Judaism had been “a dynamic and proselytizing religion at least between the second century BCE and the eighth century CE.” Jews later grew cautious about conversion, not wanting to offend the dominant Christian and Moslem authorities. But converts and their descendants made up a large part of the world’s Jews, especially in the lands all around the Mediterranean. Adding to the number, many Jewish men who had migrated to Europe and North Africa took native wives. Some converted, others did not, despite the Jewish rule that religious identity passed from the mother. So while modern Jews may have genetic markers that point to the Near East, they come from a diversity of religious converts with markers pointing elsewhere as well. They are hardly lineal descendants of the ancient Israelites, nor do they embody a significant racial, ethnic, or biological link to ancient Palestine. DON'T BLAME THE KHAZARS FOR TAKING MODERN UKRAINE - OR PALESTINE, By Steve Weissman source)
The quote above very succinctly explains that there is no proof from genetic studies that modern-day Jews are lineal descendants of the ancient Israelites. Similarly there is no proof from genetic studies that modern-day Palestinians are lineal descendants of ancient Israelites, Philistines or Canaanites either. In any case these questions arise: "Can genetics be used as a political argument? Is genetics equivalent to ethnicity?"
Mizrahi Jews, also called “Oriental Jews”, are ethnically, but not necessarily genetically, Middle Eastern, North African and Asian Jews. Between 2,500,000 and 3,000,000 Mizrahi Jews were living in Israel in 2015. (source) Despite their heterogeneous origins, Mizrahi Jews generally practise rites identical or similar to the traditional Sephardic Judaism of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, which is why the line between Mizrahi Jews and Sephardi Jews is blurred. Mizrahi is usually more appropriate when speaking of ethnicity, whereas Sephardi is usually more appropriate when referring to religion. Similarly “Ashkenazi” or Central European Judaism is appropriate for describing the religious rites of non-Mizrahi Jews and is usually inappropriate for describing the ethnicity or genetic make-up of Jews following those rites. (source)
BLOOD BROTHERS: PALESTINIANS AND JEWS SHARE GENETIC ROOTS (source)
Jews break down into three genetic groups, all of which have Middle Eastern origins and which are shared with the Palestinians and Druze. Several major studies published in the past five years attest to these ancient hereditary links. At the forefront of these efforts are two researchers: Harry Ostrer, professor of pediatrics and pathology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, and Karl Skorecki, director of medical and research development at the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa. Back in June 2010, and within two days of each other, the two scientists and their research teams published extensive analyses of the genetic origins of the Jewish people and their Near East ancestry. “The closest genetic neighbors to most Jewish groups were the Palestinians, Israeli Bedouins, and Druze in addition to the Southern Europeans, including Cypriots,” as Ostrer and Skorecki wrote in a review of their findings that they co-authored in the journal Human Genetics in October 2012.
Ostrer’s research on “Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era,” published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, sampled 652,000 gene variants from each of 237 unrelated individuals from seven Jewish populations: Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Italian, Turkish, Greek and Ashkenazi. These sequences were then compared with reference samples from non-Jews drawn from The Human Genome Diversity Project, a global database of genetic information gathered from populations across the world. Each of the Jewish populations, they found, “formed its own distinctive cluster,” indicating their shared ancestry and “relative genetic isolation.” Ostrer’s team also identified two major groups of Jews: Middle Eastern Jews (Iranian and Iraqi) and European/Syrian Jews. The split between these two groups of Jews occurred some 2,500 years ago. (Ray's note: This is when the majority of Jews lived in Babylon and Persia while a minority lived in Palestine and other countries that later became part of the Roman empire.)
Both groups of Jews shared ancestry with contemporary Middle Eastern and Southern European populations. The closest genetic relatives of the Middle Eastern Jews are Druze, Bedouin and Palestinians. The closest genetic relatives of the European group of Jews are Northern Italians, followed by Sardinians and French. (Ray's note: This is because the majority of Jews still lived in Babylon while a minority lived in Palestine and other countries that were part of the Roman empire. Until the mass deportation in 136 C.E. of Jewish zealots who survived the third Jewish-Roman war, the leaders of the Palestinian Jewish community had encouraged both forcible conversion of the native population and intermarriage of Jewish males with female natives, with the proviso that the wife must convert to Judaism before the marriage. After the male population was depleted and Roman soldiers were fathering most of the children in Palestine, the rabbis changed the definition of “Who is a Jew” to descent by the mother instead of the father, apart from rabbinic-controlled conversion which was available to anyone. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome in 380 C.E. the majority of the Jews still living in Palestine, except those living with the rabbinate that was exiled to the towns around Lake Tiberius, converted to Christianity.)
In a 2012 study, Ostrer identified North African Jews as a third major group. In Skorecki’s study on the genome-wide structure of the Jewish people, published in the journal Nature, he and his fellow researchers sampled tens of thousands of genetic variants from the genomes of 121 individuals hailing from 14 Jewish Diaspora communities, and compared these variants with samples drawn from 1,166 individuals from 69 Old World non-Jewish populations. They found that Jews from the Caucasus (Azerbaijan and Georgia), the Middle East (Iran and Iraq) North Africa (Morocco) and Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities, as well as Samaritans, form a “tight cluster” that overlaps with Israeli Druze. This, the authors write, “is consistent with an ancestral Levantine contribution to much of contemporary Jewry.” In addition, a “compact cluster” of Yemenite Jews “overlaps primarily with Bedouins but also with Saudi individuals.” Ethiopian and Indian Jews are more closely related to their own neighboring, host populations. (source)
MIDDLE EAST ORIGINS IN EUROPEAN JEWS
Further evidence for the Middle Eastern origins of Ashkenazi Jews came from a study published in 2014: In that research, which appeared in Nature Communications, a team led by Shai Carmi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem sequenced the complete genomes of 128 people of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. Their analysis revealed that the Ashkenazi Jewish population is “an even mix” of European and Middle Eastern ancestral populations—suggesting, as Carmi writes on the web site of The Ashkenazi Genome Consortium (TAGC), “a sex-biased process, where, say, Middle-Eastern Jewish men married European non-Jewish women.”
Are these genetic ties between Jews, Palestinians, Bedouin, and Druze important in a contemporary context? “It doesn’t matter to me personally,” Skorecki says, “since I think that global human identity supersedes all other considerations.”
“We want to know who we are and where we came from,” Ostrer, who is now studying cancer risks among Ashkenazi Jews and Northern Israeli Druze populations, sums up. Even so, shared ancestry doesn’t necessarily imply a special bond. As Ostrer notes, citing the Biblical tale of Cain and Abel, “the fact that people are related to one another doesn’t prevent their developing extreme hostility to one another.”
Blood brothers: Palestinians and Jews share genetic roots, by Josie Clausiusz
Hebrew (linguistic root ' - b – r) and Arab (linguistic root ' - r – b) share common descent from Semitic root ' - b – r or ' - r – b meaning “wanderer, nomad”. Bedouin, meaning “nomadic Arab of the desert” is the French borrowing from colloquial Arabic badawin "desert-dwellers" from badw "desert, camp". The Hebrews, who according to both myth and probability originated on the eastern side of the Fertile Crescent first entering the land of Canaan on the western side of the fertile crescent at about the same time as the Philistines from the Mediterranean Sea (probably Crete) invaded Canaan, and in time both the Hebrews and Philistines settled down in Canaan amongst the Canaanites. The early leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel, that according to Myth descended from the Hebrew nomads and dominated the local politics of Canaan, except for Gaza and Ashkelon which was dominated by Philistine rulers, subjugated the non-Israelite and non-Philistine populations in their area of power. But they were subordinate to the power of Egypt and Assyria that various tribes made security pacts with. In time, the areas ruled by the tribal areas of Judah (including Benjaminites) and Gaza (including Ashkelonites) that was later called Philistia by the Romans, with the help of the Egyptian garrisons that were permanently stationed in Philistia and Judea, drove out the 10 Israelite tribes to the north together with the Assyrian garrisons that were permanently stationed in Samaria and Galillee into what today is Syria and Lebanon. Those that were able to return later became the Samaritans, whose tribal religion was virtually identical to that of the Judeans before the Baylonian exile. The Judeans were taken into captivity after the Babylonians pushed back the Egyptian garrisons out of Asia completely, and the Philistines, Samaritans, Edomites (from the Beersheba area of Idumea = Edom) in the Negev desert, together with the Canaanites still living in valleys all around Canaan remained to till the soil.
From "The last of the Semites" by Joseph Massad (source)
The “scientific anti-Semitism” of the 19th century postulated that the Jews of Europe were different from Christian Europeans, indeed that the Jews were not European at all and that their very presence in Europe is what causes anti-Semitism. The reason why Jews caused so many problems for European Christians had to do with their alleged rootlessness, that they lacked a country, and hence country-based loyalty. In the Romantic age of European nationalisms, anti-Semites argued that Jews did not fit in the new national configurations, and disrupted national and racial purity essential to most European nationalisms. This is why if the Jews remained in Europe, the anti-Semites argued, they could only cause hostility among Christian Europeans. The only solution was for the Jews to exit from Europe and have their own country. Needless to say, both religious and secular Jews opposed this horrific anti-Semitic line of thinking. Orthodox and Reform Jews, Socialist and Communist Jews, cosmopolitan and Yiddishkeit cultural Jews, all agreed that this was a dangerous ideology of hostility that sought the expulsion of Jews from their European homelands.
It was the Protestant Reformation with its revival of the Hebrew Bible that would link the modern Jews of Europe to the ancient Hebrews of Palestine, a link that the philologists of the 18th century would solidify through their discovery of the family of "Semitic" languages, including Hebrew and Arabic. Whereas Millenarian Protestants insisted that contemporary Jews, as descendants of the ancient Hebrews, must leave Europe to Palestine to expedite the second coming of Christ, philological discoveries led to the labeling of contemporary Jews as "Semites". The leap that the biological sciences of race and heredity would make in the 19th century of considering contemporary European Jews racial descendants of the ancient Hebrews would, as a result, not be a giant one.
When Zionism started a decade and a half after Marr's anti-Semitic programme was published, it would espouse all these anti-Jewish ideas, including scientific anti-Semitism as valid. For Zionism, Jews were "Semites", who were descendants of the ancient Hebrews. In his foundational pamphlet Der Judenstaat, Herzl explained that it was Jews, not their Christian enemies, who "cause" anti-Semitism and that "where it does not exist, [anti-Semitism] is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations", indeed that "the unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America"; that Jews were a "nation" that should leave Europe to restore their “nationhood” in Palestine or Argentina; that Jews must emulate European Christians culturally and abandon their living languages and traditions in favour of modern European languages or a restored ancient national language. Herzl preferred that all Jews adopt German, while the East European Zionists wanted Hebrew. Zionists after Herzl even agreed and affirmed that Jews were separate racially from Aryans. As for Yiddish, the living language of most European Jews <http://www.jewfaq.org/yiddish.htm>, all Zionists agreed that it should be abandoned.
DON'T BLAME THE KHAZARS FOR TAKING MODERN UKRAINE - OR PALESTINE
By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News 03 February 15
The Khazars always take the rap. Nomadic Turkic tribesmen from Central Asia, their medieval empire lay along the Volga River on the steppes between the Caspian and Black Seas in what is now Southern Russia, and also included Crimea and much of present-day Ukraine. Many see them as ancestors of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, giving their story an enduring role in modern racism, even among people who claim to be part of the American, European, and Israeli Left.
Consider three examples:
1) US military commanders spewing a mix of rabid anti-Communism, shameless white supremacy, and virulent anti-Semitism after the Nazi Holocaust.
2) Arguments for and against Zionism based on blood, genes, ethnicity, or race.
3) Claims that the Israelis secretly plan to resettle Ukraine.
As different as these are, the Khazar impact on all three starts with the same story – that a pagan ruler of the warlike empire converted to Judaism during or after the mid-eighth century. Did he? And how do we know?
Jews with Swords?
The conversion most famously appears in a book now republished as The Kuzari, written in the 12th century by the Jewish physician, philosopher, and poet Yehudah HaLevi. Living generations later and half a world away among the Moslems of Spain, HaLevi borrowed the story from Arab writers and an exchange of letters attributed to a leading Spanish Jew named Hasdai ibn Shaprut and Joseph, king of the Khazars, or as he called himself, “King of the Turks.” The highly educated HaLevi told how the Khazar king questioned Christian, Moslem, and Jewish sages about the merits of their faiths. The king, or khagan, found the Jewish argument the most convincing and decided that he and his court should become Jews.
Over the years, Jews have delighted in HaLevi’s account, proud to believe that their people had ruled a kingdom of their own. Historian Simon Schama still shares the joy in The Story of the Jews, as does novelist Michael Chabon in his utterly charming Gentlemen of the Road. But, many more knowledgeable historians reject the story, and none more convincingly than Shaul Stampfer, a professor of Soviet and East European Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2013, Stampfer published a scholarly tour de force called “Did the Khazars Convert to Judaism?” Doing what historians are supposed to do, he systematically examined the original sources, including the widely quoted exchange of letters with King Joseph. Stampfer showed the letters to be counterfeit, probably to make a religious argument, much as HaLevi had used the story to do.
Digging into the story’s other Jewish, Arabic, Iranian, and Christian sources, Stampfer argues that not a single one could be considered reliable or authoritative. Most are second- or third-hand and contain much he shows to be self-contradictory, at odds with the historic or geographical reality, taken from each other, or simply far-fetched. He also looks at a wide range of Byzantine observers, Christian missionaries, and Jewish commentators who knew the Khazars first-hand. Most of them had every reason to report if the Khazar rulers or any significant number of their people were Jewish. Not one ever mentioned that either was the case. They did not even bother to deny that the Khazars were Jewish.
“Many of the most reliable contemporary texts that mention Khazars say nothing about their conversion, nor is there any archaeological evidence for it,” Stampfer concludes. “The story of a Khazar king who became a pious and believing Jew was a splendid story.” But it’s “a legend with no factual basis.”
The Thirteenth Tribe
As difficult as it is to prove a negative, Stampfer did it in a very professional manner, eschewing any political polemics. He then turned to the related question of whether Ashkenazi Jews descend from the Khazars, an idea that is widely credited to Ernest Renan, the nineteenth-century author of Life of Jesus. Jewish historians replayed the theme, none with more impact than the Hungarian-born writer and activist Arthur Koestler, who popularized it in the 1970s in his best-selling The Thirteenth Tribe. A youthful Zionist who went on to serve as a Soviet agent before working with the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom, the ideologically promiscuous Koestler hoped to dilute anti-Semitism by showing that many, if not most, Jews lacked Semitic origins. He hoped in vain.
Adding a scientific twist in 2013, geneticist Eran Elhaik published a study that claimed to prove the Khazar connection. Other geneticists quickly disputed his claim, and Stampfer neatly summed up their arguments and added some of his own in “Are We All Khazars Now?” The puckish Stampfer may have been making a joke with his question, since in poorly pronounced Yiddish, Khazars sounds close to Chazzers, which translates as pigs, the unmistakable symbol of not being kosher.
Stampfer and the geneticists he cites completely debunk Elhaik’s study, especially with their two most fundamental criticisms. Elhaik looked at an extremely small sample of Ashkenazi DNA, taken from only 8 men and 4 women. Far worse, he had no verifiable Khazar DNA against which to compare them. He looked only at samples taken from proxies, present-day Armenians and Georgians, two populations that have absolutely no established link to the Khazars.
Stampfer also touches, though far too briefly, on an everyday fact of life that completely demolishes any possibility of a Khazar connection. If Ashkenazi Jews had descended from Turkic Khazars, Yiddish would necessarily show significant traces of some Central Asian language in its vocabulary, grammatical structure, syntax, or other linguistic features. Scholars have found only a handful of Turkic words, including “davenen” (to pray) and “yarmulke” (skullcap), about which scholars still quibble. The Turks were a major presence in Eastern Europe for many years, and many of their words entered various Slavic languages. But the number of them in Yiddish is far, far fewer than would be the case if Eastern European Jews actually had Turkic origins.
To put this in perspective, many linguists are also unhappy with an alternative theory that Central European Jews and their language came from as far West as the Rhine valley. So, where did they come from? It remains an open question. All we now know on the basis of credible evidence is where they did not come from. Other than in legend, the Khazars were never Jewish and the Ashkenazim never Turkic.
“There is no evidence that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Central Asian ‘Jews with swords,’ and there is every reason to think that they simply came from Central Europe,” as Stampfer sums it up. “The findings of other genetic researchers that the DNA of most Jews seems to link them with other Jews more than with any other group has not been disproven.”
The Jewish Threat
Why, then, has the myth of Jewish Khazars lived on in modern racism and its attendant conspiracy theories?
Start with U.S. military commanders, many of whom had a long history of racial prejudice against Jews as well as blacks. Fellow officers often stood up against these attitudes, but the U.S. Army War College and other military schools honed the prejudice by teaching “racial science,” as historian Joseph Bendersky documented in The “Jewish Threat.” Even after the Army encountered the reality of Hitler’s Holocaust, the prejudice endured, epitomized by no less than Gen. George S. Patton, a celebrated hero of the war and a military governor in America’s occupation of Germany.
“Actually, the Germans are the only decent people left in Europe,” he wrote in August 1945, while describing their Jewish victims at a Yom Kippur service in a displaced persons camp as “the greatest stinking bunch of humanity I have ever seen.” He regularly lamented “pro-Jewish” influence in Roosevelt’s government, the press, and the occupation, seeing most of it as pro-Communist. “I am frankly opposed to this war criminal stuff,” he wrote. “It is not cricket and is Semitic.”
Though barely remembered, this anti-Jewish prejudice became a recurring staple of the Cold War, fed by resurrecting the old Khazar myth. Earlier military thinkers had briefly railed against the Asiatic Khazars to build public support for nationality restrictions in the Immigration Act of 1924. But nothing matched the impact created by the 1951 publication of The Iron Curtain Over America, which warned that “Russian Jews” in both the US and USSR were Khazars, racially predisposed to Communism and an existential threat to white Christian civilization.
Col. John Owen Beaty, the author, had served in Washington in military intelligence, a longtime focal point for racist thinking. This gave him credibility with the brass, helping him provide an easy answer to embittered warriors who felt betrayed by “the loss of China” and military stalemate in Korea. As Lt. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer, the man who ran the air war against Nazi Germany, testified to Congress, “some hidden force or some hidden power” had sold them out.
Beaty, a longtime professor of Old English at Southern Methodist University, couched his scapegoating in scholarly sounding prose salted with sweeping generalizations about history, race, and religion. “We must never forget,” he wrote, “that the Russian people are at heart Christian. They were converted even as they emerged onto the stage of civilized modern statehood, and Christianity is in their tradition – as it is ours.”
Retelling the tale of the Khazars converting to Judaism, Beaty portrayed their “mongrelized” descendants of “mixed non-Russian stock” as the born enemies of the Westernized Russian ruling classes of Nordic Aryan blood. The “Judaized Khazars,” he argued, became the dictatorial and immoral “Russian Jews,” who assassinated czars, founded Bolshevism, and became the “masters of Russia.”
“Stalin, Kaganovich, Beria, Molotov, and Litvinoff all have Jewish blood or are married to Jewesses,” he wrote.
Beaty went on to argue that Russian and Eastern European Jews, all descendants of “the Judaized Khazars,” had immigrated in huge numbers to the United States, where they became “virtually a nation within the nation, and an aggressive culture-conscious nation at that.” Joining the Democratic Party, they dominated the governments of Roosevelt and Truman and organized stab-in-the-back Communist subversion. They were “the hidden force” for which Gen. Stratemeyer was looking.
Dozens of other retired military leaders endorsed Beaty’s racist views. Most of the same former brass publicly defended Senator Joseph McCarthy and fiercely opposed racial desegregation. They also became stalwarts of ultra-right Cold War groups like the John Birch Society, whose founder Robert Welch repeatedly called former general Dwight D. Eisenhower “a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy.”
Gen. Stratemeyer, a key architect of Hitler’s defeat, went on to join the board of the Liberty Lobby’s Willis Carto, an unabashed defender of Hitler and godfather of Holocaust denial. “The vast majority of today’s Jews are racially Khazars,” Carto wrote as late as 2010. And the Khazars themselves descended from Neanderthals, while “the extreme hatred of Jews for others” came from “the atavistic hatred of the Neanderthal for Cro-Magnon/Aryan mankind.”
The Zionist Dream
Whether the Ashkenazim share DNA with Neanderthals, Khazars, or Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews, how would it affect claims to what earlier Zionists used to call Palestine? The answer for anti-Semites is easy. Since the Khazars had no blood ties to the ancient Israelites, the Ashkenazi Jews, who spearheaded modern Zionism, would have absolutely no claim at all.
Would vintage anti-Semites accept the converse? Would proven genetic ties to Palestine and the Palestinians give Ashkenazi Jews any right to “colonize” the land, as the Zionist leaders called their project? Would those ties give them the right to dispossess their distant cousins already living there? Absolutely not, the racists insist, but not for reasons of simple justice and basic human rights that led many of us long ago to reject Zionism’s territorial claims. The racists will simply stop selling the Khazar myth and go back to bashing Jews with old-fashioned Semitic myths, the way former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is already doing.
As the Klan and the Nazis have shown, there can be no compromise with those who rely on genetic inheritance, real or imagined, to make their political arguments. Their “science” is bogus. Their “history” is myth. And their political program invariably harms the “Others,” whether non-whites, non-Europeans, Moslems or Jews, non-Russians or non-Ukrainians. This is the lesson to learn. Yet, the very people who should most have taken it to heart continue to stake their defense of Zionism on blood, genes, ethnicity, and race, to which they add Biblical fiction, rabbinical law, and “history” that never happened.
Just over three thousand years ago, the fable teaches, an Egyptian prince of Hebrew origin called Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery and into the Sinai desert, where they wandered for forty years and received the Ten Commandments in at least three different versions – two in the book of Exodus and another in Deuteronomy. The ancient Israelites then entered the land of Canaan, fought the battle of Jericho, and either did or did not exterminate the local inhabitants, many of whom they later married. They went on to form two separate kingdoms, Israel and Judea, which two storied kings – David and Solomon – supposedly unified.
The Judeans also created the Old Testament, in which the authors had the God Yahweh promise the land to the patriarch Abraham and his descendants as long as they continued to worship Him as the one and only Lord of the Universe. An inspired fiction, the promise appeared in different versions. Was it from the Nile to the Euphrates? From the Red Sea and Mediterranean to the Euphrates? Or did it have smaller borders that were less clear? The Old Testament’s authors could not make up their mind. The Romans then took the land from the Jews and sent them into exile.
“The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people,” proclaimed Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence. “Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.” This was their ancient homeland, in which they strived “in every successive generation to reestablish themselves.”
Well, not exactly. Besides the loose ends in the Biblical narrative, Israeli and other archeologists can find no evidence that the ancient Hebrews were ever slaves in Egypt, while historians can find no evidence that Moses, David, or Solomon ever existed, much as is the case with Jesus. In addition, Israel and Judea never formed a single kingdom, and the Romans never sent (Ray's note” ... all of ...) the Jews into exile. But who needs facts? The story still stirs many souls in the United States and Europe, though more among Evangelical Christians than the ornery majority of Jews, who have historically shown a hesitancy – even now in embattled France – to move themselves to Zion. Send money or visit? Perhaps. Go there to live? Only in the most dire circumstances, and only then if they can find no better alternative.
No one makes this argument more vigorously than the Israeli controversialist Shlomo Sand, a French-trained historian at the University of Tel Aviv. Born to Holocaust survivors from Poland, he spent his first years in a displaced persons camp, one of “the stinking bunch of humanity” that so offended General Patton. His mother tongue is Yiddish, though he now loves Hebrew. He shared his father’s idealistic Communism before shedding its restraints, though he still embraces the humanist values of the democratic left. The idea of “a Jewish state” offends him deeply, just as many Americans find any idea of “a Christian nation” offensive. As for religion, Shlomo Sand has none, seeing himself as no longer of the Jewish faith, but very much a secular citizen of Israel.
In 2008, Sand published an eye-opening book called in English The Invention of the Jewish People, a best-seller in Israel for 19 weeks and now translated into 20 language. He followed it up in 2012 with The Invention of the Land of Israel. Both make fascinating reading, though they both have significant flaws, some of which he admits.
Throughout most of their history, Jews never considered themselves as a nation, Sand argues. In their own eyes, they were highly diverse communities of religious believers, fierce defenders of their monotheistic faith, but not “a people” tied together by blood in the sense of the German term Volk or Russian narod. Many Jews were not of the original Hebrew tribes, but had initially joined the fold by converting from their pagan and polytheistic beliefs or by marrying into the faith without any formal conversion.
Surveying this religious reality, Sand tells how the Hasmonean kingdom of Judea forced the neighboring Edomites in the Negev and the Itureans of the Galilee “to part with their foreskins and become Jews in the full sense of the word.” He recalls the converted Jews of the Adiabene kingdom in what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, in the Himyarite kingdom in Yemen, and among the Falashas of Ethiopia and Berbers of North Africa, on whom he barely dents the surface of a very complex history. At the other extreme, he makes far too much of “the Jewish Khazars” without critically examining the discredited sources on whom Koestler and Jewish historians of the 19th and 20th centuries had relied.
Sand showed a lack of caution here, and now pays a hefty price, as Zionists slam him for his error while ignoring his larger argument, that Judaism had been “a dynamic and proselytizing religion at least between the second century BCE and the eighth century CE.” Jews later grew cautious about conversion, not wanting to offend the dominant Christian and Moslem authorities. But converts and their descendants made up a large part of the world’s Jews, especially in the lands all around the Mediterranean. Adding to the number, many Jewish men who had migrated to Europe and North Africa took native wives. Some converted, others did not, despite the Jewish rule that religious identity passed from the mother. So while modern Jews may have genetic markers that point to the Near East, they come from a diversity of religious converts with markers pointing elsewhere as well. They are hardly lineal descendants of the ancient Israelites, nor do they embody a significant racial, ethnic, or biological link to ancient Palestine.
What, then, of the mantra that for centuries Jews in other lands ritually intoned, “Next year in Jerusalem?” It was a religious sentiment, not a nationalistic call to emigrate. The vast majority of Jews never wanted to go to the Holy Land to live, Sand loves to quip. They only wanted to go to Jerusalem to die, hoping to jump the queue on resurrection.
Zionism changed this religious self-perception, but not in the distant past. The “invention of the Jewish people,” as Sand calls it, came only in the modern era, at a time when intellectuals all over Europe began creating and mythologizing a whole host of new nations. Each would seek to create its own nation-state, or as in the case of France, to bring together a disparate population into a new sense of nationhood. Jewish nationalism, or Zionism, was just one of the pack, strengthened by an upsurge of old-fashioned Christian hatred and new-fangled anti-Semitism based on a supposedly scientific racism.
Sand’s view was fairly standard among European historians, and many Israeli scholars shared it as well, though they were appalled by his attacks on them as nothing more than high priests of the official state ideology, which – like all nationalisms – makes bogus historical and racial claims. Nothing if not provocative, Sand puts the lie to Israel’s official ideology and to those who propound it, and though he himself buys into a different myth – that of “the Jewish Khazars” – he points the way to a far more liberating post-Zionist alternative for Jewish and no-longer-Jewish Israelis, Palestinians, and the majority of the world’s Jews who choose not to live in Eretz Yisrael.
Will Israel Conquer Ukraine?
Our final take on the Khazars comes from Thierry Meyssan’s Voltaire Network, an Internet site that specializes in unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, as I reported last week.
“Israel’s Secret Plan for a ‘Second Israel’ in Ukraine” cried the headline, followed by a breathless lead. “The role of Jewish figures and that of the State of Israel in the Ukrainian crisis has not gone unnoticed considering that this community represents less than 1 percent of the population. However, a secret report in the hands of the Netanyahu administration confirms that Ashkenazi Jews do not originate from the Levant, but are the descendants of the Khazars. This little-known population founded a Jewish empire in the tenth century on the banks of the Black Sea. Therefore, some Zionists see in Ukraine a possible second Israel.”
What an incredible scoop! Wayne Madsen, the author, describes himself as an investigative journalist specializing in the super-secret. But, here he was simply citing a story that had appeared in the March 18, 2014, edition of The Times of Israel, in a blog by Jim Wald, a cultural historian at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Wald titled his blog “Leaked report: Israel acknowledges Jews in fact Khazars; Secret plan for reverse migration to Ukraine.”
Madsen properly attributed his story to Wald. But he never checked Wald’s “facts,” for which the historian never pretended to offer any hard evidence. He had made it all up. There was no leaked report. No Israeli acceptance of the Khazar myth. No secret plan to resettle Ukraine. Nor did Madsen bother to check the two names Wald listed as his Russian and Ukrainian correspondents. As the website “Simply Jews” suggested, Hirsh Ostropoler was an eighteenth century story-teller famous in Yiddish folk lore, while I.Z. Grosser-Spass is a pun in both German and Yiddish for “big joke.” Wald’s story was a complete spoof, which Madsen and Meyssan bought whole hog. So did several other Internet sites eager to smear Israel and “the Jews” with whatever dirt they could, whether credible or not. Like Col. Beaty and other racist conspiracy-mongers, they mistakenly used the Khazar myth in their effort. And, as evidence of their sleuthing skills, they completely missed the give-away clue in Wald’s blog, when he mentioned that the new Jewish settlement in Ukraine would be called Chazerai, which in Yiddish roughly translates as “Crap.”
(A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.")