[Marxism] At NYU, devilish Shlomo Sand predicts the Jewish past and pastes the Zionists

Sebastian Budgen sebastian at amadeobordiga.u-net.com
Thu Oct 22 02:57:40 MDT 2009


At NYU, devilish Shlomo Sand predicts the Jewish past and pastes the  


Of all the events I’ve covered surrounding Jewish identity and Israel  
in the last year, none has given me so much pleasure as the lecture  
last night by Shlomo Sand at NYU on the Invention of the Jewish  
People. Most events I go to are grinding, awful, heartrending, often  
with lamentations and pictures of mutilated children. This one was  
pure intellectual deviltry of the highest order by a Pavarotti of the  
lecture hall. And while it was fiercely anti-Zionist and included  
references to the mutilated children, it left me in just an incredibly  
elated mood. For I saw real light at the end of the tunnel, and not  
the horrifying dimness that surrounds almost all other events that  
deal with Israel politics here– for instance with the neoconservative  
Weekly Standard’s disgusting pursuit of J Street.

This pleasure was entirely Shlomo Sand’s achievement. He walked by me  
going down to the lectern and I noticed his physical vanity at once.  
He had expensive shoes on, designer jeans or cords, a zipup black  
jacket and a black shirt under that unbuttoned to the sternum. He is  
lean and mid-60sish, and behaves like a player. His beard is cut in an  
interesting manner, he wears designer glasses. I wondered if he dyed  
his hair. All glorious devil.

Sand has an excitable, self-referential style, and he began the  
lecture by breaking his guitar. “Jewish history is not my field.” No,  
but once he had discovered that the story of the connection of the  
Jewish people to the Holy Land was a myth, he decided that he would  
secretly explore the history but not publish until he got tenure for  
doing other work. Because if he published this first, “there would not  
be any chance of being a full professor. Not only in Tel Aviv. But at  
NYU too.”

Everyone laughed, but Sand said, “That is not a joke. I must write the  
book after I see that no one could touch me really.” More devil.  
Though Sand is right. This is no joke.

Sand studies European history, but Israel has a separate department in  
every school for Jewish history, and Zionists run these departments.  
“I have not a right to write about Jewishness.” The Zionist history  
holds that the Jews have an ancient connection biblically to the land,  
and were exiled from the Middle East in 70 AD, in what became the  
Diaspora. The Jews of New York and Warsaw. Sand began to question this  
story when he saw archaeologists’ work about the early Christian times  
and also when he saw scientific data. The exile is absurd. The Romans  
persecuted the Jews. They didn’t exile them.

At this point came the first interruption by a Zionist. A bald man in  
the third row or so called out, “What about Bar Kochba?” And: the Jews  
weren’t exiled because they were killed.

Sand seemed to live for this interruption. He walked up to the  
audience with his eyes gleaming, and congratulated the man for his  
knowledge of the Bar Kochba revolt of 135 AD, after the Second Temple  
destruction, and agreed with him, but also dismissed him. Yes many  
Jews were killed. And for the rest of the lecture Sand would dance  
toward this man and tease him that he was Jewish—he was—and urge him  
to buy the book to discover the gaps in his knowledge, or by the end  
of the lecture, say that he would buy the book for him himself, to  
improve him. More deviltry.

Back to the exile myth. The expelled diasporic Jews went in a straight  
line north to Europe, made a right into the land between the Caspian  
and the Black Seas, Kazaria, and also north to Russia and Poland; and  
when they got there in the 1800s they made a u-turn and started back  
to Palestine. The absurdity of the myth is that there were always Jews  
in the Middle East. The Jews were peasants and mingled with other  
populations. The Jews were not passive actors. They were at times a  
majority in the Holy Land and conquerors of the Arabian peninsula  
before the Arabs, and of North Africa too. For a time, they did not  
have a bar against proselytization. The Maccabees were the first to  
undertake forced conversion. In the 8th century the Jews and the  
Muslim Berbers were likely the invaders of Spain.

Sand offered very little by way of evidence. You will find that in his  
“boring” book, he said. This was an aria not a chalktalk. The Jews of  
the Middle East made several kingdoms over the years. One in Yemen,  
another in Babylon, another in North Africa, where they fought the  
Arabs. Sand said he loves the curly hair of the Yemenite Jews. More  
deviltry, with some concupiscence thrown in.

The Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe originated in Kazaria. They were  
hugely successful and founded a great city, Kiev. We can claim to have  
founded Kiev, but not Jerusalem, he said. Because the Jews who lived  
in the Holy Land stayed in the Holy Land. Many of the people we now  
call Palestinians were originally Jews. The chance that someone who  
lives in Hebron today and speaks Arabic is a direct descendant of a  
Jew in ancient times is 1000 times greater than the possibility that I  
am descended from a Jew, Shlomo Sand declared.

Let’s move on from the mythology to the issue of national identity.  
Identity is formed by many many associations. “I don’t deny Jewish  
identity. I’m not fighting against someone’s identity. There is  
identity of homosexuals. They are not a people. We are composed of a  
lot of identities.” Two Catholic share a religious identity, but  
again, that is not a national identity with a tie to land.

Nationalism took root in human political development in the 1800s. The  
Germans and French began the project by inventing the idea of a German  
and French people. The French history books declared outright in the  
first sentence that the Gauls were their ancestors. It was a way to  
valorize the nation state, which was an essential part of modernity.

What is a people? A people generally shares a way of life, a language,  
a food, a geography. There is no Jewish language. Shlomo Sand stumbles  
proudly in English, while of course many of the people in the audience  
were Jews speaking English. Food the Israelis have–stolen from the  
Palestinians—and still you must say that there is an Israeli people.  
But they are not the Jewish people. They are Israeli people, and the  
Palestinians are Palestinian people. Both made by Zionism.

The Zionist project began inventing the idea of a Jewish people in the  
1870s as a reflection of other nationalisms. The Zionists turned to  
the Bible for the foundational myth. The biblical myths are taught in  
Israeli schools from before children are taught mathematics and  
language–taught about the biblical associations of Jews to this land.  
But the Exodus is a complete myth. “As a historian, I try and predict  
the past. I’m not a prophet.” And what are the true predictions of the  
past: at the supposed time of the Exodus, the Egyptians also  
controlled Canaan. The kingdom of David and Solomon was not a kingdom  
at all, but a small settlement around Jerusalem.

Sand had run over his 45 minutes. In the Question and Answer period,  
his passion and intellectual majesty announced themselves. He sought  
to engage with the Zionists in the crowd, and did so out of moral  
fervor. When Sand said that Israel was not a democracy, and a Zionist  
called out, “It is a flawed democracy,” Sand bellowed. No: a democracy  
is founded on the idea that the people are the sovereign, that the  
people own the state. That is the first principle of a republic going  
back to Rousseau. Liberalism and civil rights are not the core. Yes,  
Israel is a liberal society. It tolerates Shlomo Sand’s heresy, for  
instance, and puts him on TV. But it is a liberal ethnocracy.

Down the row from me were two Arabs. I recognized the man from other  
events I have been to. I noticed how fulfilled they were by the talk,  
how quietly approving, and it was in this connection that we saw  
Sand’s passion: on behalf of the Palestinians. This part of the  
lecture brought tears to my eyes, it was so forceful and unapologetic.  
The idea that Joe Lieberman has a right to move to Israel tomorrow and  
a Palestinian whose ancestors have lived there for centuries cannot is  
an outrage, Sand said. But for 50 years the Palestinian Israelis were  
afraid to speak out.

“They were afraid because of the Nakba. They were afraid because of  
the military regime. Today this is a generation of young Palestinian  
Israelis that stop to be afraid. They become more anti-Israel in their  
politics the more they become Israelis.”

Ravishing fire.

Sand said that Gaza was just an intimation of the violence that might  
come when the Palestinians declare that they want a genuine democracy,  
a state of their own citizens in Palestinian-dominated Galilee. These  
are young Palestinian Israelis who don’t want to be part of the West  
Bank or of Gaza. They will be like the Kosovars of Serbia, who when  
the Serbs started to make an ethnic regime of the former Yugoslavia,  
did not want to be part of Albania, with whom they share religious  
connections, no they wanted to be their own country. (And got it, by  
the way, 60 years after the world falsely promised the Palestinians  
that they could have a state.) “They will build in Galilee a state of  
their citizens. That will start to be the end of Israel. Israel won’t  
let Galilee become a state of its citizens. It will be a mass murder,  
I’m afraid.”

Don’t we want to get past the idea of the nation-state? Of course we  
do, Sand said, but that is the era we are in. And tell that to the  
Palestinians. They want a state. Sand is for the two-state solution  
because the Palestinians ought to get a state after being denied it  
forever. As soon as the occupation, which has denied these  
Palestinians any civil or human rights for 42 years—more fire!—is  
ended, that is the day we throw ourselves into the project of making a  
confederation of Israel with Palestine and Jordan. The one-state  
solution is a utopia. “Utopia has to direct politics. Not replace  
politics. It’s too dangerous.” (Something like Hussein Ibish’s new  
book in that.)

When Sand spoke to Palestinian professors at Al Quds University, they  
told him to speak Hebrew, because they had all learned Hebrew in  
Israeli jails. And he told them that just because Israel had begun  
with a great crime did not mean that it had not begun. “Even a child  
that was born from a rape has a right to live. ’48 was a rape. But  
something happened in history. We have to correct and repair a lot of  
things.” The next day the Palestinian papers had his rape line in big  

You have not talked about anti-Semitism, or self-hatred, said another  
Zionist, with a cap on. “I am anti-racist. And an anti-anti-semite,”  
he said. “But look at me, do you think I hate the Jewish?” More devil  
eyes flashing. “I don’t hate myself… I hate the Jewish people? But  
that doesn’t exist. How can I hate something that doesn’t exist?”

More Zionist claptrap from the claque: You say that a Jew can’t marry  
non-Jews in Israel, but two men can’t marry each other in this  
country! Sand laughed. Men should be able to marry each other here if  
they want to, and anyone should be able to marry anyone else in  
Israel. Why won’t the state recognize such marriages? Not because of  
the orthodox. No: the secular Jews gave the rabbis the power over  
marriage when they founded the Jewish state in ’48. They did so  
because “they were not sure of their identity, and needed religious  

What do you think of Israel Shahak, whose work says that ethnocentrism  
and chauvinism are built into the Jewish religion? Sand said that  
Shahak was a chemist and a man of tremendous moral force, but he  
didn’t know the material. (I say he’s right about this; all religious  
doctrines are interlarded with racism.)

Why are you not on Charlie Rose? asked a man with a beard. The man  
said, I watch Charlie Rose every night and I’m up to here with the  
Zionism on the show. He held his hand at his neck. Not just the  
Israelis, the American journalists who imbibe Zionism. Sand didn’t  
seem to know who Charlie Rose was. He has been on lots of Israeli TV  
shows. And been 19 weeks on the bestseller list in Israel. “Also in  

I thought, Why has Yivo not asked Sand to debate Michael Walzer? Two  
years back at Yivo/the Center for Jewish History, Walzer declared that  
the Jews are a people, a people like no other, without national  
borders. They have maintained a political community for 2000 years  
without geographical sovereignty, through a religious-legal structure.  
Interesting ideas. And it would be a fabulous debate. Where are you  
chickenshit Yivo, when these great ideas are bursting forth from the  
Jews who hate what Israel is doing to our identity?

I hope I am conveying something of the power of this event, and its  
incredible optimism and second sight. Sand challenged every Jew in the  
room to reimagine the future. “Most of the Jews [in the world today]  
are a product of conversion… I see the shame. And it is a shame. If  
you are born in the 20th century, and we were all born in the 20th  
century– to base your identity on biology.”

I thought as always of the American Jewish project: to end the Israel  
lobby and to end the myth of Jewish outsiderness. Sand had addressed  
this too. “The destiny of Israel. And the destiny of the Middle East  
depnds a lot on you, Americans.” This was a subject for its own  
lecture. But it was necessary for the Americans now to “save us from  
ourselves. I’m not joking about this.”

Do you fear for your life? someone asked.

“I’m worried in New York. Not in Tel Aviv. It’s not a joke. Really,  
I’m not joking.”

More information about the Marxism mailing list