great majority are simply not semites, as Sand has demonstrated. (I've also read other, less compelling, works on the subject.)

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Further reading:

Sand, Shlomo. The Invention of the Land of Israel, London, Verso, 2012 (ISBN 978-1844679461, also in Hebrew, French, German, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Brazilian, Polish, Persian, Czech).

Sand, Shlomo. How I Stopped Being a Jew, London, Verso, 2014 (ISBN 978-1781686980, also in Hebrew, French, German, Arabic, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Brazilian, Polish).

Tony Greenstein, a committed anti-Zionist, knows more about Zionism (and Judeophobia) than any 1,000 of the knuckle-heads currently scurrying down to the Guardian's offices to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of being Judeophobic, a damned "antisemite," don't ya know. I've found his web-site to be a treasure trove for informing oneself of these matters. A very good place to start, in my opinion, is his reply to the 2016 charges against him to the National Kangaroo Court (sorry, National Constitutional Committee) of the Labour Party in the UK. It's quite brilliant. Careful now, he often expresses very strong opinions.

Dihya al-Kahina, the Berber warrior, practitioner of Judaism (maybe a tad idealized)

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