Melting pot: Ce terme provient de la pièce de théâtre d’Israel Zangwill (1864-1926) The Melting Pot, dont le message était que tous les immigrants arrivés aux États-Unis pouvaient devenir américains, un peuple formé dans un creuset de démocratie, de liberté et de responsabilité civique. Wikipedia
Comprenez que l’Amérique est le creuset de Dieu, le grand Melting pot dans lequel tous les peuples d’Europe se fondent, se transforment (…) Ce sont les feux de Dieu. Au diable vos querelles et vos vendettas! Allemands et Français, Irlandais et Anglais, Juifs et Russes. Au fond du creuset avec vous tous, Dieu fabrique l’Américain. Israël Zangwill (The Melting pot, Londres, 1908)
Shlomo Sand has written a remarkable book. In cool, scholarly prose he has, quite simply, normalized Jewish history. In place of the implausible myth of a unique nation with a special destiny – expelled, isolated, wandering and finally restored to its rightful home – he has reconstructed the history of the Jews and convincingly reintegrated that history into the general story of humankind. The self-serving and mostly imaginary Jewish past that has done so much to provoke conflict in the present is revealed, like the past of so many other nations, to be largely an invention. Tony Judt
Every nation cherishes its own myths and legends. Most Americans believe themselves to be anti-imperialists, though their ancestors colonised a continent, almost annihilating its native inhabitants. The French fancy themselves descended from ancient Gauls, though like the rest of us they are mongrels. Max Hastings
Sand confuses ethnicity – which, in the case of the Jews, is indeed impure, heterogeneous and much travelled – with an identity that evolves as the product of common historical experience. Rabbinical arguments may rest on an imaginary definition of ethnicity, but the legitimacy of a Jewish homeland does not. Ultimately, Israel’s case is the remedy for atrocity, about which Sand has nothing to say.
Sand (…) argues there actually was no mass forced “exile” so there can be no legitimate “return”. (…) It is undoubtedly right to say that a popular version of this idea of the exile survives in most fundamentalist accounts of Jewish history. It may well be the image that many Jewish children still have. But it is a long time since any serious historian argued that following the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans emptied Judea. But what the Romans did do, following the Jewish revolt of AD66-70 and even more exhaustively after a second rebellion in AD135, was every bit as traumatic: an act of cultural and social annihilation – mass slaughter and widespread enslavement. But there was also the mass extirpation of everything that constituted Jewish religion and culture; the renaming of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, the obliteration of the Temple, the prohibition on rituals and prayers. Sand asserts, correctly, that an unknowable number of Jews remained in what the Romans called Palestina. The multitudes of Jews in Rome had already gone there, not as a response to disaster but because they wanted to and were busy proselytising.
But Sand appears not to notice that it undercuts his argument about the non-connection of Jews with the land of Palestine rather than supporting it. Put together, the possibility of leading a Jewish religious life outside Palestine, with the continued endurance of Jews in the country itself and you have the makings of that group yearning – the Israel-fixation, which Sand dismisses as imaginary. What the Romans did to the defeated Jews was dispossession, the severity of which was enough to account for the homeland-longing by both the population still there and those abroad. That yearning first appears, not in Zionist history, but in the writings of medieval Jewish teachers, and never goes away. Simon Schama
Ne voilà-t-il pas que l’on découvre que les mêmes sionistes auxquels les Américains avaient eu recours pour leur inventer leur mythe fondateur du « creuset » (sans compter les « terre promise », « ville sur la montagne », « destinée manifeste » et tant d’autres), avaient fait la même chose pour leur propre Etat d’Israël!
Et ce naturellement sous la propre plume d’un historien israélien, Shlomo Sand, dont l’ouvrage vient d’être traduit en anglais (« The Invention of the Jewish People »).
Et qui, à l’heure où un Etat tout entier prépare activement sa bombe pour la Solution finale, démontre brillamment comment, sous le prétexte imaginaire que la totalité de leurs ancêtres auraient été massivement déportés de leur pays par les Romains il y a près de 2000 ans, lesdits sionistes continuent non seulement à revendiquer un prétendu droit au retour en Israël.
Mais, scandale des scandales,… à refuser de collaborer à leur propre disparition !!!
Book Calls Jewish People an ‘Invention’
The New York Times
November 24, 2009
Despite the fragmented and incomplete historical record, experts pretty much agree that some popular beliefs about Jewish history simply don’t hold up: there was no sudden expulsion of all Jews from Jerusalem in A.D. 70, for instance. What’s more, modern Jews owe their ancestry as much to converts from the first millennium and early Middle Ages as to the Jews of antiquity.
Other theories, like the notion that many of today’s Palestinians can legitimately claim to be descended from the ancient Jews, are familiar and serious subjects of study, even if no definitive answer yet exists.
But while these ideas are commonplace among historians, they still manage to provoke controversy each time they surface in public, beyond the scholarly world. The latest example is the book “The Invention of the Jewish People,” which spent months on the best-seller list in Israel and is now available in English. Mixing respected scholarship with dubious theories, the author, Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University, frames the narrative as a startling exposure of suppressed historical facts. The translated version of his polemic has sparked a new wave of coverage in Britain and has provoked spirited debates online and in seminar rooms.
Professor Sand, a scholar of modern France, not Jewish history, candidly states his aim is to undercut the Jews’ claims to the land of Israel by demonstrating that they do not constitute “a people,” with a shared racial or biological past. The book has been extravagantly denounced and praised, often on the basis of whether or not the reader agrees with his politics.
The vehement response to these familiar arguments — both the reasonable and the outrageous — highlights the challenge of disentangling historical fact from the sticky web of religious and political myth and memory.
Consider, for instance, Professor Sand’s assertion that Palestinian Arab villagers are descended from the original Jewish farmers. Nearly a century ago, early Zionists and Arab nationalists touted the blood relationship as the basis of a potential alliance in their respective struggles for independence. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Israel’s longest-serving president, made this very argument in a book they wrote together in 1918. The next year, Emir Feisal, who organized the Arab revolt against the Ottoman empire and tried to create a united Arab nation, signed a cooperation agreement with the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann that declared the two were “mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people.”
Both sides later dropped the subject when they realized it was not furthering their political goals.
(Though no final consensus has emerged on the ancestral link between Palestinians and Jews, Harry Ostrer, director of the Human Genetics Program at New York University Langone Medical Center, who has been studying the genetic organization of Jews, said, “The assumption of lineal descent seems reasonable.”)
Books challenging biblical and conventional history continually pop up, but what distinguishes the dispute over origins from debates about, say, the reality of the exodus from Egypt or the historical Jesus, is that it is so enmeshed in geopolitics. The Israeli Declaration of Independence states: “After being forcibly exiled from their Land, the People kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it.” The idea of unjust exile and rightful return undergirds both the Jews’ and the Palestinians’ conviction that each is entitled to the land.
Since Professor Sand’s mission is to discredit Jews’ historical claims to the territory, he is keen to show that their ancestry lines do not lead back to ancient Palestine. He resurrects a theory first raised by 19th-century historians, that the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, to whom 90 percent of American Jews trace their roots, are descended from the Khazars, a Turkic people who apparently converted to Judaism and created an empire in the Caucasus in the eighth century. This idea has long intrigued writers and historians. In 1976, Arthur Koestler wrote “The Thirteenth Tribe” in the hopes it would combat anti-Semitism; if contemporary Jews were descended from the Khazars, he argued, they could not be held responsible for Jesus’ Crucifixion.
By now, experts who specialize in the subject have repeatedly rejected the theory, concluding that the shards of evidence are inconclusive or misleading, said Michael Terry, the chief librarian of the Jewish division of the New York Public Library. Dr. Ostrer said the genetics also did not support the Khazar theory.
That does not negate that conversion played a critical role in Jewish history — a proposition that many find surprising given that today’s Jews tend to discourage conversion and make it a difficult process. Lawrence H. Schiffman, chairman of the Skirball department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, said most historians agree that over a period of centuries, Middle Eastern Jews — merchants, slaves and captives, religious and economic refugees — spread around the world. Many intermarried with people from local populations, who then converted.
There is also evidence that in antiquity and the first millennium Judaism was a proselytizing religion that even used force on occasion. From the genetic research so far, Dr. Ostrer said, “It’s pretty clear that most Jewish groups have Semitic ancestry, that they originated in the Middle East, and that they’re more closely related to each other than to non-Jewish groups.” But he added that it was also clear that many Jews are of mixed descent.
“The ancient admixed ancestry explains the blond hair and blue eyes of Ashkenazi Jews whose grandparents and great-grandparents all lived in shtetls two and three generations ago,” Dr. Ostrer said. They brought the genes for coloration with them to Eastern Europe. These genes were probably not contributed by their Cossack neighbors.”
What accounts for the grasp that some misconceptions maintain on popular consciousness, or the inability of historical truths to gain acceptance? Sometimes myths persist despite clear contradictory evidence because people feel the story embodies a deeper truth than the facts. Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake,” but the fictional statement captured the sense of a regime that showed disdain for the public’s welfare.
A mingling of myth, memory, truth and aspiration similarly envelopes Jewish history, which is, to begin with, based on scarce and confusing archaeological and archival records.
Experts dismiss the popular notion that the Jews were expelled from Palestine in one fell swoop in A.D. 70. Yet while the destruction of Jerusalem and Second Temple by the Romans did not create the Diaspora, it caused a momentous change in the Jews’ sense of themselves and their position in the world. For later generations it encapsulates the essential truth about the Jews being an exiled and persecuted people for much of their history.
Professor Sand accuses Zionist historians from the 19th century onward — the very same scholars on whose work he bases his case — of hiding the truth and creating a myth of shared roots to strengthen their nationalist agenda. He explains that he has uncovered no new information, but has “organized the knowledge differently.” In other words, he is doing precisely what he accuses the Zionists of — shaping the material to fit a narrative.
In that sense, Professor Sand is operating within a long established tradition. As “The Illustrated History of the Jewish People,” edited by Nicholas Lange (Harcourt, 1997), notes, “Every generation of Jewish historians has faced the same task: to retell and adapt the story to meet the needs of its own situation.” The same could be said of all nations and religions.
Perhaps that is why — on both sides of the argument — some myths stubbornly persist no matter how often they are debunked while other indubitable facts continually fail to gain traction.
The Invention of the Jewish People by Shlomo Sand
The Sunday Times
November 15, 2009
Every nation cherishes its own myths and legends. Most Americans believe themselves to be anti-imperialists, though their ancestors colonised a continent, almost annihilating its native inhabitants. The French fancy themselves descended from ancient Gauls, though like the rest of us they are mongrels.
But Israel’s favoured historical narrative possesses special significance, because it defines the states’ proclaimed right to existence. It holds that the world’s Jews are descended from the ancient tribes of Israel, evicted by the Romans following the fall of the temple in AD70, and today permitted to return to their rightful homeland after almost 2,000 years of foreign persecution.
Shlomo Sand, who teaches contemporary history at Tel Aviv University, rejects most of this as myth. He argues that the alleged history of the Jewish people has been distorted, reshaped or invented in modern times to fit the political requirements of Zionism.
His book, first published in Hebrew, has caused widespread outrage in his native land. But it represents, at the very least, a formidable polemic against claims that Israel has a moral right to define itself as an explicitly and exclusively Jewish society, in which non-Jews, such as Palestino-Israelis, are culturally and politically marginalised.
He disputes the claim that Israel existed for thousands of years as a nation. This, he says, relies chiefly on a willingness to believe that the Old Testament story is broadly valid, in defiance of archeological and other historical evidence. He refuses to believe that a unified Jewish nation occupied Canaan in the era of David and Solomon,or that the flight from Egypt occured as described. The Old Testament is not a narrative that can instruct us about the time it describes – centuries before ot was written – but is instead an impressive didactic theological discourse.
He rejects the assertion, dependent on the testimony of the 1st-century Hellenised Jewish historian Josephus, that Jews were forcibly deported from Jerusalem after the fall of the Temple. Rome behaved savagely to defeated rebels, but never expelled whole populations, not least because it required their services.
Historical evidence, says Sand, shows large Jewish communities living all over the Mediterranean, including Rome, before AD70. Cicero complained in 59BC: “You know how numerous that crowd is, how great is its unanimity, and of what weight it is in popular assemblies.”
The author suggests that there was steady economic migration from Palestine after the fall of the Temple, but most Jews remained, eventually to be converted to Islam following the Muslim conquest in the 7th century and afterwards. Some modern Palestinians are more likely to be descended from the ancient Israelites than are modern Israelis who have migrated from Russia.
Acknowledging uncertainty about much that happened in the last millennium before Christ and the first thereafter, Sand dismisses the proposition of Zionist historians that the Jewish communities that grew up all over Europe were descended from Jews driven out of Israel. Many, he says, were indigenous people converted by small numbers of wandering, literate Jews.
He focuses special attention on the Khazar empire, the Jewish society that flourished around the Volga and Caucasus between the 4th and 13th centuries, and provided seed for the large Jewish communities of eastern Europe. Zionists assert that those Jews had migrated east from Germany. Sand says there is no evidence for this, save that they spoke Yiddish.
He believes, instead, that these were locals who adopted the Jewish religion. He claims that modern Israeli historians refuse to study the Khazar empire honestly, lest they find themselves confronted by evidence that might seem to deligitimise Israel. He writes scornfully of Zionists entirely caught up in the mythology of an eternal ethnic time.
Sand launches a further broaside at Israeli geneticists who have devoted much energy to identifying a common Jewish gene among diaspora communities around the world. He is scornful of such research, perhaps because not least of the ghastly memory of Nazi scientists who pursued alleged aryan identity.
Sand’s fundamental thesis is that the Jewish people are joined by bonds of religion, not race or ancient nationhood. He deplores the explicit racial basis of the Israeli state, in which the Arab minority are second-class citizens. No Jew who lives today in a western democracy would tolerate the discrimination and exclusion experienced by the Palestino-Israelis … The state’s ethnocentric foundation remains an obstacle to its [liberal democratic] development.
It is easy to see why Sand’s book has attracted fierce controversy. The legend of the ancient exile and modern return stands at the heart of Israel’s self-belief. It is no more surprising that its people enjoy supposing that Joshua’s trumpets blew down the walls of Jericho — at a time when, Sand says, Jericho was a small town with no walls — than that we cherish tales of King Alfred and his cakes.
The author rightly deplores the eagerness of fanatics to insist upon the historical truth of events convenient to modern politics, in defiance of evidence or probability. No modern British historian’s reputation could survive, for instance, claiming he factual accuracy of all the charming medieval stories in Froissart’s Chronicles, which nonetheless bear a closer relationship to events than does the Old Testament.
Yet Sand, whose title is foolishly provocative, displays a lack of compassion for the Jewish predicament. It is possible to accept his view that there is no common genetic link either between the world’s Jews or to the ancient tribes of Israel, while also trusting the evidence of one’s senses that there are remarkable common jewish characteristics- indeed a Jewish genius – that cannot be explained merely by religion.
Jewish faith is visibly declining in Israel as much as anywhere else. There is much dismay among diaspora communities about the steady increase in the frequency of their members marrying out. Yet who can doubt that Jews possess an identity that transcends any narrow issue of belief? Sand produces some formidable arguments about what Jews may not be, but he fails to explain what it is they are.
His book serves notice on Zionist traditionalists: if an Israeli historian can display such plausible doubts about important aspects of the Israeli legend, any Arabs hostile to the state of Israel can exploit a fertile field indeed.
Yet whatever the rights and wrongs of the past, Israel has established its existence. If the Middle east is to advance beyond perpetual conflict, all parties must abandon both claims and grievances rooted in history and address the now and the future.
The Invention of the Jewish People
Review by Simon Schama
The Financial Times
November 13 2009
The Invention of the Jewish People
By Shlomo Sand
Translated by Yael Lotan
Verso £18.99, 398 pages
FT Bookshop price: £15.19
From its splashy title on, Shlomo Sand means his book to be provocative, which it certainly is, though possibly not in the way he intends. Its real challenge to the reader is separating the presentation of truisms as though they were revolutionary illuminations and the relentless beating on doors that have long been open, from passages of intellectual sharpness and learning.
Sand’s self-dramatising attack in The Invention of the Jewish People is directed against those who assume, uncritically, that all Jews are descended lineally from the single racial stock of ancient Hebrews – a position no one who has thought for a minute about the history of the Jews would dream of taking.
Sand’s sense of grievance against the myths on which the exclusively Jewish right to full Israeli immigration is grounded is one that many who want to see a more liberal and secular Israel wholeheartedly share. But his book prosecutes these aims through a sensationalist assertion that somehow, the truth about Jewish culture and history, especially the “exile which never happened”, has been suppressed in the interests of racially pure demands of Zionist orthodoxy. This, to put it mildly, is a stretch.
To take just one instance: the history of the Khazars, the central Asian kingdom which, around the 10th century, converted to Judaism and which Sand thinks has been excised from the master narrative because of the embarrassing implication that present day Jews might be descended from Turkic converts. But the Khazars were known by every Jewish girl and boy in my neck of Golders Greenery and further flung parts of the diaspora, and celebrated rather than evaded.
For Sand, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, the antidote to a national identity based on what he argues are fables, is to shed the fancy that there is any such thing as a shared Jewish identity independent of religious practice.
By this narrow reckoning you are either devoutly orthodox or not Jewish at all if you imagine yourself to have any connection to Israel past or present. Sand confuses ethnicity – which, in the case of the Jews, is indeed impure, heterogeneous and much travelled – with an identity that evolves as the product of common historical experience. Rabbinical arguments may rest on an imaginary definition of ethnicity, but the legitimacy of a Jewish homeland does not. Ultimately, Israel’s case is the remedy for atrocity, about which Sand has nothing to say.
His book is a trip (and I use the word advisedly) through a landscape of illusions which Sand aims to explode, leaving the scenery freer for a Middle East built, as he supposes, from the hard bricks of truth. This turns out to require not just the abandonment of simplicities about race, but any shared sense of historical identity at all on the part of the Jews that might be taken as the basis of common allegiance, which is another matter entirely. En route, he marches the reader through a mind-numbingly laborious examination of the construction of national identities from imagined rather than actual histories. A whole literature has been devoted to the assumption that nations are invariably built from such stories, in which, nonetheless, grains of historical truth are usually embedded. The important issue, however, is whether the meta-narrative that arises from those stories is inclusive enough to accommodate the tales of those whose experience is something other than racially and culturally homogeneous.
Sand’s point is that a version of Jewish national identity was written in the 19th and early 20th centuries – by historians such as Heinrich Graetz and Simon Dubnow – which took as its central premise a forced dispersion of the Jews from Israel. But, he argues, there actually was no mass forced “exile” so there can be no legitimate “return”. This is the take-away headline that makes this book so contentious. It is undoubtedly right to say that a popular version of this idea of the exile survives in most fundamentalist accounts of Jewish history. It may well be the image that many Jewish children still have. But it is a long time since any serious historian argued that following the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans emptied Judea. But what the Romans did do, following the Jewish revolt of AD66-70 and even more exhaustively after a second rebellion in AD135, was every bit as traumatic: an act of cultural and social annihilation – mass slaughter and widespread enslavement. But there was also the mass extirpation of everything that constituted Jewish religion and culture; the renaming of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, the obliteration of the Temple, the prohibition on rituals and prayers. Sand asserts, correctly, that an unknowable number of Jews remained in what the Romans called Palestina. The multitudes of Jews in Rome had already gone there, not as a response to disaster but because they wanted to and were busy proselytising.
All this is true and has been acknowledged. But Sand appears not to notice that it undercuts his argument about the non-connection of Jews with the land of Palestine rather than supporting it. Put together, the possibility of leading a Jewish religious life outside Palestine, with the continued endurance of Jews in the country itself and you have the makings of that group yearning – the Israel-fixation, which Sand dismisses as imaginary. What the Romans did to the defeated Jews was dispossession, the severity of which was enough to account for the homeland-longing by both the population still there and those abroad. That yearning first appears, not in Zionist history, but in the writings of medieval Jewish teachers, and never goes away.
There are many such twists of historical logic and strategic evasions of modern research in this book. To list them all would try your patience. Scholarly consensus now places the creation of the earliest books of the Old Testament not in the 6th or 5th centuries BC, but in the 9th century BC, home-grown in a Judah which had been transformed, as Israel Finkelstein has written “into a developed nation state”. The post-David kingdom of the 10th century BC may have been a pastoral warrior citadel, but the most recent excavations by Amihai Mazar have revealed it capable of building monumental structures. And the Judah in which the bible was first forged, its population swollen with refugees from the hard-pressed northern kingdom of Israel, was a culture that needed a text to bring together territory, polity and religion. It was a moment of profound cultural genesis. And don’t get me started again on the Khazars. No one doubts the significance of their conversion, but to argue that the entirety of Ashkenazi Jewry must necessarily descend from them is to make precisely the uncritical claim of uninterrupted genealogy Sand is eager to dispute in the wider context of Jewish history.
His assumption that the Jewish state is an oxymoron built on illusions of homogeneity is belied by the country’s striking heterogeneity. How else to explain the acceptance of the Beta Israel Ethiopian Jews or the Bene Israel Indians as Israeli Jews? Certainly that acceptance has never been without obstacles, and egregious discrimination has been shown by those who think they know what “real jews” should look like. Sand is right in believing that a more inclusive and elastic version of entry and exit points into the Jewish experience should encourage a debate in Israel of who is and who is not a “true” Jew. I could hardly agree more, and for precisely the reason that Sand seems not to himself embrace: namely that the legitimacy of Israel both within and without the country depends not on some spurious notion of religious much less racial purity, but on the case made by a community of suffering, not just during the Holocaust but over centuries of expulsions and persecutions. Unlike the Roman deportations, these were not mythical.
Sand would counter that such a refuge for the victims could have been in China, or on the moon, for all that Palestine had to do with the Jews. But since his book fails to sever the remembered connection between the ancestral land and Jewish experience ever since, it seems a bit much to ask Jews to do their bit for the sorely needed peace of the region by replacing an ethnic mythology with an act of equally arbitrary cultural oblivion.
Simon Schama is an FT contributing editor