Times article on book denying Jewish peoplehood

Times article on book denying Jewish peoplehood

The NY Times has just published an article on this acrimonious matter that I’ve blogged on a couple of months ago (see here and there). Reporter Patricia Cohen’s tone is matter of fact:

… “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.

By | 2009-11-25T14:45:00-05:00 November 25th, 2009|Blog|2 Comments


  1. ilona@israel December 18, 2009 at 9:42 am - Reply

    *demonstrating that they do not constitute “a people,” with a shared racial or biological past*-another manipulation, not original one, and pseudoscientific one. Since what moment the group of people consider themself as people, one nation?It is defined by their consciousness,if the group of people feels like one nation-then they are one nation.How come that isolated people, scattered all over the world, can consider themselves and feel themselves as one nation ,if they have no historical, or the national past?????

    • Anonymous July 23, 2012 at 6:13 pm - Reply

      Because they share a common culture.
      I know Shlomo Sand contends that a nation cannot be based upon a religious culture. He is wrong. Look at the Croats, the Serbs or the Bosnians. They have created their national identities on religious basis.
      It doesn’t mean that these countries are theocracies. They have just turned a religious identity into a national one. It’s totally legitimate for a population that loses faith but that is still attached its religious legacy to evolve its religious identity and turn it into a national one.

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