Thursday, December 31, 2009

THE INVENTION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE by Shlomo Sand is reviewed by Ricki Hollander for CAMERA. Not surprisingly, she doesn't like it. Excerpts:
When it comes to undermining the legitimacy of the Jewish state, there is no thesis too absurd to be published. In fact, one can assume that any book attacking the idea of Jewish nationalism will gain a following (and even garner awards), regardless of how preposterous the underlying thesis.

Such is the case with "The Invention of the Jewish People," a book by Shlomo Sand who teaches French history at Tel Aviv University. The thesis: There is no such thing as a Jewish people; today's Jews have no connection to biblical Israelites or to Jews who inhabited Israel during the time of the Second Temple; rather, they are descended from disparate groups of people who converted to Judaism and had no ties to the land of Israel. Conversely, there was no exile of Jews from the land of Israel; most Jews remained in the land, converted to Islam and were the progenitors of present-day Palestinians.

Sand acknowledges his mission is to prove invalid the foundation of Zionism – the idea of a Jewish state built on a Jewish ancestral homeland — and to promote instead the idea of a single non-Jewish state of Arabs and Jews. His qualifications for this project lie – not in Jewish history scholarship (his field is French nationalism and cinema), but – in his communist, anti-nationalist and anti-Zionist background and politics (which he proudly mentions in the book's preface). His thesis whereby Arabs – and not Jews– are the rightful inheritors of the land provides the support for his political argument.


Sand is unable to adequately explain away this longstanding belief in a common heritage, or the writings, prayers, practices,, customs and rituals which form the essence of a Jewish national consciousness. He feebly attempts to dismiss them as inconsequential, religious practices and the bible as a "marginal" book of fairy tales. But by pretending that a true national consciousness arose only as a result of recent historians who "invented" the concept of a Jewish people, Sand essentially ignores everything that Jews believed in before that. It is just such a longstanding, shared consciousness (even among those who are not religiously observant) that forms the core of nationhood. The very fact that for thousands of years, Jews shared the same bonds to the land of Israel and regarded themselves — and others regarded them — as a people, itself invalidates Sand's contentions to the contrary. Unable to dismiss this salient fact, Sand involves himself with irrelevant, meaningless arguments, however false.

More reviews here.