Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Invention of the Jewish People, by Shlomo Sand

Israel in Egypt (1867) by Sir Edward John Poynter (1839-1919)

The idea of the Jews as a single people or race is a myth, a fiction based on Old Testament “mythistory”, argues Shlomo Sand, a Jewish historian based at the University of Tel Aviv. It is also one of the founding assumptions of the state of Israel and throughout this polemical, revisionist history Sand has Zionist ideology in his sights. (He is not anti-Israel, but he is “post-Zionist”.) In essence, his book undermines the moral right of the state of Israel to define itself as exclusively Jewish and how you respond to it will very much depend on your political views. Sand admits none of his findings is new and there are no revelations, but what he offers is a radical dismantling of a national myth. He can find no evidence of any Jewish exile, and without exile there can be no right to return. However, even if it is founded on a myth, the state of Israel exists. Sand wants it to abandon ethnic nationalism and to modernise and democratise, and as this controversial book was a bestseller in Israel, perhaps there is hope that some Israelis want this too.

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