Invention of the Jewish People – Book Review
This is the book if you’re looking for a fresh approach to Israel’s history
(The Invention of the Jewish People. Shlomo Sand. Verso, New York, 2009.)
Myths are powerful because they tell the story of origins – the origins of tribes and the origins of a people and nations. Myths tell us who we are and where and how we began. Incorporating folktales and legends, myths tell us what truth is and how it makes us different from others. Groups of people use myths in the creation of histories of themselves as people who are different from others. National myths, involving politics and patriotism use myths and myth-making to construct the national identity: what makes our country and people different from every other? Israeli historian and Professor of History at Israel’s Tel Aviv University calls this process “mythistory”. “From this surgically improved past emerge[s] the proud and handsome portrait of the nation.”
“Every history” writes Professor Sand “contains myths, but those that lurk within national historiography are especially brazen. The histories of peoples and nations have been designed like the statues in city squares – they must be grand, towering, heroic… ‘Us’ and ‘All the Others’ was the usual, almost the natural division. For more than a century, the production of Us was the life’s work of the national historians and archaeologists, the authoritative priesthood of memory.”
In this fashion, a group of Jewish writers, political activists and others began in the second half of the nineteenth century to shape the history (mythistory) of the Jewish people. All Jews, they said, come from a single stock originating from the loins of the founding patriarch, Abraham. In the ancient past, they were citizens of a powerful Jewish state called Israel, were exiled after the destruction of the second temple in AD 70, and since that time have lived as exiles in nations where they have suffered persecution. It is time, they said, to recreate the Nation of Israel so that its people can return to it and live there.
Using the Biblical narrative as a history text, they began to construct the history of the Jewish people as a People Set Apart from all others. Their history, so the story line goes, “rests on firm and precise truths.” The problem with this is, none of it can be shown to be scientifically verified truth. Instead, it is what Professor Sand calls “mythistory”… Using what we now know was pseudoscience, early Zionist thinkers turned to physical anthropology, social Darwinism and, later to eugenics to build their case for identifying the Jewish people as being biologically different from all others. “The purpose of Jewish biology,” Professor Sand writes “was to promote separation from others… It sought to serve the project of ethnic nationalist consolidation in the taking over of an imaginary ancient homeland.”
The next step was to find a homeland to which all Jewish people could be invited. Though it wasn’t the first choice, the most logical choice was Palestine. The goal became immigrating to Palestine with the aim of taking it over and recreating the ancient and very mythical Nation of Israel. The obvious problem was that Palestine was already inhabited by a mostly Arab population that had lived there for over a thousand years.
What to do? Simple: build alliances with those who can and will help you. The golden opportunity arrived with Hitler’s massive annihilation of Europe’s Jewish population in the 1930s and 40s. Jewish immigration into Palestine, almost overnight, turned into a tsunami. Granted nationhood by the United Nations, Israel was “reborn”. “The land of Israel” reads the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel “was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identify was shaped. Here they first attained statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.”
Out of the mists of ancient myth came the modern Nation of Israel and its armies. Built on the racially exclusionary ideological foundation of Zionism, this new Nation of Israel quickly began expelling the non-Jewish people who lived there. Beginning in 1948, almost overnight more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were dispossessed of their homes and lands and became refugees, a process that continues as I write. It is deeply cynical, racist and destined, so Professor Sand believes, to fail. It is still possible to close one’s eyes to the truth. Many voices will continue to maintain that the ‘Jewish people’ has existed for four thousand years, and that ‘Eretz Israel’ has always belonged to it. And yet the historical myths that were once, with the aid of a good deal of imagination, able to create Israeli society are now powerful forces helping to raise the possibility of its destruction.”
To say that Professor Sand’s thesis and his research is not well-received in official Israeli circles is perhaps a bit too mild. Protective of their past and paranoid about their future, most of Israel’s political and religious leaders seem bent on maintaining the course they have pursued for the past sixty-two years and more. Only time will tell us the final outcome. My hope is that good sense will win the day and that Israel will become a new land that belongs to and serves all its citizens, not just its Jewish ones.
If you’re looking for a fresh approach to Israel’s history, Professor Sand’s book is one that I heartily recommend.
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From the Archives
The extent to which American culture is imbued by anti-Arab racism
By Ernest A. Canning - 8/21/2009
As revealed [in an] Egypt Today review, Jack Shaheen’s study of early 20th Century films exposed Hollywood’s application of “the generic ‘Ali Baba kit’ comprising of lecherous, barbaric Arab men flanked by erotic belly dancers.” Just as African American men were cast as lusting after white women in the Jim Crow era, these early films depicted the “prize of every Sheikh’s harem” as “the abducted American woman who bravely fights off her sinister master’s sexual advances.”
These disparaging images morphed into an even more sinister caricature of Arabs in the post World War II era — images that coincided with the advent of the Arab/Israeli conflict, the early 70s oil embargo and the Iranian hostage crisis. Against a backdrop of a reality in which intelligent Arab women today are “succeeding in all professions,” Sheehan laments, Hollywood replaced the erotic image of the belly dancer with projections of the Arab woman “as a bomber, a terrorist.” Added to this is what Shaheen calls “’bundles in black,’ veiled women in the background, in the shadows, submissive.”
The threat of Arab/Muslim terrorists finds its ultimate embodiment in Rules of Engagement, a film which was written by former Secretary of the Navy and now U.S. Senator James Webb (D-VA); a film Shaheen describes as “the most racist.”
Shaheen described the action, which takes place in Yemen… continue
By John V. Walsh | Dissident Voice | October 26, 2011
This Halloween the neo-Malthusians, many dressed up as environmentalists, will have a big scare for us – the birth of the 7 billionth person on “space ship” earth. We will hear again of the demographic disaster sure to befall us with yet another mouth to feed. But a wondrous antidote to such fear mongering is one of the best books of the last year, The Coming Population Crash, by Fred Pearce. The book begins with a sound thrashing of Malthus and satisfyingly exposes the historical and conceptual links between his failed ideas and some unsavory strains of the current environmental movement such as the Carrying Capacity Network and Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization, an anti-immigrant group.
At its heart the book conveys a simple fact. The rate of population growth has been decelerating for decades – well before the publication in the 1970s of Paul Ehrlich’s alarmist, implicitly racist, and dead wrong neo-Malthusian tract, The Population Bomb. It is amazing that many environmentalists are unaware of the crucial fact of slowing population growth, and that some react with hostility to it. Further, somewhere between 2050 and 2100, growth will stop and then come crashing down. It is not the sky that will be falling but the population. From Eastern Europe to Southern Italy to Singapore, that day has already arrived and sooner or later it will come to all parts of the planet. In fact, it may well be that in the next century the problem will be a population that is not large enough to be optimal; but that will be for the 22nd century humans to decide and act on. … continue
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This article will examine some of the connections between the US and UK National Security apparatus and the appearance of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory beginning after the accident at Three Mile Island. … continue
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