THE WANDERING WHO?
COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 25 Oct 2009
Tel Aviv 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.”1
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 Holy land into enclaves of deprivation and starvation, Israel has managed to pollute its main rivers and streams with nuclear and chemical waste.
The Invention of the Jewish People 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.
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 Khalid Amayreh and many others regard as the “Nazis of our time.”
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.”2 In Israel Jews celebrate their differentiation and unique conditions.
Furthermore, says Sand, “There were times in Europe when one would be labelled as an anti-Semite for claiming that all Jews belong to a nation of an alien type. Nowadays, claiming that Jews have never been and still aren’t people or a nation, would tag one as a Jew hater.”2
It is indeed pretty puzzling that the only people who managed to maintain and sustain a racially orientated, expansionist and genocidal national identity that is not at all different from Nazi ethnic ideology are the Jews who were, amongst others, the leading targeted victims of the Nazi ideology and practice.
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 mass 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 Israel’s all-time greatest rock star, released a song that had become a smash hit in a matter of hours. Here are the first few lines:
All of a sudden
A man wakes up
In the morning
He feels he is people
And he starts to walk
And to everyone he comes across
He says shalom
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 illusionist 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 Europe caught Lenin and Stalin unprepared.
“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.”3 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…”3
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”.4 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.”4
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 Judea Kingdom, he also compiled an historical narrative of different Jewish communities around the world. Jost realised that the Jews of his time did not form an ethnic continuum.
He grasped that Israelites from place to place were rather different. Hence, he thought there was nothing in the world that should stop Jews from total assimilation. Jost believed that within the spirit of enlightenment, both the Germans and the Jews would turn their back to the oppressive religious institution and would form a healthy nation based on a growing geographically orientated sense of belonging.
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 Europe. Accordingly, suggests Hess, Jews better return and reflect on their cultural heritage and ethnic origin. For Hess, the conflict between Jews and Gentiles was the product of racial differentiation, hence, unavoidable.
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 Hebrew University decision in the 1930’s to split Jewish History and General History into two distinct departments was far more than just a matter of convenience. The logos behind the split is a glimpse into Jewish self-realisation. In the eyes of Jewish academics, the Jewish condition and Jewish psyche were unique and should be studied separately.
Apparently, even within Jewish academia, a supreme status is reserved for the Jews, their history and their self-perception. As Sand insightfully unveils, within the Jewish Studies departments the researcher is scattering between the mythological and the scientific while the myth maintains its primacy. Yet, it often gets into a stalling dilemma by the ‘small devious facts.’
The New Israelite, the Bible, and Archaeology
In Palestine, the new Jews and later the Israelis were determined to recruit the Old Testament and to transform it into the amalgamate code of the future Jew. The ‘nationalisation’ of the Bible was there to plant in young Jews the idea that they are the direct followers of their great ancient ancestors. Bearing in mind the fact that nationalisation was largely a secular movement, the Bible was stripped of its spiritual and religious meaning.
Instead, it was viewed as an historical text describing a real chain of events in the past. The Jews who had now managed to kill their God learned to believe in themselves. Massada, Samson and Bar Kochva became suicidal master narratives. In the light of their heroic ancestors, Jews learned to love themselves as much as they hate others, except that this time they possessed the military might to inflict real pain on their neighbours.
More concerning was the fact that instead of a supernatural entity — namely God — who command them to invade the land and execute a genocide and to rob their ‘promised land’ of its indigenous inhabitants, within their national revival project it was them as themselves, Herzl, Jabotinsky, Weitzman, Ben Gurion, Sharon, Peres, Barak who decided to expel, destroy and kill. Instead of God, it was then the Jews killing in the name of Jewish people. They did it while Jewish symbols decorate their planes and tanks. They followed commands that where given in the newly restored language of their ancestors.
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 Greece, they knew very well that they were not exactly Hellenism’s sons and daughters. The nationalist Jew took it one step further, he bound oneself into a phantasmic blood chain with his mythical ancestors, not before long he restored their ancient language. Rather than a sacred tongue, Hebrew had become a spoken language. German Early Romanticist never went that far.
German intellectuals during the 19th century were also fully aware of the distinction between Athens and Jerusalem. For them, Athens stood for universal, the epic chapter of humanity and humanism. Jerusalem was, on the contrary, the grand chapter of tribal barbarism. Jerusalem was a representation of the banal, non-universal, monotheistic merciless God, the one who kills the elder and the infant.
The Germanic Early Romantic era left us with Hegel, Nietzsche, Fichte and Heidegger and a just a few Jewish self-haters, leading amongst them, Otto Weininger. The Jerusalemite left us with not a single master ideological thinker. Some German Jewish second-rate scholars tried to preach Jerusalem in the Germanic exedra, amongst them were Herman Cohen, Franz Rosenzveig and Ernst Bloch. They obviously failed to notice that it was the traces of Jerusalem in Christianity, which German Early Romanticists despised.
In their effort to resurrect ‘Jerusalem,’ archaeology was recruited to provide the Zionist epos with its necessary ‘scientific’ ground. Archaeology was there to unify the Biblical time with the moment of revival. Probably the most astonishing moment of this bizarre trend was the 1982 ‘military burial ceremony’ of the bones of Shimon Bar Kochva, a Jew rebel who died 2000 years earlier. Executed by the chief military Rabbi, a televised military burial was given to some sporadic bones found in a cave near the Dead Sea. In practice suspected remains of a 1st century Jew rebel was treated as an IDF casualty.
Clearly, archaeology had a national role, it was recruited to cement the past and the present while leaving the Galut out.
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, Aramaic 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 Aramaic 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.”5 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. Jericho, the guarded city that was flattened to the sounds of horns and almighty supernatural intervention was just a tiny village during the 13th century BC.
As much as Israel regards itself as the resurrection of the monumental Kingdom of David and Salomon, excavation that took place in the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1970’s revealed that David’s kingdom was no more than a tiny tribal setting. Evidence that was referred by Yigal Yadin to King Solomon had been refuted later by forensic tests made with Carbon 14. The discomforting fact has been scientifically established. The Bible is a fictional tale, and not much there can ground any glorifying existence of Hebraic people in Palestine at any stage.
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 a 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 Israel were not expelled, then the real descendants of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Judah must be the Palestinians.
“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 Mediterranean became Christians. But then Judaism started to permeate other regions — pagan regions, for example, such as Yemen and North Africa. Had Judaism not continued to advance at that stage and had it not continued to convert people in the pagan world, we would have remained a completely marginal religion, if we survived at all.”
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 Spain. And then I saw that Tariq ibn Ziyad, the supreme commander of the Muslims who conquered Spain, was a Berber, and most of his soldiers were Berbers.
Dahia al-Kahina’s Jewish Berber Kingdom had been defeated only 15 years earlier. And the truth is there are a number of Christian sources that say many of the conquerors of Spain were Jewish converts. The deep-rooted source of the large Jewish community in Spain was those Berber soldiers who converted to Judaism.”
As one would expect, Sand approves the largely accepted assumption that the Judaicised Khazars constituted the main origins of the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, which he calls the Yiddish Nation. When asked how come they happen to speak Yiddish, which is largely regarded as a German medieval dialect, he answers, “the Jews were a class of people dependent on the German bourgeoisie in the east, and thus they adopted German words.”
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.
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 Palestine whatsoever and therefore, their act of so-called ‘return’ to their ‘promised land’ must be realised as an invasion executed by a tribal-ideological clan.
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, Israel should become “a state of its citizens.” Like Sand, I myself believe in the same futuristic utopian vision. However, unlike Sand, I do grasp that the Jewish state and its supportive lobbies must be ideologically defeated. Brotherhood and reconciliation are foreign to Jewish tribal worldview and have no room within the concept of Jewish national revival. As dramatic as it may sound, a process of de-judaification must take place before Israelis can adopt any universal modern notion of civil life.
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 a 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 Iran. Just to be on the safe side David Abrahams, a ‘Labour Friend of Israel’ donates money to the Labour Party by proxy. More or less at the same time two million Iraqis die in an illegal war designed by one called Wolfowitz. While all the above is taking place, millions of Palestinians are starved in concentration camps and Gaza is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. As it all happens, ‘anti-Zionist’ Jews and Jews in the left (Chomsky included) insist upon dismantling the eloquent criticism of AIPAC, Jewish lobbying and Jewish power posed by Mearsheimer and Walt.
Is it just Israel? Is it really Zionism? Or shall we admit that it is something far greater than we are entitled even to contemplate within the intellectual boundaries we imposed upon ourselves? As things stand, we lack the intellectual courage to confront the Jewish national project and its many messengers around the world. However, since it is all a matter of consciousness-shift, things are going to change soon. In fact, this very text is there to prove that they are changing already.
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 Israel, its army or its leadership, it isn’t even Dershowitz, Foxman, and their silencing leagues. It is actually a war against a cancerous spirit that hijacked the West and, at least momentarily, diverted it from its humanist inclination and Athenian aspirations.
To fight a spirit is far more difficult than fighting people, just because one may have to first fight its traces within oneself. If we want to fight Jerusalem, we may have to first confront Jerusalem within. We may have to stand in front of the mirror, look around us. We may have to trace for empathy in ourselves in case there is anything left.
1. When And How The Jewish People Was Invented Shlomo Sand, Resling 2008, p 11
2. Sand, p 31
3. p 42
4. p 62
5. p 117
Gilad Atzmon was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military. He lives in London, and is the author of two novels: A Guide to the Perplexed and the recently released My One and Only Love. Atzmon is also one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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