By Jonny Paul, Jerusalem Post – 15 Nov 2009
An Israeli academic has been accused of contributing to anti-Semitic discourse and incidents following his book tour in London promoting the thesis that Jews never existed as a people and the Palestinian Arabs are the true heirs of the biblical Jews.
Shlomo Sand, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, spoke at a number of events in London last week to sell his book The Invention of the Jewish People, in which he writes that the Israelites were never exiled from the Promised Land and therefore have no right to return.
Jewish community figures questioned Sand’s work and noted that no opposing view or contextualization was offered at his events.
“Sand’s agenda is to sever the historic link between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel,” said Jonathan Hoffman, co-chairman of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. “To promote that agenda his book ignores archeological and genetic evidence. At none of his three London appearances was there a historian or Jewish history expert on the platform to counter his distortions, evasions and sensationalism. The result will contribute to anti-Semitic discourse and incidents in the UK, already at a record level.”
A guest on BBC Radio Four last week, Sand told presenter Andrew Marr that he compares Israel’s birth to “rape”
“I’m not a Zionist. I don’t define myself as an anti-Zionist… but I’m not a Zionist… I don’t put into question the existence of Israel,” he said. “I compare when I am speaking before Arab students the birth of the Israeli state to an act of rape. But even the son that was born of the act of rape… you have to recognize him… the existence of Israel I don’t put in question today, you understand me?”
“Sand’s book represents another step towards the mainstream for replacement ideologies,” said Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “Our history of exile and ghettoization has meant that the Jewish people are remarkably cohesive, genetically, culturally and religiously, and through the centuries the countries in which we have lived have had no compunction in designating us as Jews. It is Sand’s theory that is the upstart, rootless and incredible, not the history and collective memory of the Jewish people and our connection to Israel.”
The Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors anti-Semitism in the UK, also questioned how there was no dissenting voice at any of Sand’s appearances.
“The book was featured without dissent on BBC Radio on November 9, the 61st anniversary of Kristallnacht,” said Mark Gardiner, the Community Security Trust’s director of communications.
Gardiner said there had also been no contextualization during the appearances. Evident, he said, when presenter Andrew Marr summarized the book on the BBC radio show with Sand saying: “There was a kind of [Zionist] master plan to present the history of the Jewish people in Europe which emerged in the 19th century and the modern world has rather swallowed whole… [The book says] actually the history of the Jewish people is not as you thought… The Old Testament is very, very inaccurate… Most of the story of the Jews as presented in the history of the Old Testament is fictitious, you think…”
Gardiner added: “There are many ways, often subtle, in which anti-Israel or anti-Zionist debate can have an anti-Jewish impact. However, a new anti-Zionist book by Tel Aviv University Prof. Shlomo Sand remolds the paradigm: with notions of Jewish peoplehood now under attack in the service of anti-Zionism.
“The sense of common lineage, kinship and peoplehood that Jews around the world share and hold is a fundamental part of their identity, as perversely demonstrated by the splenetic accusations of ‘self-hater’ that are hurled by some Jews at others who do not toe the majority line. To deny this aspect of Jewish identity – perhaps more accurately to demand that for political reasons it be rejected – is surely to deny or reject something that is essential to our perception of Jewishness itself.”
Gardiner said there was nothing wrong with genuine historical inquiry about Jews or any other facet of history.
“However, that is neither the core purpose, nor the core impact of Sand’s book. It can be summed up very simply as: No real Jews = no need for a really Jewish state.
“To add insult to injury, not only are Sand’s conclusions extremely questionable, but even his claims to originality are significantly overblown. For example, there is nothing new in his claim that the Old Testament is neither a revealed text, nor historically perfect. Indeed, there are entire synagogue movements that are ideologically premised upon those very doubts. Similarly, there has been much debate and study about the Khazar kingdom and Jewish lineage: in both Jewish studies departments and the more deluded end of the far-Right spectrum,” Gardiner said.
Sand’s book also received a critical review in the Financial Times on Friday.