… “The Invention of the Jewish People,” … spent months on the best-seller list in Israel and is now available in English. Mixing respected scholarship with dubious theories, the author, Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University, frames the narrative as a startling exposure of suppressed historical facts. The translated version of his polemic has sparked a new wave of coverage in Britain and has provoked spirited debates online and in seminar rooms.
Professor Sand, a scholar of modern France, not Jewish history, candidly states his aim is to undercut the Jews’ claims to the land of Israel by demonstrating that they do not constitute “a people,” with a shared racial or biological past.
One area that I didn’t much address in my previous posts is Sand’s point that the Jews were not literally “exiled” by the Romans. My understanding was not that the Romans decreed that Jews could no longer live in Judea/Palestine (although they did forbid Jewish settlement in Jerusalem), but that Jewish independence was destroyed and that the depredations of the Romans in putting down the two great Jewish rebellions, in the years 66-73 C.E. and then 132-135 (Bar Kochba’s rise and fall) depleted the land and made it exceedingly difficult for Jews to live as Jews there—even outlawing Judaism for a time after Bar Kochba’s revolt. Irregardless, the widespread devastation made it difficult for a large population to continue to earn a livelihood there.
The longing for the ancestral homeland (whether exactly biological or not, fully a spiritual homeland) is expressed clearly in Jewish liturgy and collective memory for nearly 2,000 years. But it is only the catastrophic antisemitism of the late 19th century and early to mid 20th that made a massive “return to Zion” plausible and even desirable. It is the history of malignant and persistent antisemitism that merits the ire of the anti-Zionist left-wing ideologues, not Zionism—the latter being an amazing and unprecedented popular reaction to oppression by a weak and scattered people.
Finally, I will repeat what I’ve indicated in a prior posting, that all nationalist notions are “an invention.” In the words of Palestinian-American historian, Rashid Khalidi: “National identity is constructed; it is not an essential, transcendent given….” It’s shocking that a left-wing scholar has to be reminded that what defines a “people” is political consciousness rather than biology.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday.