"The Wandering Who?"
|Wednesday, September 3,2008 10:34|
|By Gilad Atzmon|
University historian, Professor Shlomo Sand, opens his remarkable study of Jewish nationalism quoting Karl W. Deutsch:
A nation is a group of people united by a common mistake regarding its origin and a collective hostility towards its neighbours” 
As simple or even simplistic as it may sound, the quote above eloquently summarises the figment of reality entangled with modern Jewish nationalism and especially within the concept of Jewish identity. It obviously points the finger at the collective mistake Jews tend to make whenever referring to their ‘illusionary collective past’ and ‘collective origin’. Yet, in the same breath, Deutsch’s reading of nationalism throws light upon the hostility that is unfortunately coupled with almost every Jewish group towards its surrounding reality, whether it is human or takes the shape of land. While the brutality of the Israelis towards the Palestinians has already become rather common knowledge, the rough treatment Israelis reserve for their ‘promised soil’ and landscape is just starting to reveal itself. The ecological disaster the Israelis are going to leave behind them will be the cause of suffering for many generations to come. Leave aside the megalomaniac wall that shreds the
“When And How the Jewish People Was Invented” is a very serious study written by Professor Shlomo Sand, an Israeli historian. It is the most serious study of Jewish nationalism and by far, the most courageous elaboration on the Jewish historical narrative.
In his book, Sand manages to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the Jewish people never existed as a ‘nation-race’, they never shared a common origin. Instead they are a colourful mix of groups that at various stages in history adopted the Jewish religion.
In case you follow Sand’s line of thinking and happen to ask yourself, “when was the Jewish People invented?” Sand’s answer is rather simple. “At a certain stage in the 19th century, intellectuals of Jewish origin in Germany, influenced by the folk character of German nationalism, took upon themselves the task of inventing a people ‘retrospectively,’ out of a thirst to create a modern Jewish people.” 
Accordingly, the ‘Jewish people’ is a ‘made up’ notion consisting of a fictional and imaginary past with very little to back it up forensically, historically or textually. Furthermore, Sand - who elaborated on early sources of antiquity - comes to the conclusion that Jewish exile is also a myth, and that the present-day Palestinians are far more likely to be the descendants of the ancient Semitic people in Judea/Canaan than the current predominantly Khazarian-origin Ashkenazi crowd to which he himself admittedly belongs.Khalid Amayreh and many others regard as the “Nazis of our time”.Astonishingly enough, in spite of the fact that Sand manages to dismantle the notion of ‘Jewish people’, crush the notion of ‘Jewish collective past’ and ridicule the Jewish chauvinist national impetus, his book is a best seller in Israel. This fact alone may suggest that those who call themselves ‘people of the book’ are now starting to learn about the misleading and devastating philosophies and ideologies that made them into what
Hitler Won After All
Rather often when asking a ‘secular’ ‘cosmopolitan’ Jew what it is that makes him into a Jew, a shallow overwhelmingly chewed answer would be thrown back at you: “It is Hitler who made me into a Jew”. Though the ‘cosmopolitan’ Jew, being an internationalist, would dismiss other people’s national inclinations, he insists upon maintaining his own right to ‘self determination’. However, it is not really he himself who stands at the core of this unique demand for national orientation, it is actually the devil, master-monster anti-Semite, namely Hitler. Apparently, the cosmopolitan Jew celebrates his nationalist entitlement as long as Hitler is there to be blamed.
As far as the secular cosmopolitan Jew is concerned, Hitler won after all. Sand manages to enhance this paradox. Insightfully he suggests that “while in the 19th century referring to Jews as an ‘alien racial identity’ would mark one as an anti-Semite, in the Jewish State this very philosophy is embedded mentally and intellectually” . In Israel Jews celebrate their differentiation and unique conditions. Furthermore, says Sand, “There were times in
Nationalism In General and Jewish Nationalism In Particular
Louis-Ferdinand Celine mentioned that in the time of the Middle Ages in the moments between major wars, knights would charge a very high price for their readiness to die in the name of their kingdoms, in the 20th century youngsters have rushed to die en masse without demanding a thing in return. In order to understand this mass consciousness shift we need an eloquent methodical model that would allow us to understand what nationalism is all about.
Like Karl Deutsch, Sand regards nationality as a phantasmic narrative. It is an established fact that anthropological and historical studies of the origins of different so-called ‘people’ and ‘nations’ lead towards the embarrassing crumbling of every ethnicity and ethnic identity. Hence, it is rather interesting to find out that Jews tend to take their own ethnic myth very seriously. The explanation may be simple, as Benjamin Beit Halachmi spotted years ago. Zionism was there to transform the Bible from a spiritual text into a ‘land registry’. For that matter, the truth of the Bible or any other element of Jewish historical narrative has very little relevance as long as it doesn’t interfere with the Jewish national political cause or practice.
One could also surmise that the lack of clear ethnic origin doesn’t stop people from feeling an ethnic or national belonging. The fact that Jews are far from being what one can label as a People and that the Bible has very little historical truth in it, doesn’t really stop generations of Israelis and Jews from identifying themselves with King David or Terminator Samson. Evidently, the lack of an unambiguous ethnic origin doesn’t stop people from seeing themselves as part of a people. Similarly, it wouldn’t stop the nationalist Jew from feeling that he belongs to some greater abstract collective.
In the 1970’s, Shlomo Artzi, then a young Israeli singer who was bound to become
All of a sudden
To a certain extent Artzi innocently expresses in his lyrics the suddenness and almost contingency involved in the transformation of the Jews into people. However, almost within the same breath, Artzi contributes towards the illusionary national myth of the peace-seeking nation. Artzi should have known by then that Jewish nationalism was a colonialist act at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian people.
Seemingly, nationalism, national belonging and Jewish nationalism in particular create a major intellectual task. Interestingly enough, the first to deal theoretically and methodically with issues having to do with nationalism were Marxist ideologists. Though Marx himself failed to address the issue adequately, early 20th century uprising of nationalist demands in eastern and central
“Marxists’ contribution to the study of nationalism can be seen as the focus on the deep correlation between the rise of free economy and the evolvement of the national state.”  In fact, Stalin was there to summarise the Marxist take on the subject. “The nation,” says Stalin, “is a solid collaboration between beings that was created historically and formed following four significant phenomena: the sharing of tongue, the sharing of territory, the sharing of economy and the sharing of psychic significance…” 
As one would expect, the Marxist materialist attempt to understand nationalism is lacking an adequate historical overview. Instead it would be reliant upon a class struggle. For some obvious reasons such a vision was popular amongst those who believe in ‘socialism of one nation’ amongst them we can consider the proponents of a leftist branch of Zionism.
For Sand, nationalism evolved due to the “ rapture created by modernity which split people from their immediate past” . The mobility created by urbanisation and industrialisation crushed the social hierarchic system as well as the continuum between past, present and future. Sand points out that before industrialisation, the feudal peasant didn’t necessarily feel the need for an historical narrative of empires and kingdoms. The feudal subject didn’t need an extensive abstract historical narrative of large collectives that had very little relevance to the immediate concrete existential need. “Without a perception of social progression, they did well with an imaginary religious tale that contained a mosaic of memory that lacked a real dimension of a forward moving time. The ‘end’ was the beginning and eternity bridged between life and death.” In the modern secular and urban world, ‘time’ had become the main life vessel which illustrated an imaginary symbolic meaning. Collective historical time had become the elementary ingredient of the personal and the intimate. The collective narrative shapes the personal meaning and what seems to be the ‘real’. As much as some banal minds still insist that the ‘personal is political’, it would be far more intelligible to argue that in practice, it is actually the other way around. Within the post-modern condition, the political is personal and the subject is spoken rather than speaking itself. Authenticity, for the matter, is a myth that reproduces itself in the form of symbolic identifier.
Sand’s reading of nationalism as a product of industrialisation, urbanisation and secularism, makes a lot of sense when bearing in mind Uri Slezkin’s suggestion that Jews are the ‘apostles of modernity’, secularism and urbanisation. If Jews happened to find themselves at the hub of urbanisation and secularisation it shouldn’t then take us by surprise that the Zionists were rather creative as much as others in inventing their own phantasmic collective imaginary tale. However, while insisting on their right to be ‘like other people’ Zionists have managed to transform their imagined collective past into a global, expansionist, merciless agenda as well as the biggest threat to world peace.
There Is No Jewish History
It is an established fact that not a single Jewish history text had been written between the 1st century and early 19th century. The fact that Judaism is based on a religious historical myth may have something to do with it. An adequate scrutiny of the Jewish past was never a primary concern within the Rabbinical tradition. One of the reasons is probably the lack of a need of such a methodical effort. For the Jew who lived during ancient times and the Middle Ages, there was enough in the Bible to answer most relevant questions having to do with day-to-day life, Jewish meaning and fate. As Shlomo Sand puts it, “a secular chronological time was foreign to the ‘Diaspora time’ that was shaped by the anticipation for the coming of the Messiah”.
However, in the light of German secularisation, urbanisation and emancipation and due to the decreasing authority of the Rabbinical leaders, an emerging need of an alternative cause rose amongst the awakening Jewish intellectuals. The emancipated Jew wondered who he was, where he come from. He also started to speculate what his role might be within the rapidly opening European society.
In 1820 the German Jewish historian Isaak Markus Jost (1793-1860) published the first serious historical work on Jews, namely “The History of the Israelites”. Jost avoided the Biblical time, he preferred to start his journey with the
Though Jost was aware of the evolvement of European nationalism, his Jewish followers were rather unhappy with his liberal optimistic reading of the Jewish future. “
From historian Heinrich Graetz on, Jewish historians began to draw the history of Judaism as the history of a nation that had been a ‘kingdom’, expelled into ‘exile’, became a wandering people and ultimately turned around and went back to its birthplace.” 
For the late Moses Hess, it was a racial struggle rather than a class struggle that would define the shape of
The ideological path from Hess’s pseudo scientific racist orientation to Zionist historicism is rather obvious. If Jews are indeed an alien racial entity (as Hess, Jabotinsky and others believed), they better look for their natural homeland, and this homeland is no other than Eretz Yizrael. Cleary, Hess’s assumption regarding a racial continuum wasn’t scientifically approved. In order to maintain the emerging phantasmic narrative, an orchestrated denial mechanism had to be erected just to make sure that some embarrassing facts wouldn’t interfere with the emerging national creation.
Sand suggests that the denial mechanism was rather orchestrated and very well thought out. The
The New Israelite, the Bible and Archaeology
Surprisingly enough, Sand who is no doubt a striking scholar, fails to mention that the Zionist hijacking of the Bible was in fact a desperate Jewish answer to German Early Romanticism. However, as much as German philosophers, poets, architects and artists were ideologically and aesthetically excited about pre-Socratic
German intellectuals during the 19th century were also fully aware of the distinction between
In their effort to resurrect ‘
Astonishingly enough, it didn’t take long before things turned the other way around. As archaeological research become more and more independent of the Zionist dogma, the embarrassing truth filtered out. It would be impossible to ground the truthfulness of the Biblical tale on forensic facts. If anything, archaeology refutes the historicity of the Biblical plot. Excavation revealed the embarrassing fact. The Bible is a collection of innovative fictitious literature.
As Sand points out, the Early Biblical story is soaked with Philistines, Aramaeans and camels. Embarrassingly enough, as far as excavations are there to enlighten us, Philistine didn’t appear in the region before the 12th century BC, the Aramaeans appears a century later and camels didn’t show their cheerful faces before the 8th century. These scientific facts lead Zionist researchers into some severe confusion. However, for non-Jewish scholars such as Thomas Thompson, it was rather clear that the Biblical is a “late collection of innovative literature written by a gifted theologian.”  The Bible appears to be an ideological text that was there to serve a social and political cause.Embarrassingly enough, not much was found in Sinai to prove the story of the legendary Egyptian Exodus, seemingly 3 million Hebraic men, women and children were marching in the desert for 40 years without leaving a thing behind. Not even a single matzo ball, very non-Jewish one may say.
The story of the Biblical resettlement and the genocide of the Canaanite which the contemporary Israelite imitates to such success is another myth.
As much as
Who invented the Jews?
Quite early on in his text, Sand raises the crucial and probably the most relevant questions. Who are the Jews? Where did they come from? How is it that in different historical periods they appear in some very different and remote places?
Though most contemporary Jews are utterly convinced that their ancestors are the Biblical Israelites who happened to be exiled brutally by the Romans, truth must be said. Contemporary Jews have nothing to do with ancient Israelites, who have never been sent to exile because such an expulsion has never taken place. The Roman Exile is just another Jewish myth.
“I started looking in research studies about the exile from the land” says Sand in an Haaretz interview , “but to my astonishment I discovered that it has no literature. The reason is that no one exiled the people of the country. The Romans did not exile peoples and they could not have done so even if they had wanted to. They did not have trains and trucks to deport entire populations. That kind of logistics did not exist until the 20th century. From this, in effect, the whole book was born: in the realization that Judaic society was not dispersed and was not exiled.”
Indeed, in the light of Sand’s simple insight, the idea of Jewish exile is amusing. The thought of Roman Imperial navy was working 24/7 schlepping Moishe’le and Yanka’le to Cordova and Toledo may help Jews to feel important as well as schleppable, but common sense would suggest that the Roman armada had far more important things to do.
However, far more interesting is the logical outcome: If the people of
“No population remains pure over a period of thousands of years” says Sand.  “But the chances that the Palestinians are descendants of the ancient Judaic people are much greater than the chances that you or I are its descendents. The first Zionists, up until the Arab Revolt [1936-9], knew that there had been no exiling, and that the Palestinians were descended from the inhabitants of the land. They knew that farmers don’t leave until they are expelled. Even Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the second president of the State of Israel, wrote in 1929 that, ‘the vast majority of the peasant farmers do not have their origins in the Arab conquerors, but rather, before then, in the Jewish farmers who were numerous and a majority in the building of the land.’”
In his book Sand takes it further and suggests that until the First Arab Uprising (1929) the so-called leftist Zionist leaders tended to believe that the Palestinian peasants who are actually ‘Jews by origin’ would assimilate within the emerging Hebraic culture and would eventually join the Zionist movement. Ber Borochov believed that “a falach (Palestinian Peasant), dresses as a Jew, and behaves as a working class Jew, won’t be at all different from the Jew”. This very idea reappeared in Ben Gurion’s and Ben-Zvi’s text in 1918. Both Zionist leaders realised that Palestinian culture was soaked with Biblical traces, linguistically, as well as geographically (names of villages, towns, rivers and mountains). Both Ben Gurion and Ben-Zvi regarded, at least at that early stage, the indigenous Palestinians as ethnic relatives who were holding close to the land and potential brothers. They as well regarded Islam as a friendly ‘democratic religion’. Clearly, after 1936 both Ben-Zvi and Ben Gurion toned down their ‘multicultural’ enthusiasm. As far as Ben Gurion is concerned, ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians seemed to be far more appealing.
One may wonder, if the Palestinians are the real Jews, who are those who insist upon calling themselves Jews?
Sand’s answer is rather simple, yet it makes a lot of sense. “The people did not spread, but the Jewish religion spread. Judaism was a converting religion. Contrary to popular opinion, in early Judaism there was a great thirst to convert others.” 
Clearly, monotheist religions, being less tolerant than polytheist ones have within them an expanding impetus. Judaic expansionism in its early days was not just similar to Christianity but it was Judaic expansionism that planted the ‘spreading out’ seeds in early Christian thought and practice.
“The Hasmoneans,” says Sand,  “were the first to begin to produce large numbers of Jews through mass conversion, under the influence of Hellenism. It was this tradition of conversions that prepared the ground for the subsequent, widespread dissemination of Christianity. After the victory of Christianity in the 4th century, the momentum of conversion was stopped in the Christian world, and there was a steep drop in the number of Jews. Presumably many of the Jews who appeared around the
The Jews of Spain, whom we believed to be blood related to the Early Israelites seem to be converted Berbers. “I asked myself,” says Sand, “how such large Jewish communities appeared in
As one would expect, Sand approves the largely accepted assumption that the Judaicised Khazars constituted the main origins of the Jewish communities in
In his book Sand manages to produce a detailed account of the Khazarian saga in Jewish history. He explains what lead the Khazarian kingdom towards conversion. Bearing in mind that Jewish nationalism is, for the most part, lead by a Khazarian elite, we may have to expand our intimate knowledge of this very unique yet influential political group. The translation of Sand’s work into foreign languages is an immediate must. (It is forthcoming in French, as reported in Are the Jews an invented people?, by Eric Rouleau).
Professor Sand leaves us with the inevitable conclusion. Contemporary Jews do not have a common origin and their Semitic origin is a myth. Jews have no origin in
However, though Jews do not constitute any racial continuum, they for some reason happen to be racially orientated. As we may notice, many Jews still see mixed marriage as the ultimate threat. Furthermore, in spite of modernisation and secularisation, the vast majority of those who identify as secular Jews still succumb to blood ritual (circumcision) a unique religious procedure which involves no less than blood sucking by a Mohel.
As far as Sand is concerned,
Sand is no doubt a major intellectual, probably the most advanced leftist Israeli thinker. He represents the highest form of thought a secular Israeli can achieve before flipping over or even defecting to the Palestinian side (something that happened to just a few, me included). Haaretz interviewer Ofri Ilani said about Sand that unlike other ‘new historians’ who have tried to undermine the assumptions of Zionist historiography, “Sand does not content himself with going back to 1948 or to the beginnings of Zionism, but rather goes back thousands of years.” This is indeed the case, unlike the ‘new historians’ who ‘unveil’ a truth that is known to every Palestinian toddler i.e., the truth of being ethnically cleansed, Sand erects a body of work and thought that is aiming at the understanding of the meaning of Jewish nationalism and Jewish identity. This is indeed the true essence of scholarship. Rather than collecting some sporadic historical fragments, Sand searches for the meaning of history. Rather than a ‘new historian’ who searches for a new fragment, he is a real historian motivated by a humanist task. Most crucially, unlike some of the Jewish historians who happen to contribute to the so-called left discourse, Sand’s credibility and success is grounded on his argument rather than his family background. He avoids peppering his argument with his holocaust survivor relatives. Reading Sand’s ferocious argument, one may have to admit that Zionism in all its faults has managed to erect within itself a proud and autonomous dissident discourse that is far more eloquent and brutal than the entire anti-Zionist movement around the world.
If Sand is correct, and I myself am convinced by the strength of his argument, then Jews are not a race but rather a collective of very many people who are largely hijacked by a late phantasmic national movement. If Jews are not a race, do not form a racial continuum and have nothing to do with Semitism, then ‘anti-Semitism’ is, categorically, an empty signifier. It obviously refers to a signifier that doesn’t exist. In other words, our criticism of Jewish nationalism, Jewish lobbying and Jewish power can only be realised as a legitimate critique of ideology and practice.
Once again I may say it, we are not and never been against Jews (the people) nor we are against Judaism (the religion). Yet, we are against a collective philosophy with some clear global interests. Some would like to call it Zionism but I prefer not to. Zionism is a vague signifier that is far too narrow to capture the complexity of Jewish nationalism, its brutality, ideology and practice. Jewish nationalism is a spirit and spirit doesn’t have clear boundaries. In fact, none of us know exactly where Jewishness stops and where Zionism starts as much as we do not know where Israeli interests stop and where the Neocon’s interests start.
As far as the Palestinian cause is concerned, the message is rather devastating. Our Palestinian brothers and sisters are at the forefront of a struggle against a very devastating philosophy. Yet, it is clearly not just the Israelis whom they fight with rather a fierce pragmatic philosophy that initiates global conflicts on some gigantic scale. It is a tribal practice that seeks influence within corridors of power and super powers in particular. The American Jewish Committee is pushing for a war against
Is it just
To stand by the Palestinians is to save the world, but in order to do so we have to be courageous enough to stand up and admit that it is not merely a political battle. It is not just
Gilad Atzmon was born in Israel in 1963 and had his musical training at the Rubin Academy of Music,